Is Nationalism a Good Thing?

Is Nationalism a Good Thing?

Is Nationalism a Good Thing?


Shokjang is a leading intellectual of his generation. He was born in Labrang in Amdo. He studied Tibetan literature at the Northwest Nationalities University in Lanzhou. He has published four books: The Courage of the Path (ལམ་གྱི་སྙིང་སྟོབས།); The Pen’s Strength (སྙུ་གུའི་སྟོབས།); For Freedom I Have No Regrets (རང་དབང་གི་དོན་དུ། ང་ལ་བློ་འགྱོད་མེད་།); and The Courage of Rangdrol (རང་གྲོལ་སྙིང་སྟོབས།). He writes on Tsenpo and Samsara. In the following piece, posted on Samsara in May 2014, he makes a very strong defense for the individual’s right and freedom.

Is Nationalism a Good Thing?

By Shokjang

Over these last many years, the nationalism of the Tibetan people has greatly increased. Every Tibetan, young and old, talks about nationalism a lot. The Tibetan people’s nationalism is now at an apogee. But no one talks about the advantages and disadvantages of the concept of nationalism, which is not really normal. Up till now this is how we have talked about the concept of Tibetan nationalism—all our talk about the Tibetan empire is an example of this. Although many Tibetans don’t know that that’s what they are doing, praising and speaking of the political power and administration of the Tibetan empire is an expression of nationalism, not an expression of individualism. The flag of nationalism flies so high that it has sadly become an enemy of individualism.

In general, even with nationalism, a more liberal kind of nationalism has been introduced but since the beginning of our discourse we have unfortunately only given a very general introduction to this. This is not good. Because of this, if anyone says that an individual’s right is more important than a people’s right, other people have no hesitation in calling that person a spy or a traitor and putting various hats on this person. A hat is a hat, and we are used to wearing these hats. However, some bad people with long arms will stamp your forehead and even threaten your life. So how do we face such a sad scenario? The heart of nationalism is a people’s right to self-determination. This is a right that all people have in common. Our people too cannot avoid this path. If we say that we don’t want even this, then we will have only a slave’s life left to us. What kind of political system you choose or what nationality and territory you choose to belong to is your own choice.

No one should force or control that choice. You may say that you do not want self-determination but you must know that it’s no different from saying you want to be a slave or a serf.

In fighting for this right, if you encourage others to do bad things, then I have no support for this. For instance, in the name of Tibetan unity, if a person says something different from the cherished conventional wisdom, he gets criticism and abuse from both inside and outside. This is very sad. Every person has an individual right to freedom and you cannot use “nationalism” as an excuse to injure someone else’s freedom.

Such behavior is called extreme nationalism. Others will not accept this. Such extreme nationalism swept the world like a wave during World World II, resulting in Hitler’s massacres and Japan’s massacres. These violent actions that terrify and distress people, these are the crimes of these extreme nationalists. There is no doubt that people who follow these paths will use their abilities to abuse other people.

These extremists fly the flag of nationalism and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, destroy individual freedom. In their eyes, there is nothing more important than the nation’s survival and freedom. For national survival, they will spend people’s lives. In these recent years, about one hundred and thirty five people have self-immolated for the nation’s right of survival. These people have selflessly sacrificed their lives for their people’s freedom. This is a great sacrifice. But there are things we have to think about. Can we say that we haven’t encouraged their sacrifice? I don’t want to taste any freedom that other people have paid for with their lives and their blood. Some talkative people will say that it is hard to find freedom without losing some lives over it. This is a very extreme way of talking and we shouldn’t accept this. Where the idea of nationalism spreads, there individual right and freedom will be endangered. In recent years, when the news spread online that the Tibetan singer Yangchuk Tso and the Panchen Rinpoche’s daughter had both married Chinese spouses, many people were disappointed and there was a lot of criticism. Deciding whom one should marry is a fundamental individual right and it is a measure of tyranny to injure this right. Would these people have been able to look Panchen Rinpoche in the face and say it was wrong that he married a Chinese? If the Panchen Rinpoche and the Jamyang Shepa can marry a Chinese spouse, then an ordinary person can indeed do so. Another thing is that it has become common for Tibetans living outside to marry foreigners. What do you say to that? Surely we do not assimilate only by marrying Chinese. I am absolutely against those who carry the flag of nationalism to deny and destroy individual right.

If we cannot protect individual freedom, then I wouldn’t like it even if we could implement actual autonomy. I would make every effort to criticize and pull the mistakes up by their roots.

(Translated by Tenzin Dickyi and Dhondup Tashi Rekjong)

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