Tag Archives: Tenzin Tsundue

Time to untie the headband, Tenzin

Yes, I call myself a Tibet sympathiser. But then why do I find myself getting increasingly more angry with the Tibetan people? While my thoughts on the subject have lay dormant for several months, my frustration was reignited today when I clicked on the Facebook page of Tenzin Tsundue, the well-known activist who lives his life in the same dingy red bandanna and black sweatshirt and promises to continue doing so until Tibet is free. 

Right now, on Facebook, my friend Dan “is hating wisdom teeth!!!”, while Sinoun “thinks liberals make better lovers.” But nothing trivial for Tenzin, oh no. This is a serious, driven guy who has a one-track mind for Tibet. Having met him in Dharamsala, India as well as for an interview in Minneapolis, his fight for Tibet’s freedom is felt in his every breath and step. On his Facebook page, for what he is “doing right now”, he has written, “Tsundue is joining the all-Tibetan 12hr fasting in Dharamsala today for freedom in Tibet, will think about the dead and the imprisoned and reflect on past actions.”

While I do respect his choice to honor the dead (because even I don’t have the guts to put him down for that), I cannot see the point of any of this nonsense. I am a pacifist and wouldn’t condone a violent approach by the Tibetans (especially when we can see from months ago that this did not work well with the Chinese regime or their staunch sense of pride), but what real, tactical problems does fasting tackle for a people that have been suffering for some fifty years?

Tenzin Tsundue

The man in the red bandanna: Tenzin Tsundue

 What the Tibetans need is a big dose of reality. Let’s take the environment for example. Does anyone remember the name of that woman who built an adult-sized treehouse and lived in it for a year in order to protect her favorite green, leafy vegetable? Or how about those hundreds of people who swore they’d never eat beef again because the production was causing such destruction to the world’s rainforests?

Yeah, me neither. But ask anyone around the world who Al Gore is and what advancements he’s managed to make in the name of environmental protection and the list is tantamount. The issue here is not looking at things as they should be, but how they are. It would certainly be very flowery and nice to say that peace activists should be able to tie a dirty bandanna around their foreheads and have it make a palpable difference. But this is not real life. In life, you just end up with a zitty forehead and 50% of the population thinking you’re an amazing pioneer and the other 50% thinking you’re crazy, while things tiredly remain the same.

If Tenzin – and all the other Tibetan protesters around the world (including myself, because I wouldn’t have spent 3 months living and working with the Tibetan people of India or working as a journalist in their community in Minneapolis, if I didn’t give a !Ø%$! about the cause) want to truly make effective change within Tibet and China, they need to get their butts to college and get into POLITICS.

I know, I don’t like politics either. Many people have an aversion to it. But the reality of today is, change is in the politics. Just as Al Gore has significantly changed the way the world views the environment, Tibetan scholars have the potential to work with China on Sino-Tibetan relations. But where are the Tibetans?

Lobsang Sangay, renowned in the Tibetan community for being the first Tibetan to earn a doctoral degree from Harvard Law School, spoke in Minneapolis a few years ago and offered the same plea: educate yourselves and be the force that this community needs to make real change. Perhaps the community is just getting started, that this next generation will be the one who realizes where the world’s power lies. Because you can wear as many sweaty headbands and spout as many 2nd-grade-level freedom poems as you want, but unless you have the money and smarts as your foundation, you ain’t gonna make it off first base.

Case in point, Tenzin made it all the way to CNN, in an interview with senior correspondent Christiane Amanpour. Forget my piddly little interview in the local Minneapolis papers – he was on CNN. A million people saw that interview, I imagine, but where did it get him? I don’t mean to say that the media plays no role in making change in this world, because there are certain instances where this is true (obviously I wouldn’t be in this business otherwise), but with the Tibetan struggle, where time and again their old tactics have not worked, I am constantly shocked that none of them have gone into politics. 

Tenzin in Minneapolis in 2007

Tenzin in Minneapolis in 2007

My friend was explaining to me that in certain sectors of international politics, like the UN and NATO, China has a representative at every level and the opportunity to block any piece of legislation that doesn’t fit their fancy. So, if, for example, the UNHCR (United Nations Human Rights Council) wants to pass a resolution in favor of Tibetans, there will always be a Chinese representative of the UNHCR to lobby the bill until it stops in its tracks. If it advances to assembly, there are Chinese at every level, ready to block it as well. And if it somehow advances to be debated amongst the security council, those permanent members have ultimate veto power. If a bill does manage to pass, it can be signed with certain conditions so that all rules don’t necessarily have to be adhered to, and basically nothing is set in stone. If you are found to be in violation of a UN resolution, the only punishment is international embarrassment, and often, a mere slap on the hand will do.

So, this means that no matter how many banners Tenzin ties to skyscrapers and no matter how much time he spends fasting, no one is getting past these Chinese diplomats who virtually hold the tiny Tibetan province in their dictatorshipped hands.

But try telling that to any lay Tibetan activist. The concept of doing things the way they should be and not the way they are is too tempting to resist. After all, in the case of Tenzin Tsundue, what is the point of spending those long years at university studying the ins and outs of public policy when you can just tie an old red strip of fabric around your head, scale a tall building with a flag in your hand, and call it “making a difference?”