Ian Buruma is a pretty smart guy. Or so I’m told. But this is a great example of the hazards facing an author who’s writing about something in his own field, in this case human rights in Tibet, and analogizing to something he apparently knows nothing about, contemporary Native American culture. Judge for yourself:

Are the Tibetans doomed to go the way of the American Indians? Will they be reduced to being little more than a tourist attraction, peddling cheap mementos of what was once a great culture? In Tibet itself, that sad fate is looking more and more likely. And the Olympic year is already soured by the way the Chinese government is trying to suppress resistance…

I know what he was after there: a hook, a lede to draw in readers. Which is fine, admirable even. But it would be tough to craft a more insulting sentence than the second one in the graf above. Buruma simultaneously demeans the current status of Native people while reducing and romanticizing their past: “little more than a tourist attraction, peddling cheap mementos of what was once a great culture.” Stick to what you know, Professor Buruma. So says the blogger. Oh, the irony.