Friday, April 25, 2008

An Unlit Candle: Seders for Tibet

I read about this in the current "Forward," which arrived today. Jay Michaelson, whose column "The Polymath" invariably comes closest in print to what I myself believe in my better moments (despite being neither gay nor Buddhist, let alone a law professor, lauded poet, overachieving Ivy Leaguer, urban urbane wit, must I go on?). I wish I knew about his new effort seven nights ago. He's promoting, if a week too late for our home's Passover, this campaign for not only remembering at the commemoration of liberation the unfree Tibetans, but for helping to save them.

Here's an excerpt from his grassroots effort:
"And now, as the Chinese Olympic torch is met with protests around the globe, we call on you to join the effort to shed light on Tibet’s suffering by extinguishing a torch of your own.

We call on all Jews to include an unlit candle on their Seder Tables this year. The candle symbolizes both the Olympic torch, whose light has been dimmed, and the unmet hopes of a people still living without freedom.

In the Jewish tradition, light symbolizes freedom, hope, and renewal. On Shabbat, Chanukah, and on holidays including Passover, we light candles to shed light into our hearts, thank God for the blessings we enjoy, and commit ourselves to our religion’s ideals of justice and freedom for all.

But for three million Tibetans living under military rule, the light has been extinguished. Tibetans may not freely practice their religion, display their flag, or honor their leader, the Dalai Lama. Doing so puts them at risk of jail, torture, or worse.

The point is not just to have another symbol on your table. Rather, as with the rest of the Seder, the point is to stimulate discussion and action."

Michaelson writes about supporting the Tibetan cause, of course, but I think that his suggestions do not go far enough. Personally, despite the Dalai Lama's calls for no boycott either of China nor the Olympics, I wonder why such efforts should not be done. I know the Buddhist understanding seems less sanguinary, and more sanguine, than our Western theologies of liberation and teleologies of deliverance. But, perhaps without sounding ethnocentrist, a little kick in the ass might be what the Panda Bear needs? Forty years of ping-pong diplomacy do not seem to have eased the suffering of the people there, nor have they in this span surpassing the Exodus in length found their Pure Land of promise.

Surely a boycott would provide a truly powerful counterattack to the economic hegemony and political dictatorship that increasingly we outside the PRC also feel in our daily lives, as debtors, consumers, and workers who see our own democratic (such as it is in theory) gains slipping away as the foreign superpower grows in prestige and influence? I have mentioned this issue (search keyword "Tibet") more than once on this blog the past two months. Typical, you might carp. I go on the Net rather than march in the street. But, the Olympic torch never came within 500 miles of me. Like it or not, for we post-boomers, this is our cyber-Berkeley. And, where you and I share our attenuated dialogue has become the agora for our new Athenian dialogues across much more space than even Socrates knew or Aristotle defined. A few weeks ago, when on this blog I listed sites I'd found that advocated such a campaign, I found only a few, often desultorily, advocating this effort.

Most people shrug off this as too difficult; a recent book "A Year Without China" gained about as dismissive reviews as one that also came out about a year without shopping at a chain store, for much the same lethargic reason. Too much of a hassle, not worth the trouble. As for me, I look for the non-union label, so to speak. I'm tired of not having any choice on the shelf but to buy shoddy goods made by exploited workers. Personally, if the Irish had bothered to turn against the British chain stores and auto makers (back when they made cars there), the troops would have heard "slan abhaile" long long ago. Never understood why Grattan's "burn everything British except their coal" became nothing more than a rousing slogan two hundreds years hence, but I'm naive, I know. Same cognitive dissonance that makes ManU the leisure apparel of choice for the average non-Celtic fan throughout most of the 26 Counties. Yet try finding a Galway City football cap or hoodie.

Back to boycotts. If Britain was so righteous in the past to disdain diamonds from South Africa or the U.S. to prohibit cigars from Cuba, why not put our principles to work and cut ties with China? Maybe for the same reason our armies and our leaders in revenge went down rabbit holes after Afghan warlords and Iraqi 'insurgents' rather than strike the petroleum-rich pulse of the Islamofascist threat: the Wahhabi regime who, in the name of piety, has gone so far as to bulldoze Muhammed's birthplace for fear of idolatrous haji. We go after the Grenadas and Panamas with gusto, while Saudi Arabia and China (as MFN status, naturally) bask in the profits we so willingly give them with our SUVs, Wal-Marts, and daily "freemarket" choices at the market, the gas pump (I paid $25 for 6 gallons today), or the dealer. So, I agree with Michaelson's strategy, but in a spirit he would share, I also challenge his definition of what should be a far bolder initiative in the cause of human rights.

There's a link at Unlit Candle to nobler, less testy minds than mine. (I suffer from the Irish disease of begrudgery.) These more enlightened souls write nuanced articles on Tibet. Jewish activists add their own perspectives; there's also thoughts for the Seder, and a hyperlink to, among other sites, The International Campaign for Tibet at See more: An Unlit Candle

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