I was five years old when I attended my first protest. I stood in a crowd of hundreds, waving my flag and shouting in unison with fellow human rights activists. “Free Tibet! Free Tibet!”
Kindergartners don’t usually attend protests, but in my community, it was depressingly natural. Ever since China brutally took over Tibet in the 1950s, the Tibetan people have suffered from relentless violations of their human rights. Their national anthem and flag are banned, and writers and artists are routinely whisked away to jail — without anything resembling due process, of course. Sacred religious sites liked the magnificent Larung Gar have been demolished. Tibetans under Chinese rule are silenced through beatings, deliberate impoverishment, rape, starvation and imprisonment. Thousands of nonviolent Tibetan human rights activists fill concentration camps scattered all across China.
The repression has been so bad that more than 150 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest since 2009, according to the Washington Post. They don’t self-immolate because they are dumb or irrational. They self-immolate because everything else that has been happening to Tibet won’t make it to the news.
In the 2016 Freedom House annual survey — a survey that measures each country’s civil and political rights — only Syria received a lower score than Tibet.
I arrived at Yale hoping to meet fellow students who were deeply concerned about remedying injustice and critically analyzing oppression throughout the world. I was shocked to find that many Yalies seem to think of communism as either a joke or a societal ideal. Of course, it is usually those who are the furthest removed from directly experiencing communist regimes that glorify the ideology. My land and my people are dying, and Yalies, safe in their ivory tower, have the audacity to justify their “Communist Manifesto” comments as “thought provoking.”
I can understand, to some extent, how Yalies come to sympathize with far-left ideologies. In an age of such drastic inequality, the idea of creating a more equitable and humane system through empowering the working class is attractive. But I urge my classmates to also learn from communism’s repeatedly tragic history. I’m so tired of debating the merits of communism to Yalies who should know better. At Yale of all places, I shouldn’t have to speak up to defend the basic humanity of communism’s victims against people who are defending a historically violent ideology. What makes otherwise conscientious people susceptible to such a massive blind spot?
Maybe people can better understand this if they make a comparison with Nazism. Both were utopian ideologies that caused widespread violence. Both killed millions of people, although communism has claimed more victims. Professor Benjamin Valentino of Dartmouth College estimates that three major communist regimes — the Khmer Rogue, China under Mao Zedong and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin — were responsible for the deaths of at least 21 million noncombatants. However, wouldn’t you be shocked if you heard someone casually endorsing Nazism, even as a joke? Wouldn’t it be an outrage to have swastikas sprinkled all over memes? I wish there were as much social stigma for supporting communism as there is for supporting Nazism.
I’ve been criticized for alluding to Maoism for most of my arguments — I often bring up Maoism because Mao is largely responsible for decimating my people. However, there are many other examples of fairy-tale communist eras devolving into violence. Peasants were cut down when they revolted against Ho Chi Minh. Che Guevara was called “the Butcher of La Cabaña” for good reason. Over 25 percent of native Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge. North Korean prisoners are whittling away in their “Red Holocaust,” and, my goodness, it’s only been 28 years since the Berlin Wall came down. Most shocking of all, there is a small far-left subculture at Yale that actively praises “leaders” like Stalin, a murderer who starved and massacred the very poor people he purported to help. 94,000 Tibetans — and counting — have been murdered by the Chinese Communist Party since 1950. These monsters killed the bourgeoisie, but they also indiscriminately killed the poor.
The real face of communism isn’t a playful, hammer-and-sickle-adorned meme about Canada Goose jackets or a picture of a hot young Stalin; it’s a 63 year old monk writhing in agony after setting himself aflame in protest against an oppressive government last week. It is astounding that many of the same liberals who howl for inclusivity are willing to ignore the message that their casual embrace of communism sends to those it has impacted. To promote communism while conveniently ignoring the millions who have been murdered and oppressed in its name is not progressive or entertaining — it is a toxic form of cognitive dissonance. It is a Great Leap Backwards.
Kelsang Dolma is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .