The Dangerous Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu?

Robert V. Taylor

How dangerous is His Holiness the Dalai Lama? The South African government in denying him a visa to attend Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations appears to believe he is a danger to freedom loving people. His life, like that of Tutu’s, points to a very different message of the inter-connectedness of all things and people.

The South African government has rejected the Dalai Lama’s visa application, according to The Times of India, as “incomplete.”  With one of the world’s most progressive constitution’s the “New South Africa” has enshrined the rights of freedom of expression and those of women, children and gay and lesbian people in its constitution. The Dalai Lama’s pending visit tests the spirit, intent and letter of the values of that constitution.

The denial of his visa is a reminder of the old apartheid South Africa in which freedom of speech and association was ruthlessly denied. In the nineteen seventies the then Minister of Justice responded to concerns about the house arrest – or banning – of those whose voices were at odds with apartheid.  He said that those under house arrest had as much freedom “as a goldfish in a bowl.”  Is the new South Africa beginning to act like the old one?

Tutu and the Dalai Lama are iconic figures because they are moral leaders who will not be silenced in speaking truth about the well-being of all people. Tutu’s Ubuntu – that a person is only a person in the context of other people – is very much related to His Holiness’ emphasis on the intertwined nature of all human life. Both are passionate advocates for freedom and compassion. Their personal friendship and affection is longstanding.  

© 2011 Zapiro (All Rights Reserved) Printed with permission

The recent cartoon from The Times of London points to the real reason for trying to silence the Dalai Lama in South Africa which is pressure from the Chinese government. If that is true it is ironic that the new South Africa, free of the colonialism of apartheid would subject itself to a new colonial master.  The dangerousness of the Dalai Lama lies in the South African fear of ruffling trade and diplomatic relations between China and South Africa.

The courageous lives and leadership of Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama would be affirmed by an equally courageous decision to grant His Holiness the visa now. The freedom and compassion of these iconic Nobel Peace Laureates would be matched by the act of issuing the visa now.

Compassion, kindness, reconciliation, justice and the oneness of the human family are the messages of Desmond Tutu and His Holiness. It is moral, inspirational and practical leadership that they invite others to exercise. In a time when there is vacuum in such leadership the world needs to keep hearing from these two leaders.

It is not too late to grant the visa and allow the Dalai Lama to present the Inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture on October 8th the day after he lights the candle on Tutu’s eightieth birthday cake.  The light of their messages may be dangerous to some but the world longs for more of it.

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Watch His Holiness and Archbishop Tutu talk about compassion – click here

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  1. Seeing Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama interact during Seattle’s Seeds of Compassion event in 2008 was a joy to behold. It was a delight to watch them joke and tease each other gently, occasionally reminding each other, “We are holy men, we must be a little more dignified,” before moving on and lapsing into more merriment. They set a fine example of power with rather than power over for the children and everyone at the event. The kids saw that there can be much laughter when no one is the butt of any joke and I was surprised and delighted to see venerated spiritual leaders not taking themselves too seriously.

    It is my hope that the government of South Africa relents from their current state of Grinchiness (to use Dr. Seuss terminology) on this. Too many people in all sorts of government understand power over too well and power with (what fueled South Africa’s evolution from apartheid to democracy) too little. The world, including many of us who attended that event, children and adults alike is watching, blogging and tweeting. Whether the Dalai Lama is present to celebrate with Archbishop Tutu or not, our dialogue will continue.

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