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Discussion of the recent unrest in Tibet
Discussion of the recent unrest in Tibet has for the most part focused on the number of dead and wounded, and on whether the actions of the Chinese security services were right or wrong.

But there are two far more important, if perhaps less evident, truths to emerge from the events in Lhasa. First is the emergence of politicized Buddhism. The second is just how little we know about it.

The debate about the rights and wrongs of the Chinese actions is something of a red-herring. As long as you accept that the Chinese authorities did not stage arson in Lhasa's marketplace, it is unreasonable to criticize the actions of the police.

Law enforcement agencies in any country must act quickly and decisively to remove any threat to life and property. Whether the Chinese should be in Tibet in the first place is another question.

The bigger issue behind the Tibetan drama, though so far overlooked, is the role of politically active - and occasionally aggressive - Buddhism.

The phrase "aggressive Buddhism" initially sounds absurd. Non-violence, after all, is the essence of Buddhism. A Buddhist monk would never till the land lest his spade hurt a worm. For many, Buddhism represents an "ideal" religion, which, unlike Christianity and Islam, has avoided the atrocities of the Inquisition, makes no justification for war and conquest, and has never stooped to terrorism. It is for these reasons that so many seek inspiration in Chinese, Japanese, Thai and other Buddhist cultures.

"Virtue should sometimes clench its fists," went a 1960s slogan of Soviet liberal intellectuals. That would sound preposterous if it referred to Buddhism. Or would it?

Buddhist monks were active in last year's protests in Myanmar, and are now at the centre of the Lhasa drama. Even if Buddhist extremism is a sheer theoretical assumption, its thunderbolt appearance is among the most alarming developments in the world today.

This statement demands clarification. The Lamaism of Tibet is only one branch of Buddhism, and Buddhism does not know a global hierarchy outside Tibet.

Importantly, there is no proof that monks were behind either the Burmese or Tibetan unrest, and there is certainly no evidence of organizational links between them. Really, rioters are people of quite a different sort, while monks and harmless laymen tend to be picked as scapegoats. And this leads us to the second lesson of Lhasa - just how little we know.

The violence leading to deaths and injuries in Lhasa started with arson. The number of casualties on both sides is approximately equal, and the Chinese authorities, we think, have a vague idea of who started what and who is to blame.

That is about all we know - and probably all we will know for the foreseeable future. Yet the events unfolding are dramatic enough to base a thriller on, and it is all tempting - and extremely easy - to impose such a fantastical plot on events.

Setting the stage is China's, and indeed Asia's, breakneck drive for global influence, a trend that many in the world are uncomfortable with. China has two tender points - Muslim-populated Xinjiang and Buddhist-populated Tibet. Xinjiang at one point appeared the best place for subversion, but the NATO operation in nearby Afghanistan has deprived Islamic militants of a bridgehead.

Furthermore, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with its strong antiterrorist agenda, has brought together countries bordering on Xinjiang to protect this vulnerable and remote part of China.

Hence our anti-Chinese conspirators turn to Tibet as the theater for their dastardly plans. Ample food for the imagination is provided by Tibet's links with Buddhists all over China. Now, add the Dalai Lama, an exile since 1959, Buddhist organizations scattered all about the world - some with an obscure background - and conspiracies against the junta in Myanmar as a way to deter China.

The book might finish with the emergence of a Buddhist version of al-Qaida getting out of its founders' control, just as the real al-Qaida was established and nurtured to fight the Soviet regime, and then went astray. Wouldn't that make a bestseller?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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