Image credit: Erik Torner.
In the extremely distressing video below, a Tibetan man’s corpse burns in the middle of the street after he set himself on fire in one of over a hundred such self-immolation protests since 2009. What is notable about the video is not the protester, but the manner in which life goes on around him.
In December, I wrote:
While self-immolation might at one time have been an effective, if appalling, form of process, the number of protesters setting themselves on fire has grown to the extent that they barely register as news anymore.
Even earlier than that, in March 2012, the Economist called self-immolation protests “woefully counterproductive”.
Tibetans say that it is wrong to see the self-immolations as futile acts of desperation. Rather they portray them as gestures of defiance, of national unity and hence even of hope.
Ignoring the disgusting idea that teenagers burning themselves to death could be considered a symbol of hope, whether self-immolation is an act of defiance or desperation, it has failed. Self-immolation has become so sickeningly commonplace that the wider world now more or less ignores it. As the video below shows, protesters burning themselves, while still upsetting, has become mundane. In a nation of rubberneckers like China this is as remarkable as it is depressing. The fact is that Tibetan protesters will never have the same effect as Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, which helped launch the Tunisian Arab Spring.
Speaking to reporters in Canada, Lobsang Sangay, leader of the Tibetan government in exile said:
“We discourage the actions, but support the aspirations,” Sangay said, referring to those who have chosen self-immolation. “How much more forceful can we be? We’ve said, ‘Don’t do it. Life is precious.'”
This is facetious in the extreme. In their support of the “aspirations” of the self-immolators, Tibetan exile groups are tacitly endorsing the idea that such protests might ever work. The Tibetan government in exile may decry the deaths of those who set themselves on fire, but it is equally quick to use the protests as ammunition against Beijing.
The Economist again:
Through repression, China can doubtless continue to control Tibet. But only the Dalai Lama has any chance of making Tibetans accept Chinese rule.
Sangay puts the blame on Beijing’s “hard-line policies”, and I would agree. But Beijing holds all the cards when it comes to Tibet. Just as progress in Palestine only began once Palestinian groups swallowed their pride and agreed to negotiate with their Israeli occupiers, so too Tibetan groups bear the unfair responsibility of moving beyond simply protesting Chinese rule.
The man in the video below was called Namlha Tsering, he was a 49 year old father of four. He died for nothing. Sometimes the cost of playing the game is so severe that it’s better just to admit that you’ve lost.
Warning: Video is extremely graphic, clearly shows protester’s body burning.