1990s >> 1998 >> no-1131-november-1998

World View

Repression—in exile

The past couple of years have been a somewhat turbulent time for Tibetan refugee communities, Tibetan Buddhism in general, and for those who idealise the Dalai Lama. Far from fulfilling his fantasy status as some sort of “saintly” icon, the Dalai Lama has followed what can be seen as a political programme of repression not that dissimilar to that of the Chinese state, from which so many have fled.

In 1996 he announced a ban on the worship of a Buddhist deity called Dorje Shugden, declaring somewhat vaguely that he had discovered Shugden to be a “Chinese” spirit who was somehow physically threatening both his own life and the future of Tibet. He declared this ban not only in his capacity as a “spiritual leader”, but as head of a government-in-exile. For the Dalai Lama is the supreme head (unelected) of a state; albeit a state-in-waiting (Tibet) that is based in Dharamsala in northern India. It has a sizeable state machine; a parliament, cabinet, government departments, and most notably a Security Bureau. To fund this a tax is levied on all Tibetan refugees, non-payment of which results in official loss of “citizenship”. On the question of democracy, when the Vice President of the Tibetan parliament was asked if any political decision could conceivably be taken in opposition to the Dalai Lama he answered, “no, not possible”.

Those refusing to accept the ban on Shugden have accordingly been labelled as enemies of the state and Chinese agents and, in reference to Tibet’s provision at paper constitution, the government-in-exile has declared that, “concepts like democracy . . . are empty when it comes to the well-being of the Dalai Lama and the common cause of Tibet”. The lengths to which the Dalai Lama would be prepared to go to maintain his authority were hinted at in an interview in 1997 where he stated:

“If . . . there was only one learned Lama . . . alive, a person whose death would cause the whole of Tibet to lose all hope of keeping its Buddhist way of life, then it is conceivable that in order to protect that one person it might be justified for one or ten enemies to be eliminated . . .”

No prizes for guessing who and what is being referred to here then—and so much for peace and love.

The resulting “justified” actions taken against those refusing to comply with the deity ban have included the dismissal of all such dissidents from government employment and the report that the residents of at least one monastery were “persuaded” to sign forms in support of the ban by the presence of Indian state police. Some 300 cases of house arrest, destruction of personal property, and harassment by Dalai Lama supporters have been reported, including one case of a family being forced from their home by a large crowd, which petrol bombed and ransacked their house. In addition posters denouncing religious dissidents have become commonplace in Tibetan exile communities. These notices generally include the name, address and photo of the particular “enemy of the state” and the schools their children attend. It is little wonder that some have become refugees all over again.

The Dalai Lama recently helped promote the products of the Apple computer company under the advertising slogan “Think Different”, which is interesting when compared with an official statement of his that warns: “If you can think by yourselves it is good . . . it will not be good if we have to knock on your doors.”

Tibetans, both under Chinese rule and the rule of “their” government-in-exile, face a choice in common with the exploited majority everywhere: conformity imposed by gods and masters or the struggle for real freedom presented by socialists.

Nothing new to report

Two recently published reports make compelling reading for those who think capitalism is a fair and efficient system of global organisation and provide undeniable evidence, if ever it was needed, that the case for world socialism is as pressing now as it ever has been.

Coming within one month of each other, the UN Human Development Report 1998 and the Living Planet Report from the World Wide Fund for Nature, the New Economics Foundation and the World Monitoring Centre, paint anything but a picture of a world run on rational lines.

Launching the Living Planet Report on October 1st, Nick Mabey of the WWF announced that “time is running out for us to change the way we live if we are to leave further generations a living planet . . . we knew it was bad, but until we did this report we did not realise how bad”. (Guardian, 2 October).

The report he speaks of points out that since 1970, humans have destroyed more than 30 percent of the natural world, the UNHDR claiming that this has happened because of “consumption increasing six-fold in the last 20 years, doubling in the last 10”. (Guardian, 9 September).

Over-consumption lies at the heart of both reports, which are critical of the lip service paid by governments to the notion of sustainable development.

While the Living Planet Report points out that CO2 emissions have doubled since 1960, and to a level now exceeding the natural world’s ability to absorb them, the UNHDR reveals that the burning of fossil fuel has in fact quadrupled since 1950, with the wealthiest one-fifth of the world’s population accounting for 50 percent of this. The poorest one-fifth account for only 3 percent of CO2 emissions, yet countries like Bangladesh and Egypt pay the highest price for the global warming CO2 helps produce—rising sea levels with the loss of homes and livelihoods.

Both reports point out that for the first time one of the most serious problems that faces us is a depletion in the world’s fresh water reserves, with fresh water eco-systems declining at the rate of 6 percent per annum While 50 percent of all fresh water supplies are monopolised by humans, three-fifths of the developing world’s 4.4 billion population have no safe drinking water.

The reports find that wood and paper consumption have increased by two-thirds since 1960—with little or no sustainable management of forests—and that the marine catch has quadrupled in this period, with one-quarter of fish stocks now depleted and a further 44 percent fished at their biological level.

The UNHDR claims that global inequality increases apace with 20 percent of the world’s population consuming 86 percent of the earth’s natural resources. To emphasise this discrepancy, the report reveals that a child born in New York or London will consume, pollute or waste more in a lifetime than 50 children born in the developing world. Meanwhile, the Living Planet report says that the average American or Japanese consumes 10 times more of the earth’s resources than the average Bangladeshi. The UN report also lists the latest figures on world wealth distribution. The world’s wealthiest 225 people now have combined wealth equivalent to that of the poorest 47 percent of the global population, while the world’s three richest people have assets that exceed the combined GDP of the world’s 48 least developed countries.

It further estimates that “the additional cost of achieving and maintaining universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all and adequate food…water…sanitation for all is roughly $40 bn per year…(a figure which is)…less than 4 percent of the wealth of the 3 richest”. (Guardian, 9 September).

As could have been anticipated, the reports’ suggested remedies to redress the above fall well within the category socialists term reformism, amounting to the same battle cries of the well-meaning, though less well informed, without visible results for decades.

It is perhaps a forgone conclusion that such statistics will not fair any better in the years ahead, and we may well wonder how long their compilers will juggle with them before they conclude capitalism can’t be tinkered with in our interests.

Instead of producing volumes of such statistics each year, which on the face of it are only of any use in the armoury of the socialist, wouldn’t it be wiser if the “experts” decided to work out how much better the world would be if we freed production from the artificial constraints of profit, and organised production in a rational and sustainable manner and to the benefit of all. Or would these same experts fear they would be labelled socialist and their reports taken less seriously?


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