The Alternate Opinion

Here are obviously controversial articles about two globally important (and lionized) individuals, submitted purely for the sake of equal coverage.

My questions for Obama - Fidel Castro

The brightest and best of the presidential hopefuls seeks to extend a cruel, immoral Cuba blockade.

It would be dishonest of me to remain silent after hearing Barack Obama's speech delivered at the Cuban American National Foundation last Friday. I feel no resentment towards him, for he is not responsible for the crimes perpetrated against Cuba and humanity. Were I to defend him, I would do his adversaries a favour. I have therefore no reservations about criticising him and expressing myself frankly.

What were Obama's statements? "Throughout my entire life, there has been injustice and repression in Cuba. Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy ... I won't stand for this injustice ... I will maintain the embargo."

This man who is doubtless, from the social and human points of view, the most progressive candidate for the US presidency, portrays the Cuban revolution as anti-democratic and lacking in respect for freedom and human rights. It is the same argument US administrations have used again and again to justify crimes against our country. The blockade is an act of genocide. I don't want to see US children inculcated with those shameful values.

No small and blockaded country like ours would have been able to hold its ground for so long on the basis of ambition, vanity, deceit or the abuse of power, the kind of power its neighbour has. To state otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of our heroic people.

I am not questioning Obama's great intelligence, his debating skills or his work ethic. He is a talented orator and is ahead of his rivals in the electoral race. Nevertheless, I am obliged to raise a number of delicate questions. I do not expect answers; I wish only to raise them for the record.

Is it right for the president of the US to order the assassination of any one person in the world, whatever the pretext? Is it ethical for the president of the US to order the torture of other human beings? Should state terrorism be used by a country as powerful as the US as an instrument to bring peace to the planet?

Is an Adjustment Act, applied as punishment to only one country, Cuba, in order to destabilise it, good and honourable when it costs innocent children and mothers their lives? Are the brain drain and the continuous theft of the best scientific and intellectual minds in poor countries moral and justifiable?

Is it fair to stage pre-emptive attacks? Is it honourable and sane to invest millions and millions of dollars in the military-industrial complex, to produce weapons that can destroy life on earth several times over? Is that the way in which the US expresses its respect for freedom, democracy and human rights?

Before judging our country, Obama should know that Cuba - with its education, health, sports, culture and science programmes, implemented not only in its own territory but also in other poor countries around the world, and in spite of the economic and financial blockade and the aggression of his powerful country - is proof that much can be done with very little. Cuba has never subordinated cooperation with other countries to ideological requirements. We offered the US our help when hurricane Katrina lashed the city of New Orleans. Our revolution can mobilise tens of thousands of doctors and health technicians. It can mobilise an equally vast number of teachers and citizens who are willing to travel to any corner of the world to fulfil any noble purpose, not to usurp rights or take possession of raw materials.

The goodwill and determination of people constitute limitless resources that would not fit in the vault of a bank. They cannot spring from the hypocritical politics of an empire.

· Fidel Castro is former president of Cuba. This is an edited version of an article that appeared in Granma, the Cuban Communist party newspaper granma.co.cu

Down with the Dalai Lama - Brendan O'Neill
May 29, 2008 10:00 AM

Has there ever been a political figure more ridiculous than the Dalai Lama? This is the "humble monk" who forswears worldly goods in favour of living a simple life dressed in maroon robes. Yet in 1992 he guest-edited French Vogue, the bible of the decadent high-fashion classes, which is packed with pictures of the half-starved daughters of the aristocracy modelling skirts and shirts that most of us could never afford.

He claims to be the current incarnation of the Tulkus line of Buddhist masters, who are "exempt from the wheel of death and rebirth". Yet he's best known for hanging out with clueless western celebs like Richard Gere and Sharon Stone (who is still most famous for showing her vagina on the big screen). Stone once introduced the Dalai Lama at a glittering fundraising ball as "Mr Please, Please, Please Let Me Back Into China!"

The Dalai Lama says he wants Tibetan autonomy and political independence. Yet he allows himself to be used as a tool by western powers keen to humiliate China. Between the late 1950s and 1974, he is alleged to have received around $15,000 a month, or $180,000 a year, from the CIA. He has also been, according to the same reporter, "remarkably nepotistic", promoting his brothers and their wives to positions of extraordinary power in his fiefdom-in-exile in Dharamsala, northern India.

He poses as the quirky, giggly, modern monk who once auctioned his Land Rover on eBay for $80,000 and has even done an advert for Apple (quite what skinny white computers have got to do with Buddhism is anybody's guess). Yet in truth he is a product of the crushing feudalism of archaic, pre-modern Tibet, where an elite of Buddhist monks treated the masses as serfs and ruthlessly punished them if they stepped out of line.

The Dalai Lama demands religious freedom. Yet he persecutes a Buddhist sect that worships a deity called
Dorje Shugden. He outlawed praying to Dorje Shugden in 1996, and those who defied his writ were thrown out of their jobs, mocked in the streets and even had their homes smashed up by heavy-handed officials from his government-in-exile. When worshippers complained about their treatment, they were told by representatives of the Dalai Lama that "concepts like democracy and freedom of religion are empty when it comes to the wellbeing of the Dalai Lama".

As the Dalai Lama tours Britain, lots of people are asking: why won't Brown receive him at Downing Street? I have a different question: why should Brown, who for all his troubles is still the head of an elected political party, meet with an authoritarian, fame-chasing, Apple-loving monk?

The Dalai Lama has effectively been turned into a cartoon good guy. In America and western Europe, where backward anti-modern sentiments are widespread amongst self-loathing sections of the educated and the elite, the Dalai Lama has been embraced as a living, breathing representative of unsullied goodness. Despite the fact that he advertises Apple, guest-edits Vogue and drives a Land Rover, he is held up as evidence that living the simple eastern life is preferable to, in the words of Philip Rawson, westerners' "gradually more pointless pursuit of material satisfactions". Just as earlier generations of disillusioned aristocrats fell in love with a fictional version of Tibet (Shangri-La), so contemporary un-progressives idolise a fictional image of the Dalai Lama.

Most strikingly, the Dalai Lama is used as a battering ram by western governments in their culture war with China. The reason he is flattered by world leaders and bankrolled by the CIA is not because these institutions care very much for liberty in Tibet, but rather because they want to ratchet up international pressure on their new competitors in world politics: the Chinese. You don't have to be a defender of the authoritarian regime in Beijing (and I most certainly am not) to see that such global sabre-rattling is more likely to entrench tensions between the Tibetan people and China, and increase instability in world affairs, rather than herald anything like a new era of freedom in the east.

Far from "helping Tibet", the slavish western worshippers of the Dalai Lama are helping to stifle the development of a real, lively movement for liberty and democracy in the Tibetan regions. One author on the Tibetan independence movement argues that "the Dalai Lama's role as ultimate spiritual authority is holding back the political process of democratisation", since "the assumption that he occupies the correct moral ground from a spiritual perspective means that any challenge to his political authority may be interpreted as anti-religious".

At least one reason why the Dalai Lama can pose as "the ultimate spiritual authority" and all-round supreme leader of Tibetans and their future is because influential elements in the west have empowered him to play that role. In doing so, they have been complicit in the infantilisation of the Tibetan people. Tibetans now suffer the double horror of being ruled by undemocratic Chinese officials on one hand, and demeaned by the Dalai Lama and his western supporters on the other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been recommending a book called "My Stroke of Insight - a Brain Scientist's Personal Journey" by Jill Bolte Taylor and also a TEDTalk Dr. Taylor gave on the TED dot com site. And you don't have to take my word for it - Dr. Taylor was named Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People, the New York Times wrote about her and her book is a NYTimes Bestseller), and Oprah did not 4 interviews with her.