Paul Greenberg

Easy off, easy on. That's what the billboards used to say out West along I-40 somewhere between Amarillo and Albuquerque under that pitiless sky stretched endlessly across the treeless High Plains. The signs usually advertised some Roadside Attraction. A gas station-cum-petting zoo, a souvenir shop (AUTHENTIC TURQUOISE JEWELRY!), or maybe a "museum" featuring Genuine Indian Artifacts - pottery, arrowheads, maybe a skeleton of Prehistoric Man behind glass.

Call it cut-rate sacrilege. Then, after the kids had had their run and the grownups were caffeinated, it was back on the interstate to the next rest stop and/or alligator farm. It was all fairly depressing, but anything for a break from the glaring sun.

I thought of all that on reading what happened to a bunch of foreign reporters/tourists when they went to Lhasa, capital of Tibet - the Roof of the World, Land of Lamas, Shangri-La and all that. It's now Occupied Tibet, though the commissars doing the occupying pretend that Tibet is an "integral" part of China, and that Tibetan culture/religion is just another quaint curiosity for the tourists. A show to take in. And be taken in by. Every communist regime from Pyongyang to Havana has become quite proficient at running these Potemkin tours.

This time the visiting delegation was being escorted through the Jokhang Temple, a regular tourist stop in Lhasa, and was part way through its Official Briefing - i.e., pack of lies - when reality erupted. A group of some 30 monks burst into the proceedings, shouting things like: "Don't believe them! They are tricking you! They are telling lies! Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!"

It was as if, in the middle of the same old play, the whole set had collapsed, and the real world had come flooding in. ("We interrupt this program to tell you the truth.")

Some of the monks wept as they told the foreigners their stories. They said they'd been held in the temple for weeks while the Tibetan capital was jolted by the violent protests that had finally made the world news. Naturally the UN's "Human Rights" Council - long dominated by exemplars of freedom like Cuba, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Zimbabwe - declined to debate the Chinese clampdown on the demonstrations. In Lhasa, the bodies were soon collected, the monks silenced, and iron order restored. But for a moment human voices had been heard.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.