The following is, admittedly, sorta hippy-dippy, but I think the point about taking the long view is well-taken. In the long run, the Dalai Lama, and Tibet, probably win. In Afghanistan, everyone has already lost.
Guernica: Couldn’t it be argued then that the Dalai Lama by engaging in nonviolent practices in a sense is breeding violence within Tibet? There are so many people there who are still being tortured, imprisoned…
Robert Thurman: It could be argued and it is argued, but I don’t think that argument will win. For example, look at the case of Tibet and look at the case of Afghanistan. Tibet has been invaded for sixty years by China and they’re doing a genocide slowly: killing and imprisoning and working to death in labor camps hundreds of thousands of people. And killing another half a million or so with famine by disrupting the environment, making them plant the wrong crops and generally really screwing up. I mean, it’s really bad what they’re doing. But the Tibetans will weather this. They showed in the eighties, after several generations from 1950 to 1980, that they still had their Buddhist culture in their hearts and they began rebuilding their own monasteries. Many became monks and nuns. They kind of got back into their way of life for about four or five years and then there was another fifteen or twenty years of crackdown.
Compare that with Afghanistan where the entire country is destroyed. When they had a brief period without the Russians, they killed each other. Then they got the insane Taliban backed by the religious fanatics in Pakistan. Their violence has simply accelerated. The point is, if someone successfully defends something with violence, then they’ll start being violent with each other and they will end up having a violent regime. That’s what we see: it’s like the Communist Revolution. Mao said that Chiang Kai-shek and the old feudal landlords were too violent. Lenin said the Tsar and the old Russian aristocrats were too violent. Then they [Mao and Lenin] killed people much more hugely because they got their power through violence and they didn’t know how to stop.
So coming back to the Dalai Lama, his thing is terribly slow. The poor guy is going to have to live to a hundred practically, the way it’s going, but the yet the place is not a total wreck. There’s still some fabric. There are still six million Tibetans there. He’s kept the culture alive in exile, and he’s gaining more and more friends amongst the Chinese people, the intellectuals, the ordinary people, the Buddhists. He’s extremely popular in Taiwan and all overseas Chinese communities as a Buddhist leader. And the PRC—clearly shown by the behavior of their oligarchy that runs the Communist Party—no longer holds the Communist ideology; they’re actually capitalists. Their people are mad with them; they don’t dare have a real election. They have huge police suppression, eighty or ninety thousand demonstrations per year that they have to suppress with police power.
The Dalai Lama is there for the long-term success and according to a way.