Self-immolations are in the news. Besides reports today of a Chinese man who set himself on fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, China is also facing a wave of self-immolations in eastern Tibet.
At least 11 monks and nuns have set themselves on fire this year in protest of China's grip on their homeland. Last week, the Dalai came forward and blamed China for the spate of tragic acts, saying its approach in Tibet amounts to "cultural genocide."
For some, it was a welcome message from a figure who, inevitably, is at the center of any news out of Tibet. For others, it began the well-worn cycle that starts with the Dalai Lama condemning China, moves to China condemning the Dalai Lama, and ends without much changed.
"It's hard to see new ways to describe the situation. But we have to keep on trying to describe it," said Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies program at Columbia University.
GlobalPost spoke with Barnett about the likelihood that China will make some changes, what the Dalai Lama can really do, and why no one is an idle commentator on this issue.
GlobalPost: The majority of Tibetans who have self-immolated this year have died. It's clear these deaths are the result of more than a decade of repressive policies in Tibet. What is a helpful frame to make sense of this in the West?
Professor Robbie Barnett: We would have to imagine a government here treating universities as, let's say, mafia centers or criminal cults that have to be repeatedly invaded by police. That's roughly how the major Tibetan monasteries are being viewed now in China.