Letters to the Editor


Regarding Gilles d'Aymery's Peter Camejo-Cynthia McKinney: A Green Presidential Ticket?

To the Editor:

Gilles d'Aymery can live in fantasy land until the storm troupers come and take all of us away, but don't expect rational people to agree with his prescription and hand over the next presidential election to Bush and his fascist minions. If you have any self preservation instincts in your body you know that Bush must go now, and all of the homeland security agenda must be rolled back quickly before it is consolidated. Anyone with basic math skills can see that a strong Green party showing for President will split the progressive voting block and assure that George Bush is reelected or reappointed President. That is why the Republicans are funding the effort. If Nader runs again, he may as well be on Bushes payroll.

I will not stand by and suffer fools who would throw away my freedoms and my environment in order to make a political gesture. Is such a gesture worth the cost of having our courts packed with more fascist appointments, and our social and environmental gains all rolled back. The Governor and Presidential elections carry with them the power to appoint thousands of boards, commissions and judges. A few more years of George Bush could extinguish collective bargaining, a woman's right to choose, free speech and assembly, environmental protections, health and safety, basic freedoms and social justice. You can sprinkle in a few wars to add spice. The treasury has been handed over to the private sector and the agencies not charged with repressing the people are being gutted. I know that the Democrats have been shameful gutless wonders, but at this point they stand between us and the concentration camps, or revolution. Neither is to my liking.

I attended the Bohemian Grove protest last Sunday. The Blue Meanies were there in force video taping us. This was a low key protest that has been going on every year for over twenty years. I counted over 10 uniformed police and five squad cars. There were two uniformed police with video cameras panning the crowd in a very intimidating way. This was a mellow event, consisting of a small crowd with a history of no violence. The only plausible reason for these cameras is the chilling effect they are intended to create upon free speech. They intended for us to know that we are under police surveillance for our political views. Under four more years of George Bush I would expect a knock on my door and the threat of disappearances.

Bob Rawson
Sebastopol, California, USA - July 23, 2003


To the Editor:

I am absolutely in accord with Gilles d'Aymery's observations refuting the "Nader as spoiler" scenario. I am the lone Green in a work environment otherwise blessedly liberal, but Democrat. Extrapolating from my microcosm to the general population of those liberal Democrats, there would have been a history-making shakeup if even half of those who repeatedly began comments with "I would love to vote for Ralph Nader, but..." had actually had the guts to do so. I think there is a huge sleeping giant out there of people who left the polling booth feeling ashamed and discouraged. Unfortunately, the anger from that has been turned very easily against Nader. The very choice he gave them rubbed their noses in the humiliation of voting against their consciences, so it's his fault they feel rotten. That argument can't be won, because no one wants to face their own cowardice and, of course, legitimate powerlessness.

So it is absolutely essential to give those people a sense of having a chance to win by voting their consciences. I am desperately hoping that Mr. Camejo, whom I highly esteem, can see his way to eschewing his own run for governor now and actively campaigning for Arianna Huffington. The reason is simple: she will get 1000 words and pictures of media attention for any one word about him.

Daphne Wilson
Sebastopol, California, USA - July 26, 2003


To the Editor:

Excellent article on the Greens and presidential politics (as practised in the U.S.). I am an American now living in Krakow, Poland -- you know, the "New Europe" -- and have been active here teaching at various institutions and creating what theatre I can in a language I may never learn properly...but the anti-war movement did find a lot of support and now the current Polish administration is finding it harder to justify Polish troops in Iraq and harder to justify the faux-friendship with Mad King George.

Should you ever need comments on or info about central and eastern European politics please feel free to ask.....I will do what I can.

Swans has been one of my frequent stops this last year...

John Steppling
Krakow, Poland - July 29, 2003


Two additional (and last) letters regarding Michael Parenti's Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth

To the Editor:

Every contemptible lie about Tibet should not merit a rejoinder, especially when many are not even bothered to respond. But lest certain section of international community be swayed by misrepresented truths -- for wasn't it Mao Zedong who said, a lie told hundred times becomes a truth -- it becomes necessary to put facts as they are so that one can judge for oneself.

For any person with even the slightest interest in the truth regarding Tibet, it is a simple task to discover the historical facts and undeniable evidence regarding the real situation for Tibetans, both within Tibet and those forced to live in exile. The real face of Beijing has been shown to the world in many ways and forms, giving those with any intuition an indication of what may really be happening within their sphere of domination.

The terror of Tiananmen Square and the initially oft-denied many barbaric aspects of the Cultural Revolution are horrendous examples of the past irrefutable brutalities that the Chinese government has subjected its own people and the Tibetans to. In addition to this, the current persecution of members of the Falun Gong is something that can never be excused as 'political internal affairs.' These actions by Beijing against their own Chinese citizens are well documented and admitted to by the perpetrators -- after initial denials and attempts to block international focus and condemnation. So with this precedent, why should the international community even begin to believe Beijing's claims: that Tibetans were grateful for the destruction of their society and culture, that conditions for Tibetans are greatly improved and human rights violations abolished, and that Tibetans operate under genuine autonomy within Tibet.

Dig ever so slightly into the facts and overwhelming evidence soon emerges regarding the situation of terrorism in Tibet. As much as anyone and everybody would like it to be otherwise, terrorism does exist within Tibet.

It has for the past 50 years.

Since China invaded in 1949 they have been directly responsible for the deaths of over 1.2 million Tibetans in their attempts to control and subjugate the native population. The majority of these people were innocent civilians; the others were killed in doomed, desperate attempts to defend their homeland against the marauding invaders. And this figure is still increasing. Every year the various international human rights monitoring organisations record deaths of Tibetans due to torture and maltreatment, and arbitrary executions and other unexplained deaths in custody continue. And these are only the cases that are known about -- from the times when information successfully manages to make its way out of the nation were freedom of speech equates to a lengthy prison term and emigration carries an incredibly high risk of permanent disability or death. So it must be justified here to assume that the known cases are only a proportion of the actual figure, and as to what proportion that is, is impossible to estimate.

Chongpo Tenam
Dharamsala, HP, India - July 22, 2003

Michael Parenti responds:

To the Editor:

I agree that the Chinese government has been repressive toward its own people, and in my article I noted that it has been repressive against some elements of the Tibetan people. But it also did rid Tibet of a terribly oppressive feudal serfdom.

I must repeat that I have been unable to find evidence or even reasonable calculations indicating that the Chinese slaughtered 1.2 million Tibetans. There is also evidence suggesting that they did not; such as the fact that villages, towns, and cities remained intact, the absence of massive death camps and graves, accounts of mass murder, etc.

I also pointed out if one supports the Chinese overthrow of the Dalai Lama's feudal theocracy, this does not mean one is applauding everything about Chinese rule in Tibet. This point is seldom understood by today's Shangri-La adherents in the West, including, it seems, letter writer Chongpo Tenam.

The converse is also true. To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime. A common complaint of Buddhist adherents in the West is that Tibet's religious culture is being destroyed by the Chinese authorities. What I was questioning in my article is the supposedly admirable and pristinely spiritual nature of that pre-invasion "religious culture." In short, we can advocate religious freedom and independence for Tibet without having to embrace the mythology of a Paradise Lost and the brutal exploitative oppression of enslaved peasants and serfs by self-enriching lamas and lords.

Michael Parenti
Oakland, California, USA - July 23, 2003


To the Editor:

As a lifelong activist who has worked on human rights issues in the United States, East Timor, Burma, Palestine, and Tibet, I am profoundly disappointed by Michael Parenti's uninformed bludgeoning of Tibet's history. (Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth, July 7, 2003) Dr. Parenti would do well to read Tsering Shakya's excellent book 'Dragon in the Land of Snows', which presents a position that both Tibetans-in-Exile and Chinese government officials find difficult in its honesty. Or perhaps Parenti is averse to hearing Tibetan history from actual Tibetans -- the sources for his article would certainly seem to indicate so.

In the article Dr. Parenti demonstrates his growing reliance on politically correct buzzwords rather than well-documented historical fact in order to prove his points, and in the end the obtuse, lowest common-denominator parallels that he makes between vastly different situations only hurts his credibility as a historian (as does relying on the Chinese government as a source of unbiased historical data.)

For example, comparing the monastic system of old Tibet to that of medieval Europe is to rely on the basest of parallels. In fact these two monastic systems had radically different structures and the end result was so dissimilar as to hardly be comparable at all. The statement that most monks and lamas in positions of authority came from aristocratic families is simply not true. The entire paradox of the Tibetan Tulku system is that reincarnated lamas came from all strata of Tibetan society; the current Dalai Lama is from a poor farming family in Amdo, and the current Karmapa (for Parenti's information, the Karmapa is the third most powerful religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism) is from a family of nomads in Kham. These powerful leaders come from families with absolutely no political or social connections.

In a series of sweeping generalizations, Parenti then characterizes 'life under the Dalai Lamas' as static, failing to explore the marked differences between the various Dalai Lamas. No mention is made, for example, of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's social reforms. Demonstrating a total lack of interest in historical fact, Parenti goes on to confuse the fifth and sixth Dalai Lama for the first and second!

As the article progresses, Parenti's assertions grow even less grounded in reality until, by the time he presents the Chinese occupation of Tibet -- which all legitimate human rights groups in the world brand with terms like 'cultural genocide'-- as a 'liberation,' he has lost all credibility. To back up his points, he cites Chinese government documents replete with quotes from freshly liberated Tibetans whose names are the equivalent of 'Jane Doe.' He repeatedly quotes Tom Grunfeld, whose writings on Tibet draw on the most racist Chinese government depictions of Tibetans as savage cannibals.

If Dr. Parenti is interested in reading an unbiased perspective on the situation in Tibet shortly after the Chinese 'liberation' perhaps he should read the Panchen Lama's 70,000 word treatise to Chairman Mao on behalf of the Tibetan people. Not only is this document considered by serious historians to be one of the only reliable texts from that time period, it illuminates the extraordinary kow-towing that was necessary in order for even an elevated Chinese official such as the Panchen Lama to speak to Chairman Mao at that time. Apparently, Mao was not interested in listening to the day-to-day problems of the 'serfs' he 'liberated'. The Panchen Lama was sent to prison for suggesting that people in Tibet were starving; the average Tibetan peasant who offered the same criticism to his local Chinese official did not fare nearly as well.

Mao's forced sedentarization of Tibetan nomads was certainly not a liberation; nor was the government-enforced switch to growing foreign cereal crops which resulted in widespread famine in many regions of Tibet. The assertion that slavery and unpaid labor disappeared under Mao is simply ludicrous. Perhaps Dr. Parenti would like to sit down and have a chat with the relatives of the thousands of Tibetans who were worked to death by Chinese soldiers at the infamous Borax mine in Changthang. I've met them myself, and they are far more deserving of a platform on Tibetan history and cultural issues than Parenti.

It is interesting to note that despite the assertions of a handful of historians like Dr. Parenti that pre-1959 Tibet was a horribly repressive society, mass migrations of Tibetan refugees to surrounding nations were never seen prior to 1959 (despite the presence of a democratic nation with a large ethnic Tibetan population directly across the border to the south), nor was there any indication of famine on the scale that came shortly after. Yet ever since 1959 refugees have continued to pour out of Tibet at an alarming rate -- every year, thousands of Tibetan men, women, and children risk life and limb to cross the Himalayas, where an uncertain future awaits them. This begs the question: If the situation in Tibet was so rosy after the 'liberation', why are people still leaving in droves? If it was as horrendous as Parenti presents pre-1959, then why weren't people leaving then?

Tibet pre-1959 was obviously not an ideal society; and if Parenti did a little research he would quickly discover that there are few in the Tibet world these days who claim it was. Tibetans, like all other peoples, have fought wars and experienced violent periods in their history. Many of the highlands and mountain passes were populated by bandits and brigands; many of the northern tribes were governed by brutal warlords. Similarly, many Native American cultures were extremely brutal prior to the U.S. occupation of Native lands. Does that warrant their decimation? Many Native cultures now have higher rates of literacy and better access to allopathic medicine than they did a hundred years ago. Does that mean that the people are better off today? The argument that 'those backward natives were better off being liberated' is used time and time again to justify occupation; it is surprising that Mr. Parenti would resort to using an argument that reeks of the very colonialism that he decries in most of his other writings.

19th century British colonialists held two strikingly different views of Tibet; the country was either presented as a mythical, idyllic Shangri-La or as a land of feudal 'lamaists' presiding over cowering peasants from their dark dingy monasteries. Neither of these views, of course, were accurate, as they came from the perspective of outsiders, and quite often outsiders with a colonial agenda. As Tsering Shakya illuminates in his brilliant essay 'Blood in the Snows' in the New Left Review, this colonialist worldview has nothing to do with on-the-ground reality and is empowering for the colonist because it 'essentially deprives the native of agency.' It paints the average Tibetan as a superstitious, hapless victim, blind to his own oppression. This is a classic Orientalist view and it is shocking that a modern historian such as Parenti would succumb to it.

Presenting the worst aspects of a culture as the full spectrum is not sound practice and Parenti should know it; as a historian, relying on government propaganda from a government that is notorious for its lack of press freedoms and concerted manipulations of public opinion is totally inexcusable. The use of state-controlled information as a prime source calls into question not only the credibility of the article but also Parenti's credibility as a historian. Surely in presenting the history of an occupied nation Parenti understands that sources outside of those provided by the occupier must be utilized? Would Parenti rely solely on the Indonesian governments assertions about East Timor and Aceh? Or the U.S. Government's statements about Iraq for that matter? Yet in his article every piece of Chinese government-sourced data is presented as fact, whereas every counter-argument is treated as rumor or hearsay, even down to the existence of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, an entity whose existence can be easily verified with a quick trip to the New York City Yellow pages!

In the end, Parenti makes the classic academic's mistake of being completely removed from the people he's supposedly trying to represent. Were he to spend some time with the 'serfs' of Tibet both past or present he would hear an entirely different story than the one he has presented in this article as the truth. The farmers in rural Tibet who showed me scars from beatings they endured in Chinese struggle sessions were not former aristocrats; the nomads who are losing their grazing lands to toxic Chinese infrastructure projects are certainly not better off today than they were 50 years ago. Nor are the ordinary citizens who risked arrest and torture to hand me notes pleading for UN intervention and for information on their imprisoned relatives. These stories are not few and far between -- they make up a vast majority of the Tibetan experience, both inside and outside Tibet. This is absolutely indisputable.

The studies on Tibet are clear: Tibetan children are dangerously malnourished; prisoners are routinely tortured; rape of female prisoners is endemic in the Chinese prison system; alcoholism and gambling are rampant; and Lhasa now has one of the highest prostitution rates in Asia. If this is liberation then I've seen it before -- on Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Don't try to tell me that 90% of Tibetans are better off now than they were pre-1959; that's a f***ing pipe dream.

As well meaning as Michael Parenti may be in his efforts to shed light on colonialism, violence, and oppression, in this case he is completely off the mark. He has sacrificed historical fact and historical context in the interest of forwarding an agenda and in the process has completely butchered his subject matter. His attitude towards Tibet is typified by his response to a Tibetan man who took issue with his article... Telling a Tibetan to go read their own history is simply arrogant, and it exemplifies Parenti's complete disregard for an issue that he has chosen, for no clear reason, to write about. The fanbase that Parenti seems to increasingly pander to might find this article illuminating; I'd find it humorous if it weren't so bloody dangerous.

Joshua Schrei
Board of Directors
Students for a Free Tibet
Brooklyn, NY, USA - July 22, 2003

Michael Parenti responds:

To the Editor:

In his passion for old feudal Tibet, Schrei repeatedly resorts to misrepresentations and slurs.

I never said the situation in Tibet was "so rosy" after the overthrow of the feudal system, and even pointed to abuses by the Chinese.

Schrei writes that my "use of state-controlled information as a prime source calls into question not only the credibility of the article but also Parenti's credibility as a historian." But throughout my article I used Western sources almost exclusively, and I also used reports by the Free Tibet people regarding Chinese mistreatment of Tibetans. Schrei's misrepresentation of my sources calls into question his credibility as a critic.

I did not confuse the 5th and 6th DL's with the 1st and 2nd. It depends on how you want to count them. The High Lama who first declared himself the Dalai Lama was the fifth High Lama. If you want to retroactively declare the earlier four High Lamas as Dalai Lamas also, that's okay with me. Some people do and some don't.

The peasants did not migrate from feudal Tibet for the same reason they could hardly move from one village to another. They were often taxed, beaten, intimidated, hunted down by the landlord's thugs when they did flee, then hamstrung, mutilated, etc.

Too bad, a spiritual fellow like Schrei must repeatedly stoop to ad hominem snideness and personal attacks such as "The fanbase that Parenti seems to increasingly pander to ..." I never pander to any fan base on any issue. Taking on the religious true believers of old Tibet is hardly the work of someone pandering for favor, as witnessed by the torrent of fulminations that pour forth from people like Schrei.

All the letters that have come to Swans complaining about my article on Tibet, including Schrei's, have four things in common:

(1) They give proof that the romanticized belief in Shangri-La is alive and well.

(2) They never explain the immense accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few lords and lamas in old Tibet, an otherwise simple and poor agricultural land.

(3) They accuse me of supporting the Chinese occupation of Tibet when in fact what I do is criticize the earlier feudal theocratic rule -- while actually offering criticisms of the Chinese occupation.

(4) They have not a word to say about the active alliance of the Tibetan ruling class with international reactionary elements including the CIA.

Michael Parenti
Oakland, California, USA - July 23, 2003

[Ed. Note: Three other letters regarding Michael Parenti's article were published in the July 21 issue of Swans. Mr. Schrei refers to one of these letters, that of Nima Dorjee, in his last paragraph. Mr. Schrei should note that this letter had to be edited for some of its deeply demeaning content, though the unedited version was forwarded to Michael Parenti. Ad hominem attacks on someone's character tend to weaken one's argumentation, not strengthen it!]


We appreciate and welcome your comments. Please, sign your e-mail with your name and add your city, state, country, address and phone number. If we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country. (Letters may be shortened and edited)
Previous || Letters to the Editor || Next

Published August 4, 2003
[Copyright]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Main Page]