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The Dalai Lama, Obama, and China

It is good that President Obama saw the Dalai Lama. Human Rights are important today and the Chinese systematically violate them; even the lack of democracy is regarded by many of us as deplorable and unacceptable in a decent society.

True, sometimes governments, particularly ones like ours which have worldwide interests, must balance off human rights against realpolitik considerations. But no one seriously believes that the Dalai Lama is engaging in seditious activities. So, to surrender to Chinese demands not to see him would have been unjustified, even if the Chinese go beyond bluster and try to seek retribution.

After all, India correctly gave asylum to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans, with strict injunction against political activities, even though this created further tensions with China. Asylum is a very important principle; and I admire India for having stuck to it despite Chinese anger. If India did the right thing, why not the United States, which is immensely more powerful, both economically and militarily?

Western governments must stick by important post-Renaissance values and not simply accept foreign demands that violate these values. This is why I was an admirer of the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen when he refused to censure the Danish cartoonists despite riots in many Muslim countries, and the threatened retribution against Denmark.

I believe that most of our newspapers behaved extremely shabbily, including The New York Times. They, too, should have printed these cartoons, but alongside they should have published cartoons focused on other religions (of which there is no shortage, especially against Catholics and Hindus) to emphasise that we did not suppress cartoons against any religion. In doing this, we should have firmly asserted that freedom of speech was one of our most important values and that we were going to defend it; and that there was nothing anti-Islamic about the Danish prime minister’s stand. Instead, they all ducked and behaved in a deplorable fashion, and even many Western governments let Denmark take the heat. Prime Minister Rasmussen stood tall, as did the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons. We were the pigmies.

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