I read an article today on CNN.com that actually caused my blood to boil. I could feel it percolating under my skin. The author suggested that the US should boycott the Olympics, being held this summer in Beijing, and not send our athletes to the games.
Let me be clear that my disdain for the Chinese government is deep. But to suggest that Americans have some sort of moral authority and can use that authority to make a statement by boycotting the games is absurd. Aren't we the country of waterboarding and Abu Ghraib and holding prisoners illegally at Guantanamo? Aren't we the country that invaded Iraq illegally according to the UN Charter? Who are we to hold ourselves as superior to the Chinese? The United States lost any moral authority long, long ago.
What saddens me is that the World Community (is there such a thing?) selected China to hold the games to begin with. Does the world not care that China is one of the biggest sellers of weapons to the Sudanese government, these weapons used in turn to inflict unspeakable crimes against humanity in Darfur? Even our own State Department references China's "extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment" of Tibetans. Are we really so in love with cheap crap that we aren't willing to risk alienating the Chinese government?
In 1996 I was lucky enough to spend 2 amazing months with Tibetan refuges in Dharamsala, India. It is impossible for me to describe the beauty and courage of the Tibetans. In order to practice their religion openly, they must escape their home city of Lhasa in the middle of the night and make a treacherous trek through mountains and snow, avoiding police checkpoints and hypothermia. Those that make it travel for two weeks before arriving in Dharamsala, a region of India granted to exiled Tibetans by the Indian Prime Minister in 1960. They make this trip so that they can practice their religion openly and in peace, led by their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
I spent my nights in Dharamsala at Drepung Loseling Monastery. I arrived after a 16 hour bus ride from Delhi. When I walked into the main receiving area, I was greeted by 3 young monks, enjoying the best known American export - Baywatch. They showed my friend and I to our room where we had our own shower and our own private monkey "forest" hanging around outside our window. It doesn't take long in Dharamsala to get your bearings. We quickly found The Tibetan Children's Village (http://www.tcv.org.in/home.shtml) and Yongling School, where we taught English to eager students.
I have heard that Dharamsala has changed in the 10+ years since I have been there, but when I was there, all I saw was beauty. The children and the adults and the shopkeepers and the teachers and the monks and the nuns struck me as such pure souls, eager to tell their stories and ask for help for their people. I had to leave midway through my stay to return to the States for my brother's wedding and a crowd of students and nuns and monks escorted me to my bus, placing prayer scarves around my neck, wishing me a safe journey and "namaste" (travel in peace).
Sadly, what has not changed is China's continued oppression of the Tibetan people. Tibet fell to Communist China's control in the 1950s and since that time the people have had their government taken from them, been forbidden from practicing their religion, and been forbidden from speaking their native language, among many, many other infractions. Between 1950 and 1984, over 200,000 Tibetans were killed by genocide, in prison and in labor camps. At least 80 peaceful demonstrators have been killed in the past week alone as Tibetans continue to non-violently protest their oppression by the Chinese government.
So, no, I am not in favor or a US boycott of the Olympic games. But what can concerned individuals do, particularly now that all eyes are watching Beijing for this summer's Olympics? Here are three ideas:
- Boycott the Olympics yourself. Don't buy into the televised hype of the new, modern, clean Beijing.
- Boycott Chinese goods - a personal way of opposing the Chinese occupation of Tibet and showing solidarity with the Tibetan people.
- Write to your legislators. Urge them to remove China's Most Favored Nation (MFN) status, due to human rights abuses in Tibet and elsewhere. Follow this link to find your representative: http://support.savetibet.org/site/PageServer?pagename=find_legislators