July 29, 2010
The 'Hijra' in TibetBy Janet Levy
On a recent trip to Chinese-occupied Tibet, I discovered striking parallels between Chinese Communist methodology and goals and the Hijra -- an Islamic expansionistic strategy to suppress and supplant non-Muslim societies and pave the way for complete submission, or Islamization. Chinese Communism and the Hijra involve expansionism, policies of cultural engineering and abrogation. Both represent a threat to the ideals of freedom and democracy.
The Hijra (which I examined previously) replicates Mohamed's pilgrimage from Mecca to Medina. It is a Koran-sanctioned struggle for world domination by Islam, involving millions of Muslims who live outside Muslim countries and are stealthily and gradually endeavoring to eradicate non-Muslim cultures and governments to institute Islamic shari'ah law. This demographic jihad, in which polygamous marriages and Koran-sanctioned liaisons produce countless offspring, gravely threatens the free world. It challenges the principles of free speech, freedom of religion, equal rights for women, and other freedoms and human rights taken for granted by Western, Judeo-Christian societies.
Chinese Communism, with its eerily similar methodology, goals, and end results, represents a comparable threat to Tibetans. Although the Communist Party mandates restrictive reproductive policies, China's massive population has been mobilized for political expediency. Clearly, ideological differences exist. Islamic Hijra is justified by a theo-politico-legal doctrine outlined in sacred Islamic texts, while the Chinese strain of Communism today is marked by a tightly restrictive authoritarian political structure that limits personal freedom and civil liberties. But the Communist strategy merits careful examination as a parallel threat to the existence of free societies within the Chinese sphere of influence.
During my trip, it was readily apparent from observation, in guarded discussions with Tibetans, and from the menacing omnipresence of an occupying Chinese army that the 1950 Communist Chinese invasion of Tibet -- and the brutal suppression of Tibetans for more than twenty years afterward -- negatively altered life in the region. The "Roof of the World," as Tibet is sometimes called, has been subjected to vast changes to its demographic landscape and the dilution of its cultural uniqueness. For centuries, Tibetan Buddhism, renowned for elaborate rituals and intricate philosophical debates, permeated all aspects of traditional Tibetan society. But with the Communist occupation and government incentives that encouraged large numbers of Han and Hui to migrate to the region, Tibetans are now a minority in their own land. The indigenous Buddhist culture has been diminished. A way of life and national identity defined and shaped by religion have been fundamentally altered by a Chinese policy aimed at controlling and systematically destroying its influence. Religion, extremely important in Tibetan everyday life and culture, is now used as a means to control its devout population.
In 1950, following the creation of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese regime declared its intent to "liberate the oppressed and exploited Tibetans and reunite them with the great motherland." A few months later, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) invaded Kham in Eastern Tibet and proceeded to Lhasa, the capital to the south. In 1951, under great duress, ecclesiastic and secular Tibetan leadership signed an agreement relinquishing their country's sovereignty and agreeing to become part of China.
Over the next decade, a series of rebellions and a guerrilla war were decisively squelched by the PLA. In 1959, the Chinese bombed Lhasa's major monasteries as well as Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, the highly revered political and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people believed to be the reincarnation of Buddha himself. The Communists threatened to kill the Dalai Lama and bomb his main residence at the centuries-old Potola Palace, where generations of Dalai Lamas had resided. Shortly thereafter, the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India, where he remains today with an expatriate community of close to 130,000 followers. By 1962, the armed conflict between the Chinese Communists and Tibetan rebels ended with the defeat of the markedly outnumbered and poorly armed Tibetans. By that time, thousands of Tibetan monks had been executed or imprisoned, and thousands of monasteries, temples, and artifacts had been destroyed or looted. Martial law was declared, and Tibetan rulers were replaced with loyal Chinese officials.
Throughout the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when all of China was subjected to the economic reforms of collectivization and central planning, Tibet suffered a similar fate. The disruption of traditional agricultural practices caused mass starvation. More than 6,000 monasteries and vast numbers of religious artifacts, statues, and sacred texts were destroyed. Tibetans were coerced to renounce their religious beliefs, and certain religious practices were banned. Monks and nuns were persecuted and forced to forsake their sacred vows of celibacy and engage in sexual activity or marry. Thousands were imprisoned and tortured, and an estimated one million Tibetans died.
In the 1980s, restrictive government policies were loosened, limited religious practice was permitted, and Tibet was opened to tightly regulated tourism. Monasteries were rebuilt, and economic activity was normalized. Still, life without the leadership and guidance of the Dalai Lama was intolerable for many Tibetans, who began to demonstrate for greater political freedom. The rebellion was brutally suppressed by the Chinese army, leading to hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests. Displaying photographs of the Dalai Lama was eventually banned, and restrictions increased.
In 1996, China launched the "strike hard" program for the "patriotic re-education" of religious leaders. Under threat of imprisonment or deportation, monks and nuns were required to study Communist ideology, place the Chinese motherland above their religion, and denounce Tibet's independence and the Dalai Lama. In one instance, monks were forced to stomp on a photograph of the Dalai Lama or risk a beating.
Prior to the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, violence erupted after monks in Lhasa demonstrated for a week, calling for greater religious freedom and independence from China. Tibetans were warned that visits were prohibited to religious institutions where unrest had occurred and that those who violated the ban would be subject to job dismissal and salary suspension. The city of Lhasa was placed under curfew, and tourism was curtailed for one month.
Today, Tibet's economy is almost entirely based on subsistence agriculture and tourism. Limited arable land contributes to the country's poverty, and agricultural activity consists mainly of raising livestock and cultivating grain. The challenging mountains, pristine scenery, and interest in Tibetan Buddhism and local handicrafts have brought tourists to the area, but certain areas are off-limits to foreigners. The Chinese government recently discovered mineral deposits of zinc, copper, and lead valued at $128 billion that could double China's reserves of these minerals and reduce their need for foreign imports.
The Chinese are busily rewriting Tibetan history and refer to the day they overthrew the government as the "liberation" of the Tibetan people and the beginning of "democratic reform." A prominent monument in Lhasa signifies fifty years of "liberation." Flying the Tibetan flag is prohibited.
For the last two decades, the Chinese have made further inroads in Tibet in their attempts to change its unique culture and bring it more in line with China's policies and agenda. Chinese settlers are still encouraged, often with government assistance, to come to Tibet, and a recently opened train line links Lhasa with mainland China. Tibetans complain that Chinese merchants control most of the tourist shops in the capital.
It is clear that the authority of the Chinese government is sacrosanct. China selects all candidates for influential religious positions, disregarding time-honored Buddhist reincarnation requirements for leadership roles. Monasteries are closely monitored, as are the reading of religious texts, the practice of rituals, and the observance of festivals, where large numbers of potential protesters could gather. Tibetan monks are forced to renounce the Dalai Lama, their sacred leader, and swear allegiance to the State. The Chinese government tightly restricts the number of monasteries and their renovation, as well as the size, composition, and mobility of the monk population. Monks' quarters are subject to random searches, and monks live in fear that informants dwell among them. If arrested for political activity or possession of prohibited religious texts, monks may not reenter monastic life. All monasteries must be commercially viable through fees from tourism or other money-making enterprises. Human rights organizations have been denied access to Tibetans, and it has been reported that monks constitute 80% of political prisoners in the country. Over 11,000 monks and nuns have been expelled from Tibet.
During my visit, a 30-year-old native furtively explained marked changes to the educational system over the past sixty years. During her parents' generation fifty years ago, instruction was conducted exclusively in Tibetan. When this young woman was of school age in the late 1980s, lessons were given half in Chinese and half in Tibetan. Today, students are required to speak Chinese, all classes are conducted in Chinese, and Tibetan is offered as an elective language. Symbolically, signage in Tibet, even for native Tibetan artisan shops, is written in large Chinese letters (usually in red) with significantly smaller Tibetan characters on top.
The threatening presence and actions of the Chinese authorities and their suppression of the traditional Tibetan way of life and religious practices have led to decades of unrest. Under the Chinese Communists, Tibetans have been denied the right to self-determination and freedom of speech, assembly, and movement. The very survival of the racial, cultural, and national identities of Tibet is threatened, and the Chinese are committed to ending religious practices through reeducation and propaganda.
As with Islamization, the goal of the Chinese Communists in Tibet is demographic neutralization and insidious cultural destruction and replacement over time. Subtle forms of indoctrination gradually expose and familiarize the population with a new set of expectations and values until a critical mass is achieved to engineer a complete takeover. Both ideologies are militaristic and life-prescriptive, enforcing the supremacy of their goals and justifying the subjugation and annihilation of those who rebel against their respective doctrines.
The Dalai Lama has said that he "fears more deaths in Tibet unless Beijing changes its policies toward the Chinese-controlled region." The cultural genocide of the Tibetan people is proceeding full speed ahead with little news coverage and limited humanitarian intervention. Sadly, the world has not focused on the desperate plight of Tibetans in their remote corner of the world, and the situation doesn't look hopeful. If world attention fails to focus on this Chinese "hijra," it may be too late for the survival of the people of Tibet and their unique culture.