"[I]n ten years there won't be a Tibet anymore."
Samdhong Rinpoche, president, Tibetan exile parliament (now Kalon
Tripa, chief minister of the cabinet), 19941
"Tant de gens se sont crus traques et ont ecrit une litterature de traques sans tracas." [So many people have believed they were persecuted and have written a literature of persecution, without any persecution taking place.]
In the 1930s, the sociologist Karl Mannheim famously described ideologies as instruments for use in political action by ruling groups that seek to retain or regain power. Ideologies, he adjured, should be approached critically to gain what insights they possess, but should never be confused with reality, which Mannheim deemed to be a socially and historically determined set of meanings.3 While nationalism may not be independent of such host ideologies as liberalism, conservatism, and fascism,4 it is a Mannheimian ideology because of its association with political myth.5 Nationalists are so myth-prone that their academic defenders strain to reconcile mythmaking with standards of intellectual integrity. A leading proponent of liberal nationalism contends that if nationalist myths suppress what is negative in the history of a nation, they do so to facilitate moralizing that encourages its members to live up to ancestral virtues.6 A conservative defender of nationalism argues that even deliberate falsehoods should be condoned where mythmaking is essential to a merited nationalist project.7
Nationalism is often based upon what Liah Greenfeld calls ressentiment, the cognitive dissonance between a conviction that a people should be well placed in the hierarchy of nations and the fact that it is not.8 Ressentiment is displayed as righteous anger at the purported victimization of a people by a powerful state. While examples of national oppression abound and give rise to many legitimate grievances, claimed aggrievance is ubiquitous among nationalist movements and serves the main function of an ideology, which is mobilization.9 Nationalists often seek to activate their nation or putative nation and garner international support by invoking "nationalist myths" of moral grievance-even where there is no clear pattern of ethnic oppression or where some deleterious policies exist alongside countervailing practices.10 The nationalist penchant for magnifying ethnic particularities in order to reinforce national identities,11 combined with the not uncommon nationalist practice of hyperbolizing moral grievance, leads to the political mystification that Mannheim wrote about and that the Tibet case exemplifies.
The ideology of the Tibetan emigre leaders headquartered in Dharamsala, India centers on the notion that Tibet has been occupied by China for five decades and has thereby experienced a particularly destructive form of colonialism.12 The Dalai Lama has stated that "Tibet was an independent country before its occupation by China.... There is no justification claiming that Tibet was 'part of China' as Peking claims today."13 He has further said: "Fundamentally, the issue of Tibet is political. It is an issue of colonial rule: the oppression of Tibet by the People's Republic of China (PRC) and resistance to that rule by the people of Tibet."14 This position is upheld even though every state in the world recognizes that Tibet is part of China, and no state deems Tibet a colony.
Emigre leaders attribute a malign purpose and effect to all actions of "the Chinese" in Tibet but do so especially where Tibetan culture is concerned. The Dalai Lama has stated: "The Chinese authorities view Tibet's distinct culture and religion as the source of threat of separation. Hence as a result of deliberate policies an entire people with its unique culture and identity are facing the threat of extinction."15 Emigre leaders claim that the impetus for their demarches to China is "to preserve the unique cultural identity of Tibet. …