I’m working on a new novel that will highlight what happened at a remote fortress in southern France in 1244. A group known today as Cathars, the most successful of the heretical sects of the Middle Ages, had spent a year under siege by Catholic forces. Eventually the Cathars surrendered and, after refusing to renounce their faith, 220 people were burned at the foot of Montsegur. Fire exterminated dissent.

The 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising is fast approaching (March 10, 1959). 2011 was witness to a transfer of power from His Holiness Dalai Lama to secular political rule. At the same time, the harsh crackdowns of 2008 continue within Tibet. Increasingly we are seeing more and more incidents of self immolation being reported. Here fire is a symbol of protest and individual sacrifice. Since 2009, 27 Tibetans have killed themselves in this manner. In a culture known for non-violence and compassion, no suicide bombers have emerged. But there is a growing sense that things are changing and the old ways aren’t working. Young Tibetans may push for more radical protests and, if Beijing continues to respond in the same old ways, things may continue to escalate. Of course, even in dire circumstances there is a chance that leaders on both sides will see the need to change direction and find a way toward compromise. Perhaps the new leadership in China will see that now is the time to embrace the Dalai Lama and use this opportunity to ensure peace.

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