By: Michael Chiulli
As captured in Rage Against the Machine's self-titled album cover, self-immolation has long been a terrifying means of protest in Tibet, particularly among Buddhist monks. A recent wave of fiery deaths has brought this issue back into the international spotlight. Since 2009, 81 Tibetans have set themselves alight. A drastic spike has seen 19 self-immolations in the month of November. What would push a people to protest so vehemently that they would attempt such a painful suicide? The Chinese government insists that its rule is not oppressive and that Tibetans enjoy a great degree of freedom. However, Tibetans wouldn't self-immolate merely for sport. Self-immolation represents Tibetans' desperation and frustration with the authoritarian regime. So far, that proclamation of their condition has fallen on deaf ears in the international community.
The Chinese stranglehold on media and its censorship of the internet has made reliable information difficult to obtain. Often, Chinese reports vary greatly from those of Tibetans or other sources. One ex-monk was quoted, "Tibetan religion and culture is under such unthinkable repression that it has reached a point of desperation where people would choose to die rather than go on living." Tibetans' exiled government, based in Dharamsala, India, is unrecognized by the United Nations and is powerless against the Chinese. The Dalai Lama, formerly Tibet's political leader and now merely an influential spiritual figure, commands no military.
The Dalai Lama, usually silent on this issue, has recently called for China to address the issues causing these self-immolations. The Dalai Lama does not condone self-immolation, but admires the courage of those who practice it; nonetheless, the Chinese claim he encourages it.
As China expands as a world power and other parts of the world sway the spotlight from Indonesia, outside involvement seems unlikely. However, the Western world must bravely confront the Chinese and somehow relieve the Tibetans of their plight. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the Chinese occupation and called for an end to Chinese excessively harsh rule. However, intervention on behalf of the Tibetans for an independent state seems unnecessary. A middle ground somewhere should be attainable. The Chinese should be able to rule fairly, allowing the Tibetans basic freedoms. The Tibetans have more than done their job of shedding light on the situation. Until China acts and rules responsibly, the influential nations of the world must find a solution.