Hundreds of Cornell University students rallied Monday for dueling demonstrations in support of the two sides of the Israel/Gaza conflict.
The staff of the Cornell Insider pondered why the student efforts did not extend to other repressed peoples.
Since November 7, at least 14 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese occupation. The most recent incident of self-immolation occurred yesterday in China’s northwest province of Qinghai when Sangdhak Tsering, father of a three-year old son, burnt himself alive. Tsering had always told his wife that a life without freedom was not worth living. But amidst clampdown by the Chinese military, Tsering died an unsung death. There were few reports in the media, let alone an international outcry on the issue. The exiled Tibetan Government in India mourned the death of the immolators while making an appeal to the Tibetans to cherish their lives and carry on their struggle through peaceful forms of protest, irrespective of the magnitude of oppression.
The history of the repression of the Tibetan people is as brutal yet as simple as you can get in this world. There is no doubt that over the last 60 years, Beijing has not only denied the Tibetans’ demands for self-determination but also suppressed their language, religious identity and civil liberties. But Tibetans have never retaliated with violence of any comparable degree. They have never taken civilians as hostages, never launched missile attacks on China and never committed atrocities on dissenters. Not surprisingly, there are no Buddhist suicide bombers in the world. Yet the Tibetan cause for independence has never received as much attention and support from the international community. Today there is no country in the world that claims to stand for the rights of the Tibetan people.
But while nations are constrained to pursue their own diplomatic interests, there is nothing that stops people living in democratic societies from voicing their support for Tibet. In the wake of the recent incidents of self-immolation, there should have been at least a small demonstration of solidarity with the people of Tibet at Cornell. Even a small gesture of support from the student community and from the numerous Asian organizations on campus could have conveyed a powerful message to the people of Tibet, whose spiritual leader Dalai Lama has a seat at the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca.
But even if Tibet seems to be too remote, there was nothing to stop us from condemning the massacre of 30,000 civilians by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Students at Cornell could have played their own part in pressuring the Obama administration to intervene in Syria and provide military assistance to the opposition forces. Nevertheless, Cornell remained silent. Not a single voice was heard.
It is sill conceivable that some of us might be too busy or too stoic to care about events that have to do with the people of other countries. But on the fateful night of September 11, US Ambassador Christopher Stevens was assassinated along with several others after Islamists attacked the American consulate in Benghazi. Regardless of the fact that Stevens had risked his life to ensure the downfall of Gadhafi’s dictatorship, the militants of Libya did not spare him. But even when all the right thinking citizens of world came together to denounce the attack on the American consulate, most Cornellians had nothing to say apart from offering excuses for a crude and offending video.
So, while I do not condone any acts of violence against innocent people by anyone, the events of the past few days have led me to ask this question: What is so special about Gaza? And what is it that propelled some Cornell students today to come out against the “savage assault Israel is currently carrying out on a nearly defenseless Gaza”? What great force motivated them to renounce their apathetic silence and call on the University administration to issue an official condemnation of Israel? I don’t pretend to know the answers but I am not afraid to ask difficult questions.