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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Thomas Laird : Author's Presentation on Tibet Sparks Debate

November 15, 2008

By Kathryn Galland
November 13, 2008

Thomas Laird, author of The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the
Dalai Lama, spoke to a packed audience in Torgersen 3100 on the night
of Nov. 11. He discussed Tibetan geography and history and what
Tibetan history means to the Dalai Lama, China and the United States'
relationship with China.

"When you see China through the lens of Tibet, when you look at
Tibet's history with China, only then can you peer over the horizon
towards American's future with China," Laird said.

Early in his speech, Laird addressed history as viewed from the
Chinese and Tibetan perspective, calling the two narratives
"diametrically opposed."

Laird cited the Dalai Lama's greatest despair as the "despair of
trying to bridge that gap" between these two versions of history.

As a westerner, Laird was granted an unprecedented string of
interviews with the Dalai Lama spanning three years in which the
Dalai Lama gave Laird an oral account of Tibetan history. The
interviews formed the basis for Laird's latest book, The Story of Tibet.

Laird's tone grew stern when he warned, "The possibility of war with
China is real."

"If you don't pay attention to [the Sino-Tibetan-Mongolian history],
we could all die," Laird said.

Someone in the audience cleared a throat to which Laird said, "You
laugh, but I am serious."

Laird was quick to point out China's contributions to the world,
calling anyone who ignores Chinese advances in history and technology
an "ignorant S-O-B."

"We have a lot in common with our brothers in China," Laird said.

He used his historical research to attempt to discredit a claim made
by China's President Hu Jintao in 2005 when the Chinese president
called Tibet an "inalienable part of Chinese territory" since the 13th century.

Laird does not believe the Chinese government's view of history to be
accurate and warned the audience to be wary of "revisionist history."

Laird pointed to the Dalai Lama's efforts to engage in peaceful
negotiations with the Chinese government as an example of how to
resolve the dispute between Tibet and China non-violently.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and the
Congressional Medal of Freedom in October 2007.

In his concluding remarks, Laird became emotional.

"The degree to which we offer our own lives [Laird paused as he
sniffled, holding back tears] to save the lives of others is what
makes us Americans and Christians and Buddhists," Laird said.

After an hour-long presentation, Laird accepted questions from the audience.

The audience became tense and a several people left when a few
passionate audience members voiced their dissenting opinions
forcefully, one member even standing up and shouting at Laird.

A calmer audience member voiced her concern that the Chinese view of
history is not presented well in the United States.

To these accusations, Laird urged the members of the audience to read
his book and judge for themselves whether his comments were fair.

Jane Vance, the Virginia Tech professor who invited Laird to speak,
has read Laird's latest book.

"There are ways to tell history that aren't bone-dry, chronological
and mind-crushing," Vance said, referring to Laird's book. "There are
ways to tell history as a series of enlivened, crucial stories."

Vance admires Laird's work. "I am fascinated because early on he has
found his path, and he has stayed in it and opened obstacles...for 30
years," Vance said.

Vance announced that copies of Laird's The Story of Tibet are now
available at the Volume II bookstore in the University Mall.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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