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October 6, 2011

Silencing the Dalai Lama?

The attempt to silence His Holiness the Dalai Lama is an exercise in futility akin to trying to block the flow of eternal spiritual truths. Yet this is what the government of South Africa is trying to do. Their refusal to grant him a visa to give a lecture in Cape Town in honor of his friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s eightieth birthday is ironic at best and, at worst, hostile to free speech and religion.

These two iconic human beings are honored in much of the world for their willingness to speak truth to power out of the spirituality of their respective Buddhist and Christian traditions. Tutu’s fearless defense of the voiceless and the inclusion of all people is an expression of the abundantly generous love of the God he believes in. The Dalai Lama’s insistence on the inter-connectedness of all beings arises from his Buddhist tradition. He says that his religion is one of kindness. These two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates share a common spiritual and pragmatic insistence on the power of forgiveness over retribution.

There is nothing kind, inclusive or generous about the obfuscating responses of the South African government as they dither about whether to succumb to China’s pressure to keep the Dalai Lama out of South Africa.

In 2009 the Dalai Lama was denied a visa to give a lecture in South Africa with News24 reporting that the government admitted its move was made “in order not to jeopardize ties with China.” The Sunday Independent reported that the South African Embassy in New Delhi had not received the Dalai Lama’s visa application. On August 22, 2011 the Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman was quoted by Phayul News saying, “The Dalai Lama’s visa issue is not only administrative but political and diplomatic in nature.” In others words the South African government is considering colluding with China in an attempt to silence His Holiness’ voice in South Africa.

The irony lies in the history of apartheid giving way to a robust democracy in 1994. Many members of the current government were silenced by the apartheid regime under which freedom of expression and association was unknown. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s voice against apartheid that could not be silenced at home or on the global stage. Calling for the end of apartheid and for justice he insisted that the human family is made not for separateness but for togetherness. He calls it Ubuntu – we are only human beings in the context of others human beings.

The long fight for freedom of expression, association and democracy in South Africa is called into question by not granting a visa to His Holiness to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture in honor of his good friend’s eightieth birthday today, October 7, 2011.

Driven by the spirituality of their respective traditions Tutu and the Dalai Lama tirelessly work for freedom, reconciliation and the inclusion of all. In addition to the Tutu invitation, the Durban based Gandhi Development Trust intends to honor His Holiness in South Africa with the 9th Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace.

Robert V. Taylor , His Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Tutu

Robert V. Taylor , His Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Tutu

Dumisa Ntsebeza, Chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Center in South Africa, expressed a generous hope saying, “Although uncertainty over the visa has proved challenging…the Peace Center is confident the visa will be granted.”

Archbishop Tutu and The Dalai Lama will not be silenced by any government. The question is why, given the remarkable history of South Africa’s journey, it would even consider trying to keep the Dalai Lama’s voice out of the country?

It is a futile flourish that the old Apartheid government would have been proud of. Perhaps it is the South African government that is in need of reconciliation – the reconciling of a country’s liberation and constitution with a visa that will welcome one of the great religious and human rights crusaders to its country. What is to be feared from these two Nobel Laureates celebrating their voices and those of humanity in the quest for spiritual and human freedom?


Editor’s Note  On Tuesday, October 4, 2011, His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, withdrew his request for a visa to visit South Africa.