OVER THE PAST several months my inbox—and perhaps yours, too—has filled with emails recounting the latest from Burma and now Tibet. Our web editor, Philip Ryan, has done an admirable job keeping abreast of quickly unfolding events in both countries on our editors’ blog, which is far better equipped than the magazine to keep track of breaking news. Tricycle.com has quickly taken up issues that a quarterly like ours cannot. Yet, while ill-equipped to stay on top of the new and newsworthy, we can and do take stock of the more general trends built on the stuff of dailies.
Lately, I’ve had misgivings about our focus on the misdeeds of other nations while ignoring our own. In a recent opinion piece, New York Times columnist Frank Rich took critical note of the American public’s lack of interest in all things Iraq: “Most Americans don’t want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it,” he wrote. “They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time.” Indeed, coverage of the Iraq war has dwindled, and, Rich points out, movies and documentaries dealing with the war go belly up at the box office. He goes on to quote Ohio’s Senator George Voinovich, who has said that “the truth of the matter” is that “we haven’t sacrificed one darn bit in this war, not one. Never been asked to pay for a dime, except for the people that we lost.”
So when I watch protestors atop San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge unfurl a banner declaiming Beijing’s harsh policies in Tibet or read countless emails detailing the crimes of the Burmese government, I can’t help but cringe at the fact that we’ve turned a collective blind eye to the crimes of our own nation—whether in the Middle East or much closer to home, in Guantanamo. This is not to say that protesting the policies of the Burmese and Chinese governments is a bad thing, just that we do so from within a glass house. Our sympathies may lie with the people of Tibet, Burma, and even China, but we have much in common with their governments, too. And to those who urge George W. Bush to boycott the opening of the Beijing Olympics this summer: From what moral high ground could he possibly do so?
In April, at a book reading at 192 Books in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, contributing editor Pico Iyer read from his most recent book, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. He spoke afterward of the devotion many Han Chinese living in Tibet, like the Tibetans themselves, feel for the Dalai Lama, and of Chinese intellectuals who—at great risk to their own lives and with little to gain—have signed a statement condemning their government’s recent actions in Tibet. When I hear of such things, I conclude that the best thing I can do in support of the Tibetans or the Chinese or the Burmese people is to take their actions as an inspiration to press harder at home to clean up our own. It isn’t an either/or proposition, and it isn’t simple. But it hardly makes sense to expect others to listen to us unless and until we can claim to be setting a worthy example ourselves.
Editor & Publisher