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Cultural genocide: In Tibet or New Orleans?

Published Apr 3, 2008 9:33 PM

The Dalai Lama claims that China is committing “cultural genocide” against the Tibetan people, and his claims and news of the events unfolding in the regional capital of Lhasa have captured a great deal of attention in the major media outlets in the U.S.

The “cause” of Tibet and the accusation of “cultural genocide” are not new. “Free Tibet” bumper stickers can often be seen at peace rallies, and it would seem that the case of Tibet is a real national liberation struggle of an oppressed people struggling for independence from an imperialist or colonial master.

However, the issue of Tibet has been foisted upon some sectors of the movement in the U.S. in order to weaken China. The relationship between the U.S., with its aim to undermine the gains of the Chinese revolution, and the Dalai Lama and his clique is an old one and goes all the way back to the CIA manufactured “uprising” of 1959.

It is greatly ironic that the corporate media in the U.S., which operate as mouthpieces for the owners and rulers of U.S. society, can use the Dalai Lama’s claim of “cultural genocide,” especially considering that the U.S. has committed genocide against Indigenous people and cut the ethnic/tribal ties to Africa of 40 million Black people.

At a 2002 talk sponsored by the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, Barry Sautman pointed out, “The problems of Tibetans are typical of minorities in the era of large modern states.” Sautman is an associate professor of Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. (www.international.ucla.edu)

Sautman argues that, though Chinese culture has naturally influenced Tibetan culture, “By not defining cultural genocide the Tibetan exiles can label any changes from 1959 as cultural genocide, although many of these changes could be expected to have occurred without the issue of cultural genocide arising.”

Sautman refutes the claim that Tibet has been flooded by Chinese migration by showing data that are not denied even by the U.S., which show that most Chinese that go to Tibet usually stay for only a few years and that many who claim to live in Tibet only claim to do so in order to receive higher pensions.

Western culture has infiltrated Tibet as well, as it has many other societies around the world, but this is rarely looked upon as “cultural genocide,” or even as cultural imperialism.

The Dalai Lama is a separatist, connected to the old feudal relations that existed in Tibet before 1959, and his claims that Tibetan society was a free and open society where people lived harmoniously is a misrepresentation of history.

Historian Michael Parenti, in a piece titled “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,” states: “Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. ...

“Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some Western admirers as ‘a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma.’ In fact, it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served mainly as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order, protect their property, and hunt down runaway serfs.” (www.michaelparenti.org)

It is the destruction of the old mode of production and property relations that angers the separatist movement that surrounds the Dalai Lama. The U.S. cares nothing about Buddhism, Tibetan monks or Tibetan culture, so it never mentions how the culture has been preserved, or that Tibet has been a part of China for centuries.

Jin Zhigou, chief editor of the magazine China’s Tibet, says that the Dalai Lama and those that surround him use the fact that people are increasingly interested in Tibetan culture to influence attitudes by crying “cultural genocide.” But what culture would there be to spark anyone’s interest if it were being wiped out and the process of “cultural genocide” was nearing its fifth decade?

Jin says, “With the continuous social progress and the advancement of productive forces, it’s a natural thing for some cultural phenomena that are attached to relatively backward means of production to fade out of history. ... But the cultural activities closely connected with the salt-transporting, such as singing and dancing, rituals and taboos, have been preserved.”

“We needn’t have to keep black slavery in the United States just in order to enjoy the Blues,” he said. “The disappearance of salt-transporting by yaks won’t lead to the vanishing of the cultural elements it gave birth to.” He points out the millions of yuan, Chinese currency, that have been and are being spent to maintain both the intangible and structural parts of Tibetan culture.

This attempt at cultural preservation is greatly different than what happens in the U.S. The Hurricane Katrina tragedy and aftermath provide a clear illumination.

“The roots run deep in New Orleans” is a popular saying amongst Black New Orleanians. New Orleans is sacred ground, but this has not stopped local, state and federal officials from denying the right to return for evacuees, destroying public housing and entire neighborhoods, denying the right to jobs and re-imagining and attempting to rebuild the entire city for wealthy whites. Is this not cultural genocide?

The capitalist system cares nothing about culture. Capitalism sees culture as a commodity or subterfuge, something to use for profit or to undermine a people. Is this not what has happened to Black culture?

Take hip-hop culture, the musical aspect alone, and look at its history and its current state. Where hip-hop music is now from where it was is the difference between self-determination and a people determining their culture, and a system that is perpetuated by exploitation.

Anyone with a scant knowledge of the history of the U.S. can see its hypocrisy when it comes to supporting the Dalai Lama’s claim of “cultural genocide,” and can see the real motive is to undermine the People’s Republic of China.