The Dalai Lama in Toulouse: On Soft Power, Le Pen, and Unfallen Shoes

Back in July, while on a late-night stroll through the 5th Arrdondisment looking for Rue Oberkampf, I chanced upon an announcement of the Dalai Lama’s mid-August trip to Toulouse, France, a city which appears to have become a kind of new Buddhist heartland.

To follow up: The Dalai Lama indeed went to Toulouse, and a short clip from a French television station captures very well the local excitement and the huge crowds (over 10,000 attendees, each paying over 100 Euros) garnered by the visit.

Although his speech is a touch impenetrable, I personally enjoy how the 20-something guy standing in line in his sports gear is there to learn from the Dalai Lama about compassion, a value which I also felt exuding from the somewhat drunk but indisputably kind (pre-Buddhists/sloshed Boddhisattvas?) of French origin who I sat next to while taking in the fireworks and getting an earful of Leonard Bernstein and Sinatra on Bastille Day near the Ecole Militaire.

Now that I mention it, there is a working paper to be written somewhere about the battle for hearts and minds, the soft power struggle, undertaken by the Chinese government and the Tibetan Government in Exile amidst the semi-employed post-collegiate white and French-born segment of Europe.  (I say “white and French-born” because it may be that among African-born Francophones in France, Sino-African relations is the terrain upon which China is judged and found wanting, or exemplary; this may be speculation on my part, but a quick glance at the newsstands in France and the predominance of African affairs there argues for my correctness in this small argumentative vector.  Of course white French readers of the press are also concerned with Africa — as are France’s armed and thoroughly multi-ethnic forces — but that is another debate altogether.)

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Toulouse is also an opportunity to contrast how French politicians handle such a visit, as opposed to their American counterparts.  When the Dalai Lama visits Washington, American Republicans waste no time in smashing the administration for not showing His Holiness more respect.  Tibet policy is one of the great unstated, but unquestionable, areas of extreme left-right agreement in the U.S.

On the other hand, France’s answer to the Tea Party, Marine LePen and her National Front, appear to have no comment on the Dalai Lama’s visit.  There is, though, this video of Le Pen holding forth in a small press conference in Toulouse (which includes complaining of the “Islamicization” of France) in which neither China nor the Dalai Lama comes in for discussion (for more on the Petainist origins of the present permutations of the French right wing, see James Shields’ detailed book from 2007).  However, this Marine Le Pen press release from spring 2008, singles out the main object of attack — following in her father’s footsteps of associating French left with the Cultural Revolution — is not the Chinese government but instead a French communist:

Mardi 08 Avril 2008

Du Tibet à Nanterre : le communisme incompatible avec la démocratie

Communiqué de presse de Marine Le Pen

Si les violences commises par le régime communiste chinois au Tibet ont été largement commentées et condamnées par la classe politique, pas une voix ne s’est élevée pour dénoncer les propos stupéfiants du maire communiste de Nanterre, Patrick Jary.

Réagissant le 7 avril dans les colonnes du Parisien au prochain déménagement du siège du Front national dans la préfecture des Hauts-de-Seine, l’édile communiste affirme “qu’il faut que les gens comprennent qu’il y a des lieux où le FN n’a pas le droit de venir”.

Au Tibet comme à Nanterre, le communisme, fidèle à sa vision totalitaire du monde, démontre une fois encore son caractère antidémocratique et la vision toute particulière qu’il se fait de la liberté …

Le Front National dénonce l’hypocrisie d’une classe politique qui sait être bruyante quand il s’agit de stigmatiser les violations des droits de l’homme à l’étranger mais reste étrangement silencieuse quand certaines libertés fondamentales sont bafouées en France.

So much for France.

A week after his Toulouse sojurn, the Dalai Lama was received at Goethe University in Frankfurt, an institution with an already-dynamic Asian Studies profile, particularly via its Interdisciplinary Center for East Asian Studies.  Video of the visit is available here, via Goethe University.

By way of comment: As I was in China during both of these visits, it very much interests me how routinized (which is to say, ignored) the Dalai Lama’s global work has become in the PRC press.  When a prominent French politician — say, the mayor of Paris — wants to make the Dalai Lama an “honorary citizen,” or an American mayor wants to commemorate Tibetan struggles in the month of March, a stink is raised, but by and large, the CCP lets these kind of appearances pass without comment, partially because they have already spent a great deal of their human rights pushback capital on cases like Ai Weiwei.  It may also be because the Dalai Lama is so apparently indefatigable, and there is little that the CCP can gain from railing against his every move.  It is one of the many instances in China where the “hard line” is in reality rather spotty, and applied only exemplary circumstances sufficient to inspire second thoughts about extending an invitation, second thoughts which are then rather easily pushed aside by the original impulse to broaden the scope of the inquiry and bend the ear towards the man in the crimson and gold robes from Dhramsala.

 

Tibet on the Horizon

Chamdo in Paris

Tonight, wandering north toward the Rue Oberkampf in search of my little home for the week in Belleville (Parisian Chinatown), I ran across a Tibetan restaurant known as “Norbulingka.”  The establishment was on the ground floor of an average-sized building, yet it somehow seemed even more squat than an average restaurant, more insulated, more buttery.  So I went in and found a manager from Kham, and after some typical grappling for linguistic common ground, I coughed out what little remains of my command of Tibetan courtesies.   Like some tea houses in Lhasa or Chengdu, the place was certainly fine for a meeting of importance — quite unlike the German-influenced “Panic Room” where I had just before been hammering at a recalcitrant book chapter in the midst of orange and pink techno underneath a mural of African kids wearing East German military uniforms with stickers on their heads describing how stupid it was to have built the Berlin Wall.

Norbulinka beats techno every time.

“Tashi dele” duly bestowed, on the way out of the place, I fixed my gaze upon a poster of a handsome bald man wearing glasses.  It was of course the Dalai Lama, and the poster spoke of his upcoming appearance in Toulouse, France, in mid-August.

And speaking of the Dalai Lama….

McGranahan on Tibet’s Imperial Encounter

I found this paper by Carole McGranahan at the University of Colorado to be rather interesting:

Dr. McGranahan, whose anthropology home page is here, is the author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War (Duke University Press, 2010).  She also has one of the more active Twitter feeds among academics with an interest in Tibet and clearly believes that the Tibetan government-in-exile has a strong case to make for state sovereignty and independence.

In the above presentation, she spends the first 3:55 on the gnarly theoretical question of post-colonialism; at about the halfway point (12′) she dives into the empirical research and the question of American intelligence (e.g., CIA) sponsorship of the Tibetan resistance in the 1960s.

Much food for thought!  And much thought there is, and more food for it, in this panel in Minnesota…

A Panel Rises in the East

As prognosticated, I will indeed be participating in the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs / Himalayan Studies Conference this upcoming October at Macalaster College.  The panel, which runs on Saturday October 29 at 8:30 a.m., should be excellent:

Tibet, China, India: Mapping Connections across History, Politics, and Culture

Chair and Discussant: Geoff Childs, Washington University in St. Louis.

[Childs is an anthropologist with an impressive array of publications about demography in Tibet; his recent work with Melvyn Goldstein in The China Journal looks to be essential reading.]

1. Adam Cathcart, Pacific Lutheran University, “Liu Shengqi in Lhasa: A New Window Into Tibet and Chinese Assertions on the Plateau, 1945-1949″

2. Sarah Getzelman, The Ohio State University, “Imaging the Dalai Lama: Incarnations in Art and Practice”

3. Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, Université Laval, “TV across the Indo-Tibetan Interface: Indian TV as a cultural mediator for ‘Newcomer’ Tibetans in Dharamsala?”

 

Photo courtesy Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, click image for more details about her interdisciplinary fieldwork