"Because Tibet is in exile, and I know exile. The Tibetans are refugees, and I have been a refugee," Wiesel said.
The Dalai Lama presented Wiesel, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, with the International Campaign for Tibet's Light of Truth Award at a sold-out dinner last week at the Four Seasons Hotel in the District.
The Tibetans need hope, and I have seen a time, I have lived a time, where there was no hope," Wiesel said. "And without hope, [there is] no culture, no civilization, no humanity, nothing."
Democracy activists, members of Congress, including former Senate Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and other supporters clad in business attire intermingled with robed Buddhist monks under sparkling ballroom chandeliers.
The International Campaign for Tibet promotes human rights and democratic freedoms for the Tibetan people, whose culture has been stifled since the Chinese invasion of 1949. The Dalai Lama and thousands of his supporters fled to India in 1959 where they established a democratic government in exile.
"Coming from an entirely different background and heritage, His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] represents the same eternal truths as Elie Wiesel," said Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. envoy to the United Nations, who introduced Wiesel. "As he approaches his 47th year in exile, the Dalai Lama summons us to help save another civilization, another culture from destruction, just as Elie has and continued to do. It is remarkable to be with either one of them, to be with them together is a unique and special occasion."
Wiesel reiterated the concept of universal solidarity, endorsing it as an antidote to fanaticism and injustice.
"We live in a small world, and the world is in danger," he said, adding that this was true today more than ever because fanaticism has gained too much ground.
"How can we stop it unless we declare our universal solidarity ? that one is responsible for another," he asked.
The Dalai Lama, who also presented Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, and Lowell Thomas Jr., a veteran correspondent, with the Light of Truth Award, has a long-standing friendship with Wiesel. He called all three award winners "great friends of Tibet."
The spiritual leader expressed his belief that humanity has learned from many different experiences, including "painful experiences." While acknowledging the existence of "some mischievous people," the Buddhist leader suggested that humanity was growing more mature.
This sanguine outlook was at odds with Wiesel's diagnosis.
Wiesel said that as a teacher at Boston University, he feels bad that his students are living in an inhospitable world. "What kind of a century will it be if it began under such horrible auspices?" he asked.
Destruction of your neighbor is destruction of yourself," the Dalai Lama said. "So therefore, then, we need some effort, more effort. ... Not through prayer, not through meditation, but through education."