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His Holiness The Dalai Lama Speaks Out On U.S. Foreign Policy, Against the Invasion of Iraq and 9/11

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Democracy Now! asks Nobel Peace Prize winner His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his views on the invasion of Iraq, September 11th and U.S. foreign policy following a New York Times article titled “Dalai Lama Says Terror May Need a Violent Reply.” [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript His Holiness the 14th the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso is the head of state and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. Born to a peasant family, he was recognized at the age of two as the reincarnation 13th Dalai Lama.

At the age of 15, he was called upon to assume full political power as the head of State and Government after some 80,000 Chinese soldiers soldiers invaded Tibet. China has occupied Tibet ever since. At the age of 19 the Dalai Lama was negotiating with China’s Mao Tse-tung over the future of Tibet.

After years of failed peace talks and a violent suppression of Tibet’s resistance movement in which tens of thousands of Tibetans died, the Dalai Lama fled in 1959 to India, where he continues to be the spiritual leader of Tibet’s people and heads Tibet’s government-in-exile. Some 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed him into exile.

In the early years of exile, the Dalai Lama appealed to the United Nations. In successive years, the General Assembly adopted three resolutions calling on China to respect the human rights of Tibetans and their desire for self-determination.

In 1989 the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global human rights and his ceaseless efforts to free his country from Chinese rule. As he accepted the prize he referred to himself as “a simple monk from Tibet.”

Last week the Dalai Lama spoke in New York on the last stop of a U.S. tour where he met with Tibetan exiles in several cities and pressed the Tibetan cause in Washington.

The New York Times headline was: “Dalai Lama Says Terror May Need a Violent Reply.” The Times said the Dalai Lama believed “it might be necessary to fight terrorists with violence and that it was 'too early to say' whether the Iraq war is a mistake.”

The next day the Dalai Lama’s representative sent a letter to the Times in response. It said that the Times “gives the misleading impression his holiness is endorsing violence as a way to confront terrorism, I am sure, as many of your readers are aware, his Holiness always advocated nonviolence as the most effective method of dealing with conflict. More specifically, with regard to the war on Iraq his Holiness has publicly issued a statement expressing his opposition to war as the momentum was building towards an invasion” .

On Tuesday, the town hall in New York Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman had the rare opportunity to be part of the dialogue with the Dalai Lama with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine and actor and activist Susan Sarandon.

  • His Holiness Dalai Lama, speaking in New York City on September 23, 2003.
  • * Tibet House*


AMY GOODMAN:On Tuesday, at the town hall in New York I had the rare opportunity to be part of the dialogue with the Dalai Lama. I sat with him and Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine and the actor and activist, Susan Sarandon. I asked him about his views on Iraq, and also talked about September 11th. Talked about how September 11th united us with people around the world who were subject to terror all too often as a result of U.S. backed military regimes as in Guatemala, as in Chile (1973 — 33 years ago — when Salvador Allende was killed in the palace at the U.S.-backed Pinochet regime rose to power). He responded:

DALAI LAMA: Realizing that freedom of speech played no part. I don’t think the negotiation through the next week —

TRANSLATOR: I’m sure that as a result of our airing these criticisms public here they would not be an immediate kind of retribution, that we will suffer at least in the next week or so.

DALAI LAMA: I don’t think so.


DALAI LAMA: In any case I’m leaving tomorrow.

AMY GOODMAN: After he talked about freedom of speech in this country, he then began to elaborate his views on the invasion of Iraq. He spoke English, he spoke in Tibetan, and he also was translated. This is the Dalai Lama.

TRANSLATOR: One of the most unfortunate facts of today’s world, even to this day is that still there are some vestiges of old ways of dealing with the world which is to use the threat of force and including force in dealing with the level of international relations.

TRANSLATOR: Very often I share with people with the audience, like America, as domestic policy is concerned generally speaking there are very much cherishing democracy. But in the field of international relations, the democratic principle is not there. Still relying on show of force. But at the same time you can’t blame America. Some kind of use of force by dictatorship, authoritarian or democratically elected, at least use force by elected government is much better. We suffer a lot under undemocratic authoritarian system.

AMY GOODMAN: The Dalai Lama speaking in New York. He then went on to talk about September 11th and his response to the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. His immediate response being a letter to President Bush. This is the Dalai Lama speaking in New York:

DALAI LAMA: At that time I got the feeling, human being and modern technology used by human hatred are then terrible, terrible destructions — Then I wrote a letter to President Bush, “I’m terribly sorry, my condolences. Many people killed, died. Many of their relatives, how much they feel, how much pain, very clear, very obvious.” So, I express my condolence to the president and meantime I also express that I hope violence cannot eliminate violence. So the only long-term alternative is through non-violence, I expressed. So in fact at the time I dictated that letter, my secretary expressed a little reservation. Then I thought, okay, okay my principle, my way, this is how I believe, ok. I thought our President Bush, the American President would certainly understand my view. But I would love to not be put in prison.

TRANSLATOR: Although one of his holiness’ aides said this is not the right thing that president would want to listen to.

DALAI LAMA: So much shock. So much emotions at that time, that first period.

TRANSLATOR: The aide suggested that given that all of America including the President is experiencing such shock that maybe the statement that his holiness was requesting the president not to respond violence with another violence may not be the most appropriate thing to do. But his Holiness felt that the president would understand that this is his personal view and hope that in any case there is no danger of him being imprisoned.

AMY GOODMAN: the Dalai Lama speaking in New York this week about September 11th, about the invasion of Iraq, about the issue of freedom of speech. He also talked about Saddam Hussein and how it was important to understand how Saddam Hussein came to power and maintained that power. This is the Dalai Lama:

DALAI LAMA: It is unfair to blame everything on Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein without this powerful army he can’t be dictator. Without military sophisticated weapons it’s impossible to build a powerful army. So, these weapons are not produced there, but come from the West. And one time when the Lebanon Civil War was going on, I met one French lady. She told me in one city, one site people, innocent people killing. One site some business making business selling weapons, bullets. If you truly analyze how this dictatorship developed, from many causes, many conditions, including western nations’ own contribution. So that’s my view. Since it’s such a complex, it is easy to eliminate one person or small group of people, but unless very sort of carried that message realistically without emotion possibly more compassionate, more wisdom, eliminate ten people it creates hundred people. Hundred people eliminate thousand people. This would go.

So the real method is personal contact, person to person, face to face. Talk. At that time I also expressed Bin Laden also have lot of reasons to complain. Listen to his view. What’s his complaint. Terrorism is a sort of mutual suffering. They’ve also suffered. Therefore, lead, listen, talk, and try to find way to solve that which is causing their complaint. That’s the humane way. Therefore, after the Iraq war started, and before the war started some people from Europe also America asked me, should go to Baghdad and do something. And I thought, a Muslim capital — a Buddhist monk go there? I don’t know.


Maybe I think good excuse my selfish feeling, I don’t know. If I go there something happen. But realistically speaking, also, how much effect if I go? Whether Iraqi government gives me permission or not that’s also the question. So, In any way, that is sort of the experience, then I felt, some sort of respected people, as a group should take more active role on behalf of humanity not this government or that government or United Nations. Simply, a warm heart, with possibly the sense of responsibility of humanity and group. I think, go there, as a group. I’m willing to join few other more then I can go.


DALAI LAMA: And also I think easier to get permission. That I really feel regret. Did not happen. Some representative government or United Nations. I think unfortunately now is too many people, too much suspicion, mistrust. So therefore it is very difficult. So some individual people who looks no political agenda or interest then I think there’s some ground trust. Then listen. First their view, and explain, if war started, what benefit? So, that’s my view about the Iraq War.

ROBERT THURMAN: We thank you, your holiness. We have to take a mid-day break now. And I want to thank you all for your wonderful statements, and when your holiness goes with Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela, and Jimmy Carter–all of these people–in the “Non-violence SWAT Team”, Amy will cover you. Amy Goodman will go with you with the microphone. Remember that Ghandi, you have to remember that when Ghandi took the Marches, when Ghandi went wherever, there were always the reporters, were taking the photographs to have effect. Because the moral force has to expand to the larger community to really have the effect so thank you, Amy. Thank you Katrina. Thank you Susan —

DALAI LAMA: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and director of Tibet House which sponsored the event at New York’s town hall. The dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

I was on the panel with Susan Sarandon and Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation magazine. The Dalai Lama, explaining his views on violence and the invasion of Iraq.

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