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Company of noble women

Company of noble women

Author: Maura Moynihan
Publication: Asian Age
Date: November 5, 2009
URL: http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/opinion/op-ed/company-of-noble-women.aspx

Dharamsala got a shot of firepower last week as three Nobel Peace Prize winners from different corners of the world made the long trek to Himachal Pradesh to stand with the Dalai Lama after US President Barack Obama yielded to Beijing's will and declined to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader in Washington last month. Jody Williams from the United States, Mairead Corrigan Maguire from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Iran's Shirin Ebadi had helped form the Nobel Women's Initiative in 2006 to "strengthen and expand the global movement to advance non-violence, peace, justice and equality".

The women were a formidable presence on stage with the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan Children's Village in Upper Dharamsala, at an event organised by the Peace Jam Foundation. They presented the Dalai Lama with a statement signed by other Nobel peace laureates, affirming their support for this work. Said Shirin Ebadi: "Your Holiness, your political conduct has been a model to the entire world. At a time when human rights are being forgotten, you have shown that compassion does not mean surrender, your non-violence rules with the heart and not the sword".

The Dalai Lama then addressed an auditorium filled with young Tibetan students in the school he had created with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru 50 years ago: "More than 200 million people were killed in the wars of the 20th century, but it didn't work; the problems remain. We must extend the Buddhist concept of interdependence to our global ecological and economic crises".

At a press conference organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile, Maired Corriagn Maguire spoke with passion about meeting 50 newly-arrived refugees from Tibet: "They told us of so many young people in Tibet taken from their homes, tortured and killed. We heard of people being buried alive, burned alive, thrown into rivers with their hands tied. We in the human family do not accept China's conduct in Tibet, and we challenge those political leaders who put profit before justice".

The Nobel laureates then announced the launch of their new website www.thankyoutibet.org. Ms Maguire spoke of "our sister Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who is the only one of the nine female Nobel Peace Prize laureates who is imprisoned. China is behind it, China backs up the Burmese junta. Our power comes from telling the truth, we depend on the media to get the truth out".

For six decades the Chinese government has laboured to suppress all photographs, testimonies and witnesses of their relentless persecution of the Tibetan people from reaching the international media. But in the digital age, even a ruthless and efficient police state cannot control all paths along the information highway, which makes it more difficult for the Chinese government to cleave to the party line that the "Tibetan people love Chairman Mao as their own father", to quote Xinhua, the official news service of the Chinese government.

In the cafes of Mcleodganj, you will meet travellers who managed to get into Tibet just before the latest ban on tourism. They describe armed snipers posted on every rooftop in Lhasa, People's Armed Police marching around the holy Jokhang Monastery, counter-clockwise, in violation of Buddhist ritual, public denunciations of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan prisoners of conscience marched through the streets with pistols pointed at their skulls. At the Norbulinka Institute this week, the Dalai Lama led public prayers for four young Tibetan nationalists executed in Lhasa last week for "counter-revolutionary crimes against the state".

As Chairman Mao's empire strives for global hegemony, the Tibet crisis reveals deep fissures within the state. That ethnic identities, Buddhism, Falon Gong and community organising are forces that so petrify the mighty People's Republic of China, that summon punishments so cruel and extreme, reveals a crippling paranoia within the Communist leadership. The Chinese Communist Party commands fear but no loyalty, as did the Soviet Union as it stumbled towards collapse. But unlike the USSR, the People's Republic of China enjoys "unconditional engagement" with the United States and other Western powers, thanks to the Kissinger Doctrine - a remnant of the Cold War which has never been reconsidered or rewritten, even after the collapse of the Berlin Wall nullified its validity.

A Tibetan activist noted: "There are forces of reform and change within China, but Western governments are propping up the Communist Party and holding back political reform in the world's largest dictatorship. We fear they've abandoned democracy and are following the old formula that 'might makes right'".

The Tibetan refugees have neither wealth nor arms, but the support of groups like the Nobel Women's Initiative reveals the power and rectitude the Tibetan cause symbolises for citizens of the world. On their final day in Dharamsala, the three Nobel laureates roamed through Mcleodganj to buy handicrafts and say goodbye to new friends. In parting, Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work on landmines, said: "I consider it a great honour to be here in Dharamsala with the Dalai Lama. The world needs his leadership, he embodies the values of peace and justice that the world is in danger of losing. Non-violence has power, it can topple governments, it should not be ignored. Gandhi proved that, didn't he?"

- Maura Moynihan is an author and Tibet expert who has worked with Tibetan refugees in India for many years

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