Today we remember how loved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, and is. But we forget how hated he was during his lifetime. We forget the awful slip of the tongue that some employed to belittle him and call him “coon” instead of “King”. We forget the constant death threats, the government surveillance.
We forget that some people’s first reaction upon hearing Dr. King was shot was one of relief, not grief.
But to get an insight into that hate all one has to do is peruse today’s headlines and see the level of vitriol hurled against the Dalai Lama by the Chinese government.
This is just a sample of the latest invective:
BEIJING, April 4 (UPI) — China said the Dalai Lama and his supporters have been ruining Tibet in the name of religion and human rights.
The People’s Daily, quoting Basang Wangdui, a researcher with the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, said, “The Dalai Lama and his supporters, representatives of the feudal serf owners of old Tibet, have never done anything good for the Tibetan people in the past 50 years.”
It boggles the mind: the name calling, the “wolf in monk’s clothing”, the accusations of Buddhist “suicide squads”, the sheer volume of animosity diligently churned out from countless cubicles by countless propaganda workers who showered, shaved, gulped down their favorite morning beverage and then sat down to do the slow, steady work of character assassination without a moment’s hesitation.
We may smugly sit back in the West, shaking our heads and congratulating ourselves that our free society would never allow such a senselessly bureaucratic take-down of a man of peace…but we would be wrong. It wasn’t that long ago that our own government, when confronted with a religious leader who used the tools of nonviolence to challenge systemic injustice, had a very similar reaction.
It wasn’t until several years after his assassination that the Church Committee uncovered how extensive this program was. In 1976 it issued its report, including a detailed analysis of everything our government did to “neutralize” Dr. King:
The FBI’s formal program to discredit Dr. King with Government officials began with the distribution of a “monograph” which the FBI realized could “be regarded as a personal attack on Martin Luther King,” 4 and which was subsequently described by a Justice Department official as “a personal diatribe … a personal attack without evidentiary support.” 5
Congressional leaders were warned “off the record” about alleged dangers posed by Reverend King. The FBI responded to Dr. King’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize by attempting to undermine his reception by foreign heads of state and American ambassadors in the countries that be planned to visit. When Dr. King returned to the United States, steps were taken to reduce support for a huge banquet and a special “day” that were being planned in his honor.
The FBI’s program to destroy Dr. King as the leader of the civil rights movement entailed attempts to discredit him with churches, universities, and the press. Steps were taken to attempt to convince the National Council of Churches, the Baptist World Alliance, and leading Protestant ministers to halt financial support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and to persuade them that “Negro leaders should completely isolate King and remove him from the role he is now occupying in civil rights activities.” 6 When the FBI learned that Dr. King intended to visit the Pope, an agent was dispatched to persuade Francis Cardinal Spellman to warn the Pope about “the likely embarrassment that may result to the Pope should he grant King an audience.” 7 The FBI sought to influence universities to withhold honorary degrees from Dr. King. Attempts were made to prevent the publication of articles favorable to Dr. King and to find “friendly” news sources that would print unfavorable articles. The FBI offered to play for reporters tape recordings allegedly made from microphone surveillance of Dr. King’s hotel rooms.
Our government did more than just “listen in” on Dr. King. It engaged in some of the very same dehumanizing techniques that Chinese authorities are attempting to use against the Dalai Lama right now.
In this interview, King talks about the “guilt complex” of the oppressor – that one of the reactions to guilt is to engage in the very thing that you feel guilty about:
Maybe this is that last gasp of the oppressor before letting go of injustice. Maybe this “kitchen sink strategy” just needs to be employed so the worst can be excised from the system before it can embrace true change.
What would that change look like? For the Dalai Lama, he answered that question in this recent interview:
If this is the vision, if it is a clean environment, and true brotherhood, and economic justice, why is there such a fight against that vision? Why do so many people spend so much of their time and resources and invest themselves so deeply in fighting it?
Is it really worth assassinating someone just to keep that vision from becoming a reality?
These are the painful questions I always ask myself April 4th. I know I will never find the answers, but I have to ask them all the same.
Please keep all sides of the conflict in Tibet in your thoughts, prayers and meditations, and please reflect today on the sacrifice Dr. King and his family made to push our country forward.