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The West Must Stand Up for Tibet

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The Dalai Lama has led a non-violent campaign of resistance to Chinese occupation of Tibet since 1959. Tibet is not free. Therefore this campaign has not worked. This is the sad truth.

I'd love to believe that tyranny can always be overcome by peaceful protest: Non-violent resistance did help India to gain independence from Britain, but the British were leaving anyway. Try staging peaceful protests against panzer divisions, or the Chinese government. The sad reality is that all the historical evidence suggests that violent insurrection has a much better track record of achieving freedom: American independence was achieved through violent insurrection, likewise in Ireland, Haiti and many others countries.

Tibet's capital, Lhasa, is now majority Han Chinese. Beijing has for years actively settled the area with ethnic Chinese. A new rail link direct from Beijing makes settlement easier and faster. At some point, the majority of Tibet's entire population may consist of ethnic Chinese, loyal to Beijing. If this happens, there will never be a free Tibet.

The Dalai Lama's opposition to violence has given the world a powerful moral example. Perhaps it points to something greater than even a successful a war of independence: the possibility that the world's most intractable conflicts can be resolved by peaceful means. Yet Tibet may soon no longer be Tibetan, and it is not free. The Dalai Lama cannot even visit his homeland and his people.

At the White House today, President Obama meets the Dalai Lama, a fellow leader, but one in exile. Will the president speak of how the Dalai Lama's struggle resonates with Dr. King's non-violent struggle for civil rights, of which the president himself is the ultimate vindication? Will he stand shoulder to shoulder with the Dalai Lama and say "we shall overcome"; or will he say, "thanks for the photo op, but you're on your own."

For the Dalai Lama's vision to succeed, the entire Western world would have to put immense pressure on China. We would have come together and promise economic sanctions unless Tibet is given independence. For now it seems that cheap consumer durables are more important to the US and the EU than Tibetan freedom.

A free Tibet, wrested from China's tyranny by non-violent means, would have profound and lasting implications for all humanity: If Tibet became free by peaceful means, the world would know for ever that non-violence can really work.

This example would undermine those who argue for violence, it would undercut terrorism and help us as a species to get beyond war. It is not possible to overstate the implications of showing the world that non-violent resistance can really work, even against an anti-democratic tyranny.

That Tibet is not free is the West's shame, not the Dalai Lama's. The West must choose: do we want cheap gadgets or do we want a free Tibet, and with it a new era of peace for mankind.