The ‘Free Tibet’ mess that the West created


James Rinaldi
James Rinaldi

REVIEWAt a gathering of Nisargadatta Maharaj in Bombay, an American got up and said, “I want to save the world.” Maharaj replied coolly, “Get out of the way and see what is left to be saved.” It has taken 30 years for another American, James Rinaldi to learn this.

In his book ‘Saviors and Fools’ he describes his long struggle to bring “freedom” to Tibet in the face of the ruthless suppression by the mighty Chinese army. Frustrated by the mess created by the Western powers in this mission, he says in the end that it is now time for America and the West to get out of the way and let India take the leadership role.

Here also he is unable to let go of his control and offers a number of suggestions to India about how to help Tibet and Tibetans. One of his advices to India is to settle Tibetan refugees in Ladakh!
The book, a memoir, describes Rinaldi’s adventures and misadventures in Nepal and India in his undeniable zeal to help the Tibetans. In the course of this he organized a BCG vaccine smuggling program to help the Tibetan refugees in Nepal, a currency exchange project, numerous border trips and a daring UN impersonation caper. The account of the hazardous illegal Tibetan crossing into Nepal through Nagpa La reads like a thriller.

In the dead of night and frost-biting cold Nepali guides make the shivering Tibetans walk through valleys and ravines hoping to take them past the notorious Chinese security encampment tower and prison facility. It is a life and death gamble with the fear of a Chinese patrol taking this route. The guide tells them to remain absolutely quiet along the trail. They must not be seen or heard along this stretch, and were made to walk almost one km stooped down below one meter high ravine walls to avoid detection.

The UN impersonation trick was also a very daring act. Knowing that the UN doesn’t do anything, Rinaldi and friends organized fake letters with UN stamps and all and had them delivered to Nepali police posts along the way telling them not to harass Tibetans crossing into Nepal. This had some effect. There was no further instance of forced repatriation of Tibetans from this area for the next eight years!
Rinaldi’s ire is however reserved for the West and its leading governments whom he accuses of hypocrisy. He says “Tibet does not directly relate to the national interests of any western nation to the point that they are willing to potentially jeopardize their relationship with China.”

Expressing disappointment and disillusionment with US bureaucracy, he feels that the USAID/State Department logic when it comes to Tibetans is one of intelligence accumulation and political control. “The Americans have no Tibetan policy; they just want to keep Tibetans quiet while they deal with China. Ultimately, $6 million buys the US access, control and quiet among Tibetans in India – it’s like a big, warm wet blanket designed to smother individual expression and initiative.”

Book Cover
Book Cover

Rinaldi has come to the conclusion that the key to recovering any momentum for the Tibet struggle is to realize that all changes, all ideas and programs must originate from Tibetans themselves. “The West blew it and now it is time to move on. The Tibetans themselves are beginning to sense this.”
Also, he makes the interesting point that there is a very real possibility of China cooling down its repressive treatment of Tibetans once the US is out of the picture.
Rinaldi has great faith in the Indians coming to the aid of Tibet struggle. “The relationship that India has with Tibetans spans centuries. The Dalai Lama calls India the great “guru” of all Tibetans. Historical ties between India and Tibet run deep. The Buddhism that the Tibetans practice originated from India.

“Indians know that supporting a people that the Chinese vehemently dislike offers them an oddly favorable position when dealing with China – a position of strength which the United States and the West can never attain. Tibetans serve a purpose and the Indians understand how best to exploit their presence for political gain,” he says.

As Director of Himalayan Aid, Rinaldi is now contributing his own photos and records to create a comprehensive exhibit detailing Tibetan migration through Nepal for the Tibetan museum on the grounds of the Dalai Lama’s place in McLeod Ganj.

Vinod Dhawan
India Post News Service

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