Eliot Pattison’s Advocacy for Tibet

The Battle for Human Rights

It would be impossible to be immersed in the world of Tibet, as I have been in writing the Inspector Shan series, and not feel the heart-wrenching suffering of the Tibetans. We are all diminished by the persecution of these brave, steadfastly spiritual people, but we are diminished even more by our own failure to act against that persecution. We endlessly hold conferences, write reports, and appoint commissions on human rights, but these efforts are starkly hollow, for they seldom result in meaningful action on the real issues. If you want to gauge how well we have done in cultivating humanity where it is most needed, look at Tibet, which is the perfect lens for examining ourselves and the world we have created. The battle for human rights is losing traction not because of tyrants but because of the millions who stand by and do nothing. – Eliot Pattison

-For decades Tibet was the canary in the coal mine for the Western human rights community, a vital test of its global commitment to compassion and individual freedoms. The West utterly failed that test. Million of Tibetans have been forced to abandon ancient traditions, lost vital freedoms, and must endure suffocating oppression by Beijing. Now the techniques of repression that were developed and proven on Tibetan Buddhists have been implemented more widely in Xinjiang to smother the freedoms of Chinese Muslims and Christians.

-The global vision of our once-vocal leaders on human rights has collapsed. In the past those leaders stood above the political fray to build bipartisan support for vitally important human rights causes. In Europe and America they have allowed themselves to be drawn into the cynical machinery of identity politics and polarized domestic politics. While evidence mounts in Asia of the worse human rights abuses in decades, if not in all history, our moral leadership has crumbled.

-For years I have heard apologies for Beijing’s oppression of ethnic minorities that all distill down to “China has special challenges so it has to be given some slack.” Those special challenges were essentially those of tolerating markedly diverse cultures and ethnic identities, which were anathema to China’s rulers. Now that the West has tacitly approved the repressive technologies used by Beijing to crush those ethnic groups—some of which have been utterly extinguished–those same techniques are being implemented as “foreign aid” in multiple countries in the Western Hemisphere, including Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Uruguay.

-George Orwell once alarmingly observed that “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face—forever.” That future has become the dismal present for scores of millions of Buddhists, Muslims and Christians in lands controlled by Beijing.

-America and Europe have lost confidence in their historical embrace of human rights. They have stood by without meaningful reactions as populations in Tibet, Xinjiang, Burma, and Kashmir are brutally repressed—their inaction has clearly been interpreted by the repressive leaders of those lands as “permission granted.”

-For decades America successfully lead the battle for human rights. Under its leadership the Soviet gulag system was broken, apartheid was ended, and the Berlin Wall pulled down. Global human rights issues used to be routinely pursued with bipartisan action in Washington, a gratifying point of unity across party lines. For most political leaders today, however, they have become hollow sound bites. The only reality for most in Washington is the next twenty-four hour news cycle and the shallow, polarizing domestic politics that feed it. The whole planet suffers for this retreat from higher, more fundamentally important issues.

-The lands of central Asia have been the incubator for the techniques of repression that will eventually control most of the planet if the West does not find its moral backbone. Already we have seen these same totalitarian technologies being exported to Beijing’s client states in Asia and South America.

-The destruction of Tibet is one of the greatest tragedies not merely of the past century but of all history. To the everlasting shame of Western leaders, this unique land of compassion and spiritual advancement was turned into an incubator for the development of repression, a Silicon Valley for sophisticated repressive technologies. Now those demons have hatched out of the incubator and are maturing in other geographies. The soul-crushing policies applied and polished in Tibet are now used against millions of peaceful Chinese Muslims and Christians, and are being exported around the world.

-I traveled the world for decades and came back to a generation that seemed to have lost much of its appetite for such explorations. I worry that social media and other attention-grabbing technologies have separated many from direct experience and engagement with the world. They don’t form their own opinions, they just echo the loudest voices they hear on social media. By doing so they lose commitment to higher values. Want to test how committed someone is to human rights today? Ask them if they are willing to support Tibet by giving up their Chinese-made athletic shoes.

Eliot Pattison

“The best of historical novels allow us to commit our entire spirit to understanding another world that was once our own.”

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