It would be my guess that the violence in Tibet will get worse before it gets better. There are all kinds of subtle clues. The situation remains murky, with the Chinese government not allowing reporters in. Additionally, conflicting reports mean that potentially more than two parties are trying to manipulate the situation for their advantage. Finally, there’s the Dalai Lama’s recent statement that he will resign as head of the government in exile if the violence continues.
On the one hand, I completely understand his motivations. These are his people, and he’s a staunch advocate for nonviolence. At the same time, I don’t think him stepping down would solve the situation. Both Han Chinese and Tibetans in the area are too angry, and feel too strongly. The Lama washing his hands of the situation is not going to help matters. But what else can he do? What happens when the fight you are championing becomes angry and aggressive, despite your best intentions?
The idea of nonviolent protest is rooted in a language of alternatives. It is a means of being radically different from the frenzy of most revolutions. Its shortcomings come from its expectations and motivations. Peaceful protest, for all its agreeableness, is based on the assumption not only that change is possible, but that is achievable relatively quickly. The other primary assumption deals with the basic decency of others. A tree sitting doesn’t work if the lumberjack is not afraid to use violence to move you. The second major shortcoming comes from the motivation for the nonviolent resistance itself. Whatever the cause, it will be something that participants believe in strongly. With this strength of belief, how can we expect that all or most of such protests will not devolve into violence as tensions mount?
I’m not saying the Dalai Lama was wrong to resist the PRC’s assumption of control over his homeland, or wrong to stir up fervor in favor of his cause in the West. I’m not saying that the PRC was even wrong in its policies of dominance, intrigue, and the importation of Han Chinese to the region. What I am saying is that both sides are losing control. Beijing may say they have the ability to handle any situation, but at what cost of human life? If greater attempts are not made to reduce tensions int he region, we’re only seeing the beginnings of violent escalation.