This is outrageous: the Dalai Lama to be snubbed by Obama (smirk)
So I’ve been waiting for that one event that would signal, beyond a doubt, just how different the new Obama administration is going to handle the democracy agenda, when compared to the Bush years. Little did I know that it would take the form of a callous snub of the most iconic and hip 'freedom' agenda that exists in America: President Barack Obama just isn’t that big on ‘Free Tibet’, despite all the celebrity endorsements.
Check out today’s write up in the Washington Post:
For the first time since 1991, the Tibetan spiritual leader will visit Washington this week and not meet with the president. Since 1991, he has been here 10 times. Most times the meetings have been "drop-in" visits at the White House. The last time he was here, in 2007, however, George W. Bush became the first sitting president to meet with him publicly, at a ceremony at the Capitol in which he awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress's highest civilian award.Bush hands out medals, Obama turns a cold shoulder. If the Dalai Lama gets snubbed in such a way, then what chance do Iranian, Syrian, Cuban, Russian and other activists stand with the post-Bush administration? A ‘Free Tibet’ bumper sticker alongside an Obama ’08 now just looks plain wrong.
The U.S. decision to postpone the meeting appears to be part of a strategy to improve ties with China that also includes soft-pedaling criticism of China's human rights and financial policies as well as backing efforts to elevate China's position in international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund. Obama administration officials have termed the new policy "strategic reassurance," which entails the U.S. government taking steps to convince China that it is not out to contain the emerging Asian power.
This event jogged my memory: back in the spring of 1998, a bunch of Iraqi activists were organizing a bus tour of about a dozen U.S. cities to highlight the crimes of the Saddam regime and to get regular Americans on board to support their struggle. The driving force was Los Angeles-based Iraqi-American Mazin Yousif [al-Eshaiker], now of Baghdad. He planned for a number of stops, beginning in California and ending up in Washington DC. I was one of many lending a helping hand. The planning coincided with a visit by the Dalai Lama to my alma mater, Brandeis University, so I wrote a letter asking the Tibetan holy man to endorse and support, in any way, the ‘Free Iraq’ bus campaign. The letter was personally handed to the Dalai Lama by Brandeis president Jehuda Reinhartz; we never got a response.
The bus tour brought back a flood of memories, prompting me to delve into my pictures trunk so that I can scan the mementos and write about them (see below). Many of the faces in those pictures became part of the story of the New Iraq. My friend, Mousa al-Fatlawi, left his home and business in Michigan to fight alongside U.S. troops as part of the Free Iraq Forces battalion. He now lives, and thrives, in Hillah. Abu Ibrahim, if I remember correctly, also joined up for the fight. Mousa’s brother-in-law, Sa’adi Kadhim, is also back in Hillah. Dr. Maha (Mazin’s sister) and her husband, both dentists in Connecticut, paid the travel expenses of a bunch of fighters from the marshes of southern Iraq so that they would have a voice at the General Assembly of the Iraqi National Congress that was held in New York City in October 1999. Safa, last I heard, was back in Baghdad, building highways after doing the same for two decades in Philadelphia. Shakir, of Boston, went back to Nassiriya for a visit, and was planning to move back permanently last time we spoke. Kanan Makiya, who did so much to publicize Saddam’s crimes in the West, went back to Iraq, grew disillusioned, and is back in Cambridge, Mass. Hamid al-Bayati is now Iraq’s ambassador to the UN in New York. Muhammad Alwan, who was forced to leave Iraq in the 1950s as a leftist activist, is still at Tufts, while another face in the pictures is that of Mr. Sheena, who joined us on the Boston leg of the trip; he was part of the Jewish exodus in the early 1950s, but still felt compelled to do his part in supporting liberty for a homeland that ejected him.
There were so many ‘annoying’ memories about that bus campaign: cancellations, getting bureaucrats to issue protest permits, clashing egos and political agendas, little interest from the target audience, never having enough money, …etc. We couldn’t even afford a bus, so we went with a rented minivan! Not only did the Dalai Lama snub us, but so did dozens of Arab and Muslim organizations whose help and support we sought. I still remember that quite a number of DC-based Iraqi opposition ‘poseurs’ didn’t even bother to show up to the concluding rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial; many of them went on to capture top positions in the New Iraq. We all had day jobs, but managed to find the time. Mazin’s efforts, in particular, were awesome. Despite all the hassles and disappointments, the clearest and most poignant memory that remains is that the tour happened anyway. We tried to get public opinion (and celebrity endorsements) but we failed. However, in the end Iraqis got their liberty from Saddam (…thank you W.) while the Tibetans still wait (…no thank you Mr. Obama).
Had we not had April 9, 2003, then I guess the ‘Free Iraq’ bus tour would have been an embittering episode. Now it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling; we did our part, however small.
As Tibetan activists continue their struggle for public awareness about the injustices they must endure, I hope their memories of bus tours, hunger strikes, and silent vigils, don’t turn bitter. But today’s headline in the WaPo couldn’t have been uplifting. ‘Change’? Well, this variety of ‘change’ sucks. I hope Obama is shamed enough (…’Richard Gere on Line 1, Oprah on Line 2’) to receive the Dalai Lama, however much those Chinese loan sharks may fume and threaten.
Here are the pics...Wow, this all happened over a decade ago. I had more hair, on top and around my ever-present smirk. (Click to enlarge)