What many a Myanmar pundits and plaudits - college interns are also welcome to call themselves "Myanmar experts', not just the ICG's gentlemen - have described as 'transition' 'reforms' is best captured by the above Burmese saying - hounds at the village pagoda feast.
hounds with streams of saliva dripping down from their hanging tongues, with big and small lustful eyes against the backdrop of differently sized bones scattered on the ground. ugly and handsome dogs, feasting, occasionally scaring off other scavenging fellow founds, while wagging their tales feasting over a piece of meat, biting a piece of meat off a big knee bone, etc.
Last night I learned from two businessmen - that Teza, the crony and arms dealer for the Burmese regime per excellence who, after having amassed enough ill-gotten wealth has decided to morph himself into a patriotic philanthropist, has been given Pyi-htaung-Su Yeik Thar - a massive once highly coveted housing complex in Rangoon reserved only for senior ranking civil servants.
Most of state-own properties - that is, assets belonging to the PEOPLE or the public - have been fast-pocketed by the members of the crony-general/ex-general complex.
This systematic day-light robbery is being branded by Myanmar experts with different sizes and shapes of their tails as 'transition' 'reform process'.
After 51 years since General Ne Win transformed the State and the government in Burma, for worse, we have become a classic tale of Khwe Hpa Ya Bwe Twe Dae or hungry hounds stumbling into a village pagoda feast!
among the hungry and ugly hounds are cronies, presidential advisers, peace advisers, ceasefire negotiators, civil society builders, state capacity enhancers, we-want-no-Rohingya "human rights defenders", i-aint-a-human-rights-defender human rights Nobel icon, give-me-ceasefire-or-give-me-BMW-and Bentley-import-permits ethnic nationalities leaders, and the list goes on.
all epoch changing situations attract crooks of all stripes and colours to crawl out of their holes, find their niche, make their fortune and attempt to realize their 'greatness' or 'brilliance'. Japan Khit again! kinda like the early days of the fall of Mandalay - many Kinwun Maung Kaungs these days!
Obviously, I feel sorry for myself that I am left out of this feast!!! LOL! Even the guys I vetted for the military intelligence are now growing in size - in terms of delusions, ambitions and self-importance!
Their names will be recorded in a book in Buddhist Hell made of dog's skin' - as we kids say in Mandalay during the water festival!
But again dogs being recorded in dog-skinned book, that's a given! Enjoy your Sunday! I am enjoying mine, taking another dose of cold tablets!
Myanmar's Red Shan as Naypyidaw's Strategic Proxy: Understanding the Invisible Hand behind the Red Shan's Protests against the Kachin Independence Army
Naypyidaw has found a local proxy - the Red Shan - to open a new local and propaganda front against the Kachin Independence Army.
Myanmar generals and its puppet Thein Sein regime have used 'ceasefire negotiations' as a show pursuit of 'peace' - to keep the so-called donors and China on its side.
Because the KIA insists on political settlement before ceasefires - and has enabled other weaker armed groups to rally around its possible, Myanmar generals are now using the Shan Ni (or red Shan) as its strategic proxy creating the wedge between the KIA and the non-Kachin populations there.
I am sure the KIA troops are also guilty of rights abuses. But the ultimate culprit is DISHONEST and NEO-FASCIST Myanmar generals and ex-generals who have refused to accept any viable federal system of government.
In the case of Sri Lanka's colonial war against the Tamil Eelam, Colombo used, among other things, the issue of 'child soldiers' used by the LTTE to try to turn the 'donors' opinion about the Tamil resistance, and Washington eventually aided and abetted Colombo government in the latter's choice of the zero-sum military game with the Tamil resistance. UN agencies and other international bodies were complicit in enabling Sri Lanka's genocidal regime in its pursuit of military victory over lasting political and peace arrangements with the Tamils. For instance, Sri Lanka Government would inflate the number of child soldiers used by the Tamil Eeelam resistance and UNICEF would use those figures at face value, knowing full well that Colombo was un-trustworthy with its pronouncements and facts and figures.
In my view it is likely that Naypyidaw is emulating Colombo's victorious strategy of aligning its strategic interests with those of the key international players such as USA, China, UK and India.
(in fact, President Rajapaksa's first trip overseas right after the military defeat of the Tamil resistance was Naypyidaw. He was said to have advised a similarly zero-sum mission against all ethnic resistance groups in Myanmar, when Than Shwe and Maung Aye asked if the Sinhalese had any input to end Myanmar's civil war).
In fact, Naypyidaw as an internally colonial power is adept at using the classic 'divide and conquer' strategy against ANY GROUP in opposition to it.
Myanmar generals cannot be trusted when it comes to power, wealth and control of the population, resources and territories.
They have turned Karens against Karens, the Buddhist Karens against the Christian Karens, the older war-fatigued ethnic resistance leaders against the younger generation resistance leaders, Bama dissidents against themselves, Kokants against the Shan, the Pa-O against the Shan, the Kachins against the Red Shan, the Chinese against the Bama, the Indians against the Bama public, the Rohingya against the Muslims, Buddhist monks against themselves, the students and intellectuals against the dissident ex-army veterans, the Muslims against Muslims, wives against wives, etc.
This is their strategy - they will NEVER EVER give up or share power, unless they are FORCED to.
Any strategy or efforts to change the country's political institutions must be based solely on this cardinal and unassailable FACT about the nature of the Burmese generals and their power base - the Armed Forces or Tatmadaw.
I know what I am talking. Anyone who has not internalized this empirical reality is either delusional or dishonest intellectually about the regimes in Myanmar and their signature pathos of power.
|(Photo: Soe Win Than / AFP / Getty Image)|
By Elliott Prasse-Freeman
December 20, 2013
Burma's census disregards the complex ethnic identities of its people. Could this breathe new life into sectarian conflict?
Next year, Burma will embark on its first census-taking process in more than three decades. It's an opportunity, but it's also a significant risk. One the one hand, the census could compel the state to finally recognize long-excluded people and foster a better collective understanding of the daily struggles that most Burmese face. But on the other, the census is set up to obscure Burma's incredible diversity by requiring that Burmese people choose just one ethnic identity, even if they identify with many ethnicities. This comes at a dangerous point in Burma's simmering ethnic conflict, especially since nationalists are now using conceptions of exclusive and timeless ethnicity to justify violence against populations suddenly deemed irrevocably "foreign."
Instead of fueling such demagoguery, politics around the census process should expose the inaccuracy of those narratives and highlight the wonderfully mixed-up nature of ethnicity in Burma. Otherwise, the census seems poised to be part of a new kind of Burmese state practice, one that simply goes from domination (direct and despotic) to a new kind of control (diffused and bureaucratic) that limits rather than enables Burma's people.
Burma has 135 "official national races" (in addition to the Chinese, Indians, Rohingya, etc., who have yet to be recognized as autochthonous despite their long-standing membership in Burma's society). Observers use this number to remark on Burma's incredible diversity -- but this categorization is often myopic. It implies that every citizen fits snugly into one silo: only Shan, only Karen, only Burman. A closer look at Burma's ethnic make-up, however, shows a vast diversity not simply within the country, but within people themselves.
Over three months of field research in Yangon this summer, I asked dozens of Burmese about their lu-myo (race or ethnicity) and found that individuals often describe complex, mixed-ethnic genealogies. For example, a Burmese colleague explained that ethnic identity is highly dependent on context: "For people like me who live in cities and don't speak an ethnic minority language, don't have ethnic minority names, and who are Buddhists, I don't think it would be a problem to identify ourselves as ‘Bamar lu-myo' ['Burman'] at first. But as we talk more about ourselves we include more information about different ethnic roots we have.... I am Bamar, but I'm also Mon, Pa-O, and Chinese." As this suggests, in Burma, ethnicity is lived less as a pseudo-scientific racial category and more as a set of practices shaped by one's environment.
Because context matters, an individual's own lu-myo can also be "on the move," changing between generations or within individuals over their own lifetimes. For instance, a man told me about his father's shifting identity: he was born Rohingya Muslim, but after refraining from Islamic worship practices, marrying a Rakhine Buddhist, taking on Rakhine modes of dress, drinking habits, etc., he now is often considered Rakhine. There are countless examples of this phenomenon: a colleague identifies as Mon though a cousin of hers does not; another scholar found a Karen-identified brother and Kachin-identified sister.
And yet, against these mutating and elusive identifications, the recent conflict in Burma's western Arakan state between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims -- in which mobs of local Buddhists have left hundreds of Rohingya dead and 125,000 displaced -- relies on a concept of ethnicity that is more absolute. (In the photo above, Muslim residents of Rakhine state await aid after losing their homes in sectarian violence in early October.) I interviewed multiple Rakhine individuals who insisted that "all so-called Rohingya" were actually "Bengalis" (considered "outsiders") and should be expelled. At the same time, Wakkar Uddin, a prominent Rohingya activist, told an audience at Columbia University last year that the Rohingya were determined to expel illegal "Bengalis." Significant here is how Buddhist Rakhine reject any potential blurring of boundaries between themselves and Muslims (whether Rohingya or "Bengali"), while the Rohingya are doing the same with themselves and "Bengalis."
The Rakhine/Rohingya case shows that conflicts can ossify conceptions of ethnicity to the point where they are no longer fluid and flexible, particularly when ethnicity becomes in part a vehicle for accessing resources. International media coverage has focused on racist monks or shadowy military elites collaborating with Rakhine demagogues to foment unrest. However, interviews with Rakhine individuals suggest that the conflict is grounded in perceived struggles over resources, especially surrounding the recently completed Shwe Pipeline, which carries gas to China but has left Rakhine state the second-least developed in Burma. Moreover, Rakhine individuals told me they were afraid of "losing their land" to Rohingya, who are ostensibly able to win control of resources by utilizing the support of international Muslim communities.
Other Rakhine say that international development only benefits Rohingya and ignores Rakhine needs. One man asked, "Why do the NGOs always come to our land but provide nothing for us, only for the Rohingya?" As a Rakhine woman explained, in this context, "Rakhine" has come to mean something very particular: "If we had development, we might say we are just 'Myanmar' [citizens]. But we don't." Rapid and unequal development is making ethnicity a conduit for protecting access to resources, a phenomenon that appears to be spreading across the country.
Given that ethnicity is a fluid but potentially charged concept, the question becomes whether Burma's reform process will embrace the country's complexity, or choose to privilege mono-ethnicity. This is where the census comes in. Interviews with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the agency providing technical assistance to the census process, reveal that the census has been designed to ignore the existence of multiple identities. Respondents must choose only one of the official 135 ethnicities, or check the "Other" box and write in their ethnicity. If a person with multiple identities refuses to choose one, the census defaults to their father's ethnic identity.
This may have serious political consequences. If people who claim multiple identities choose to report only, for instance, a "Burman" identity, hyper-nationalist movements may argue that these data "prove" that Burma's ethnic issues were always overstated and demand that the government grant collective resources to the besieged majority. Alternatively, if people report only non-Burman identities, the same movement could use those data to construct an equally dangerous argument: "We Burmans, the rightful sons of Burma's soil, are being bred out by the ethnic minorities. We must fight back." Burma's current monk-led, anti-Muslim "969 movement" can be seen as an inchoate version of such politics.
Why, then, would the state choose to implement the census this way? Is this a government conspiracy, a project to foment extremism while displacing official recognition of diversity? It appears not: UNFPA's technical advisors say that it is simply logistically difficult -- for both the census enumerators and its respondents -- to record multiple ethnicities.
But this could have drastic consequences. Comparative historical evidence shows that state census projects can intervene in sociological reality, creating the very categories they count. Indeed, a closer inspection of Burma's current 135 official races show them to already be arbitrary and confused, asserting phantom ethnicities on one hand and eliminating existing identities on the other. As scholar Mufti Myint Thein shows, the government concocted the number 135 in 1982, when many Muslim ethnicities were removed from official recognition (link in Burmese). These acts of reduction provide the grounds for exclusion: as in, "you are group x, and group x is not part of us."
How will Burmese people respond to such a project? During the long years of military control, state messages were often disregarded or ignored by a wary or disinterested populace. But now, Burma's state elites are busy reforming health, education, legal, and tax sectors, and much more, promising a transition from military authoritarianism to an aspiring Weberian-bureaucracy. When institutional changes actually affect people's daily needs, they have reason to listen; when these changes hinge on ideas of ethnic belonging, ethnic conflict may follow. Since Burma's most recent constitution guarantees special political representation if a lu-myo achieves 0.1 percent of the population, ethnicity will be a powerful means for groups to fight for their interests -- but only for the ones that qualify. The census, then, will help determine which groups matter in Burma, and which don't.
So what can census makers do to fix this problem? The best option seems to be to change the current format to allow citizens to select multiple identities to accurately represent their experiences. Even then, this may not be enough to dampen the socially fragmentary effects of Burma's current scramble for development.
Indeed, whether the census is reformed or not, what ultimately matters is how this census information is turned into political narratives about legitimate political belonging. Contesting ethnic violence in Burma will require messages that stress that the military regime was abusive to Burmese people of all ethnic backgrounds -- but that people from these varied groups are still able to forge relationships based on mutual respect and benefit, and are all committed to participating in a future Burma.
In other words, the census can certainly make things worse, but it cannot make things better on its own. Political leaders and citizens must together craft a new concept of citizenship in Burma, one based on the shared politics of daily life there that embraces all of Burma's diverse people without eliding any of their particular identities.
If you are puzzled or dismayed by the display of nasty, vandalistic and immature national spirit of Myanmar football audiences, including Crony-Thief Max Zaw Zaw who chairs Myanmar Football Association and all the social media neo-Fascist Bama, it's encoded in the Bama public psyche.
60-plus years of national independence have not enabled the Bama to evolve from the Kiplinesque children of the country's neo-feudal, klepto-fascist patriotism.
I am glad Aung San was killed when he was killed. He didn't suffer the pathetic public!
Here is the late Aung San in his own words who had nothing in common, ideologically, politically or intellectually, with his vanity- and hypocrisy-soaked daughter.
A speech by the late Aung San given on 13 July 1947 (6 days before he was blessed to death by the assassins so as not to deal with the country's post-colonial rubbish bin).
"Take football, for instance. We the Burmese get excited when our team scores first. If we score a few additional goals then we don't feel like playing our best, thinking that the victory is assured. But when we are about to lose or draw towards the close of the match - and when we become convinced that we can't turn the looming defeat or draw into a win then we begin to commit all sorts of nasty fouls.
This is our Bama football spirit! This is what is called lacking any 'sporting spirit'. But we the Bama like to flatter ourselves by viewing this lack of sporting spirit as something positive, like 'we are a very strong minded and proud people'. You know what? That's just a misplaced popular pride.
The national spirit of the Bama is utterly misplaced and misdirected at things unworthy. When it comes to things and issues that really matter the Bama have proven utterly useless. The Bama are prone to engage in fraternal or internecine fights. If we keep behaving this way nothing will be gained or accomplished.
This type of Bama spirit needs to be eradicated."
(ဗုိလ္ခ်ဳပ္ ေအာင္ဆန္း ေျပာၾကား ခ့ဲတ့ဲ ဗမာေတြရဲ့ စိတ္ဓာတ္)
“ဒီေတာ့ ေဘာလံုး ပြဲၾကည့္ ...၊ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႔ ဗမာေတြ.. ဟုတ္လား...၊ ေဘာလံုး ပြဲမယ္... ကန္ၾကတဲ့ အခါမယ္ ဆိုရင္...၊ ကိုယ္က ပထမ စ ဂိုးသြင္း ရရင္.. အေတာ္ေလး တစ္ခါထဲ အားတက္ လာတယ္...။ ေနာက္တစ္ခါ ေတာ္ေတာ္ေလး ဂိုးေလးမ်ား လာၿပီ ဆိုရင္ ေလွ်ာ့ေလွ်ာ့ ေပါ့ေပါ့ ကန္ခ်င္ လာၿပီ...။ ငါႏိုင္မွာ ပါပဲ ဆိုၿပီး...။ အဲ့ဒါနဲ႔ ေနၿပီးေတာ့ တစ္ဖက္ ကေန အၿပီးသတ္ ခါက်မွ ကပ္ၿပီးေတာ့ ဂိုးသြင္း သြားလို႔ သေရ ျဖစ္ျဖစ္..၊ ႐ံႈးတာ ျဖစ္ျဖစ္..၊ ကိုယ့္ဘက္က ဂိုးလည္း မသြင္း ႏုိင္ဘူးဆို အဲ့ဒီ အခါ က်ေတာ့ လူခ် တာပဲ...။ ဒါ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႔ ဗမာေတြ ေဘာလံုး ပြဲေတြ..၊ ေဘာလံုး ကန္တဲ့ အက်င့္....။ အဲ့ဒါဟာ Sporting Spirit မရွိဘူးလို႔ ေခၚတယ္....” ““ဒါဘာလဲ ဆိုလို႔ ရွိရင္... ဗမာေတြ စိတ္ထဲ မယ္ေတာ့.. ဒါ ထင္လိမ့္ မယ္ေပါ့...။ ဗမာ ေတြဟာ စိတ္ဓာတ္ ထက္တယ္... ဘာညာ...။ တလြဲ ဆံပင္ ေကာင္းေန တာနဲ႔ အတူတူပဲ ....။ ဒီစကားဟာ ဒီလိုေနရာ ေတြမွာ သံုးဖို႔ပဲ...။ ဗမာေတြရဲ႔ စိတ္ဓာတ္က မဟုတ္တဲ့ ေနရာ ေတြမွာ သြားၿပီး ေတာ္ေနတယ္...။ တကယ့္ ေနရာေတြ မယ္က်ေတာ့ အသံုး မက်ဘူး...။ ဗမာ ဗမာခ်င္း ခ်ဖို႔ရာမွာ လုပ္ခ်င္တယ္...။ အဲ့ဒါ မ်ဳိးေတြ လုပ္ခ်င္တယ္...။ ဒါမ်ဳိးေတြ လုပ္ခ်င္လို႔ ဘယ္ေတာ့မွ အက်ဳိး မရွိဘူး...။ အဲ့ေတာ့က ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႔ အဲ့ဒီလို စိတ္ဓာတ္မ်ဳိး လံုး၀ ေဖ်ာက္ပစ္ဖို႔ လိုတယ္....”” (၁၉၄၇ ခုႏွစ္၊ ဇူလုိင္ ၁၃ ရက္ေန႔တြင္ ေျပာၾကား ခ့ဲေသာ ဗိုလ္ခ်ဳပ္ ေအာင္ဆန္း၏ မိန္႔ခြန္းမွ ေကာက္ႏုတ္ ေဖာ္ျပ ပါသည္။)
I am most delighted to observe that no sane man and woman I know of has any faith in or illusions about the existing global powers, their polemics and politics.
We no longer live in a world of any HEGEMONIC power, 'East' or 'West'.
The continued reference to the United States as the 'hegemon' - coming from the *generally* intellectually depth-less crowd - strategic studies, policy studies, international relations, political science, etc. - is both rubbish and fantastical.
No one in their right mind - with average intelligence - would buy into the 'rhetoric of anti-Terror, democracy and human rights' from the imperialist power that has begun its inevitable self-destruction, namely the United States. Nor is there anyone I know of who embraces empty words of 'harmony, brother-hood and friendship' shamelessly recited by Beijing. None really respects the 3 other permanent Security Council members for their leadership, humanism, and a global vision, or lack thereof. India is a Civilization only in name - and by its distant past.
Ideologically, no one takes seriously this 'MDG' trash, including the 'eradication of extreme poverty' - whatever that means. Nowadays there is no power, no institution, no country that has hegemonic power that captures human minds.
Not a bad thing.
It's called 'empirical wisdom' of the masses - not cynicism.
Name a leader or a leading organization that has earned your respect or admiration. I can't. Maybe you can.
During my formative years - 1963-1988 - Burma was a closed society. We had hardly heard of S. Africa, Mandela, apartheid. We heard more about the Arab-Israel conflicts, the Communists, the Vietnam War, etc than anything else, including the ANC. In the first half of my tender years, Mandela was a name or vocabulary I would not recognize if someone wrote it on a piece of paper and showed it to me. In other words, Mandela did not show me in any way, shape or form how to live or be an activist.
So, I am not going to join the fawning global literate masses and the ruling elites in singing the praise of Nelson Mandela. He was a great man alright.
Buddha Dharma has far more profound impact on my life than anything else, man or systems of thoughts.
My parents injected in me an uncompromising love of truth. The late Aung San served as a model to be frank, brutally honest and no-nonsensical. Radical Burmese leftists and coup leaders of 1976 were an early political inspiration to 'do the right thing'. Early armed student revolutionaries from the All Burma Students Democratic Front motivated me to get involved in activism abroad, and the left-over Burmese exiles in the USA of the 1962 and 1975 waves of dissidents revolt in Burma introduced me to activism.
Besides, the sight of 'little things' like disabled persons or a blind woman struggling to do mundane things like crossing the road, or opening the door inspires me. The little known but all too common tales of migrant workers leaving their children at home to earn living wage overseas looking after other (richer) people's children inspires me. My activist American colleagues and adopted 'brothers and sisters' have taught me more about struggles for fairness and justice than the ANC or any of its leaders.
I am not belittling what the ANC accomplished or not accomplished in S. African majority; I am being truthful that Mandela and ANC didn't do much in terms of how I live my life, how I conduct myself as a human, a good one at that, and what it means to live one's political (and social) conscience. I am glad I am not part this fawning global throng.
Never before in history was one human being so universally acknowledged in his lifetime as the embodiment of magnanimity and reconciliation as Nelson Mandela was.
He set aside the bitterness of enduring 27 years in apartheid prisons – and the weight of centuries of colonial division, subjugation and repression – to personify the spirit and practice of ubuntu. He perfectly understood that people are dependent on other people in order for individuals and society to prosper.
That was his dream for South Africa, and the hope that he represented the world over. If it was possible in South Africa, it was possible in Ireland, it was possible in Bosnia and Rwanda, it was possible in Colombia, it is possible in Israel and Palestine.
Of course, in the spirit of ubuntu, Madiba was quick to point out that he alone could not take credit for the many accolades that came his way; that he was surrounded by people of integrity who were brighter and more youthful than himself.
That is only partially true.
The truth is that the 27 years Madiba spent in the belly of the apartheid beast deepened his compassion and capacity to empathize with others. On top of the lessons about leadership and culture to which he was exposed growing up, and his developing a voice for young people in anti-apartheid politics, prison seemed to add an understanding of the human condition.
Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.
Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit.
He embodied what he proclaimed — he walked the talk. He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest, and he invited the man who led the state’s case against him at the Rivonia Trial, calling for the imposition of the death penalty, to lunch at the presidency.
He visited the widow of the high priest of apartheid, Betsy Verwoerd, in the white Afrikaner-only enclave of Orania. He had a unique flair for spectacular, hugely symbolic acts of human greatness that would be gauche carried out by most others. Who will forget the electrifying moment in the 1995 rugby World Cup final when he stepped out on the Ellis Park pitch with captain Francois Pienaar’s No 6 on the Springbok jersey he was wearing? It was a gesture that did more for nation building and reconciliation than any number of preacher’s sermons or politician’s speeches.
Although always a team man, Madiba was also sufficiently comfortable in his own skin, in his own ability to determine right from wrong, that he displayed few of the insecurities associated with many politicians. He was able to accept criticism – and even prepared to apologize when he felt he an apology was due.
He had the moral and ethical courage, during and after his presidency, to do and say things that were not always in accordance with the official policy of his beloved ANC.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published its findings, some of which the ANC strongly opposed, Madiba had the grace to publicly accept the report.
Another example was the establishment of South Africa’s first rural AIDS treatment site, by his foundation, at a time when the South African government was dithering and obfuscating in response to the pandemic.
When one of the TRC commissioners was accused in an amnesty hearing of being involved in the case before the commission, President Mandela appointed a judicial commission to investigate. Later, the president’s secretary called me to get the contact details of the commissioner. I realized that the president wanted to put him at ease, but I told the secretary that as the chairperson of the commission I should know the findings of the judicial commission first. Within minutes the president himself was on the line saying, “Yes, Mpilo, you’re quite right. I’m sorry.” Politicians find it almost impossible to apologize. Only truly great persons apologize easily; they are not insecure.
Can you imagine what would have happened to us had Nelson Mandela emerged from prison in 1990 bristling with resentment at the gross miscarriage of justice that had occurred in the Rivonia trial? Can you imagine where South Africa would be today had he been consumed by a lust for revenge, to want to pay back for all the humiliations and all the agony that he and his people had suffered at the hands of their white oppressors?
Instead the world was amazed, indeed awed, by the unexpectedly peaceful transition of 1994, followed not by an orgy of revenge and retribution but by the wonder of forgiveness and reconciliation epitomized in the processes of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
It came as no surprise that his name towered above those of any others when the BBC conducted a poll to determine who should head a world government to guide the affairs of our conflict-ridden global village. A colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity, he was the world’s most admired and most revered public figure.
People warmed to him because they knew, they felt in their bones, that he cared genuinely. He was consumed by this passion to serve because he believed that a leader exists for the sake of the led, not for self-aggrandizement or self-promotion.
People sense this; you cannot fool them, that was why workers at the Mercedes Benz plant in the Eastern Cape presented him with a special car they had made in appreciation. That was why, when he went to Britain on his farewell state visit, the police had to protect him from the crowds, which might have crushed him out of love. Usually, heads of state are protected on state visits to ensure their safety from those who may be hostile.
His passion to serve drove him to continue his long walk so prodigally, even after retiring. Thus he campaigned vigorously for those affected by HIV and AIDS, even as the government that succeeded his appeared to falter in the face of the epidemic; and he continued to raise funds for children and other projects — all for others, and not for himself.
Did he have weaknesses? Of course he did. His chief weakness was his steadfast loyalty to his organization and to his colleagues. He retained in his cabinet underperforming, frankly incompetent ministers who should have been dismissed. This tolerance of mediocrity arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come.
Was he a saint? Not if a saint is entirely flawless. I believe he was saintly because he inspired others powerfully and revealed in his character, transparently, many of God’s attributes of goodness: compassion, concern for others, desire for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Thank God for this remarkable gift to South Africa and the world.
May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
The writer is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
Go to Original - Washington Post
I am not mourning for Mandela's death.
He was 95, for god's sake.
Pop your favorite drinks, alcohol or non-alcohol, or your favorite drugs - caffine or coke.
Start street parties in all the capitals of the world - or any town for that matter.
Drink, smoke, sniff, fuck to Mandela's long and fully-lived life.
His was a life to be celebrated - not mourned.
That's what Hunter Thomson would say, were he alived today. (He left a will to all his friends asking them to throw a party after he took his own life in Aspen, Colorado).
Don't waste your tears for Mandela. Save them for some poor abused migrant workers, or human rights activists tortured to death somewhere RIGHT NOW, or a journalist shot dead for trying to do his or her job.
|A busy port in Yangon, Myanmar. Myanmar's economy is booming, but the country's economic reforms do not automatically translate to democratic gains. Photo by: McKay Savage / CC BY|
By Alan Davis
Myanmar is among the latest group of countries seeking membership in the Open Government Partnership, amid the government’s promise to increase accountability and public participation.
As the former colonial power and host of the recent OGP Summit in London, the United Kingdom has already offered the country’s former military leaders its help in fulfilling the necessary joining criteria, which include implementing “the highest standards of professional integrity across government; increasing public information, supporting civic participation and increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability.”
Given Myanmar’s record on governance and its chronic problem with corruption, which saw it rank 172 out of 176 countries in last year’s Global Corruption Barometer compiled by Transparency International, it requires a huge leap of faith to believe the country can seriously deliver on these commitments any time soon. A recent survey on global citizen engagement in government put Myanmar below Afghanistan and only just above North Korea.
The good news is that after many decades of fiscal policy influenced more by astrology than Keynesian logic, experts agree that Myanmar’s economy is finally getting back on track.
But the bad news is that economic reforms do not automatically lead to democratic gains — not even when accompanied by a measured increase in the political space — when the constitution and political backbone of the country remain essentially unchanged.
Many long-term activists and observers like Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK believe the international community is not doing enough to help Myanmar transition into a real democracy, as opposed to simply helping it develop into a much more effective authoritarian state and rising economic powerhouse in Southeast Asia.
Some even wonder if the country is being fast-tracked into the good governance family of global nations in the interests of key donors declaring “mission accomplished” — if not also in the interests of increased trade and investment opportunities.
Donor priorities are to help economic development and support reform in government. Given the pitiful state of Myanmar’s public administration, international interest has so far focused on building up the capacity of key institutions and systems.
And rightly so, because the challenge is huge.
Returning to Myanmar after 25 years and with support from the U.K. Department for International Development, the World Bank undertook the first real study into the country’s public financial management systems earlier this year and gave them the lowest possible grades (a D or a D+). The institution was unable to find enough data to score them in 22 out of 31 indicators used to measure effectiveness. Overall, the study found “a lack of strategic approach to financial management with central oversight agency engagement focusing more on low value processes and less on analysis of results and impact of spending.” It added that “budget expenditure credibility in recent years has been low,” and that “parliament does not generally have sufficient information to advise on service delivery, efficiency and effectiveness.”
Donors are at least working with the parliament in Naypyidaw and with its various committees to improve the quality and level of legislative oversight. This is very important.
Yet, given the terrible state of the fiscal system, low credibility in the institutions and the huge problem of corruption, is it realistic for donors to expect great improvement from government and a relatively new parliament alone? Doesn’t good governance require more? What about the kinds of checks and balances provided by external monitoring and engagement? What about public participation and all those other commitments stipulated by the OGP?
Shouldn’t donors be working to build the capacity of society as a whole to understand, monitor, demand and engage in fiscal and administrative reform? Isn’t building public ownership of public money ultimately one of the most sustainable and effective ways of building real accountability?
Ultimately, without informed and objective oversight and engagement taking place continously and throughout society, there is precious little chance of the government in Myanmar learning to serve the interests of the public as opposed to its own.
The last time the international community came together in such force to try and rebuild a country here in Southeast Asia was when they poured into Cambodia in the wake of the 1991 peace agreement.
But back then, rather than building the capacity of ordinary people and communities to help shape transition and ensure accountability, donor support was run almost entirely through the political elite.
Not surprisingly, Cambodia succumbed to state capture and crony capitalism of the worst kind.
Unfortunately, there is a real chance Myanmar will go the same way unless more thought is given to public participation. In October, more than a dozen international human rights wrote an open letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton complaining that the European Union was breaking its own commitments made under the Comprehensive Framework for Myanmar, which emphasized the need to engage civil society in the transition. The letter stated “while these commitments are all welcome, at present they are not being met.”
Myanmar is not even included among the group of Southeast Asian countries destined to benefit from the global and multimillion dollar “Making All People’s Voices Count” initiative being funded by DfID, USAID, SIDA and others.
To be sure, the likes of DfID and the Open Society Foundations are supporting civic attempts to monitor the extractive industries in Myanmar, and should be congratulated for doing so. But it is equally — if not more — important for donors to be improving the capacity of society to demand and ensure accountability across the public sphere.
If a citizen of Myanmar wants to learn and find out more about how public money is raised, allocated, spent, reported and audited; if he/she wishes to find out more about what kind of public money is being generated, where it is coming from, and how it is being used under this reformist government and under what authority — where does he/she start looking? If he/she wishes to start understanding and monitoring the budget process or departmental spending, what does he/she do?
Nobody knows — more than two and a half years into the reform process and given all donor activity and support to date. That’s a serious problem.
Go To Original - Devex
"A central policy of the regime is to attract foreign investment into the impoverished country, whose national product amounts to $2 to $3 a day per person for a population of more than 60 million. At issue now is whether Myanmar’s transition will be more than a ploy to draw in foreign money to fatten the military."
Myanmar was for years a country by, of and for the military. In 2011, the military junta officially dissolved itself, opening the way for a democratic transition under the government of President Thein Sein, a former general. A central policy of the regime is to attract foreign investment into the impoverished country, whose national product amounts to $2 to $3 a day per person for a population of more than 60 million. At issue now is whether Myanmar’s transition will be more than a ploy to draw in foreign money to fatten the military.
The military junta had run an isolationist foreign policy and Soviet-style economic planning with disastrous consequences. In the late 1990s, the United States, Europe, Japan and others imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar for its gross violation of human rights. The sanctions eventually led to the dissolution of the military junta, accompanied by the promise of press and other freedoms, as well as the release of political prisoners, notably Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Since then, Myanmar has established substantially more open foreign investment laws. The Asian Development Bank opened an office there last year. And foreign investors, including many garment manufacturers, have been lured by very low labor costs to set up shop. Still, a quarter of government expenditure goes to the military, and expenditures for education and health are negligible. Most of the local partners that foreign investors team up with are companies run by the military. And the military still appoints a quarter of the members of Parliament.
Basic infrastructure — like roads, airports and the electricity grid — is woefully inadequate, and the military is clearly expecting foreign investments. But as they consider such investments, the primary investor states — the United States, Europe, Japan — must make sure that they are not merely enabling a transition from a military dictatorship to military-run crony capitalism.
Go To Original - The New York Times
First, you need to ask the following question and attempt to answer it yourself.
Can you think like a military's political strategist in Burma? You need to. You must. Or you don't get it.
What Aung San Suu Kyi is pushing for is the amendment to the Constitution of, for and by the generals, just so the clause that bars her (and, really, any Burmese who has organic foreign ties through children, marriages, etc), can be removed.
She is pursuing an ultimately doomed strategy, abandoning her real platform and base of human rights, humanism, liberalism etc. Ultimately doomed, simply because the military has institutionalized loathing - not fear - towards her. It can't even stomach the idea of Aung San Suu Kyi, President of Myanmar, let alone the reality.
Be that as it may, if I were a military's political strategist I would do 2 things: 1) allow the constitutional change to fuel her presidential delusions and 2) even let her party win with a narrow or slim majority votes, which in turn would enable her to become president.
All the levers of power are locked in the hands of the military, the military-controlled bureaucracy and the judiciary. The economy of the country has been sliced out among key military and crony families - with one or two peripherally linked 'clean' businessmen like Michael Moe Myint or Surge Pun.
I would continue to use Aung San Suu Kyi, now the nominal President of Myanmar, as a strategic proxy who has self-consciously making the military's bidding: on China's copper mine, on China's investment projects, on the military conglomerates, on land confiscation, on the ethnic minority issues, on foreign relations, on civilian-military affairs ('I love my daddy's army' line), on the Rohingya genocide ('no such thing as ethnic cleansing'), on the war against the Kachin, on foreign aid, on the defense of police brutality('inexperienced police force'), on the cover for the Pentagon-Myanmar Armed Forces Ties via Australia and Britain, initially), etc.
What I would do as a military strategist, is simply block, frustrate and otherwise stonewall her 'democracy and human rights agenda' - I mean, whatever little is left of that original agenda.
The above, actually, may be the best case scenario for both the Lady and the general. She gets to be the President, nominally. The military-crony complex carries on as business as usual.
As my friend Carlos said the military can simply give her the rope to hang herself with: let her fail irreversibly, blame the failures of reforms and transitions on her Presidency and play her against the people who once invested their hopes and emotions in her.
The people's welfare, future? That's a different story altogether.
Racism at BBC Burmese, Radio Four's "Beyond Belief" and BBC Complaint Handlers
Dated 27 Nov 2013
Following up with the complaint about the BBC Radio Four and BBC Burmese Editor's verifiably anti-Rohingya racism:
"I was told by the BBC complaints website that if I was unsatisfied with the latest of their responses to my complaint first lodged in August 2013 relating to the above mentioned programme, that I should refer the issue to the Editorial Complaints Unit. I remain deeply unsatisfied, shocked and disturbed by the BBC complaints response and procedures thus far, hence referring this complaint to you.
This is the first ever complaint I have made about broadcasting and I have taken it up because of the seriousness and gravity of the impact of negative and inaccurate media portrayals of the Rohingya and Muslim minorities in Myanmar.
The issue of unfounded Islamaphobic fears in Myanmar being presented as fact and presenting the conflict as one of two-equal-sides as opposed to Muslim persecution, ethnic cleansing or genocide has recently come to light since Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments in an interview with the BBC’s Mishal Hussein, in which she claimed that the Buddhist majority in Myanmar had a well-founded fear of the rise of global Islam. These comments which caused outrage around the world were understood to be Islamphobic, as noted by The Telegraph, Myanmar Times and Aljazeera. The reason I bring this reaction to Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments to your attention is because on the Radio 4 programme, “Beyond Belief” the BBC Burmese editor was allowed to present similar and even more outrageously biased claims on Beyond Belief without refute – and presented them as fact as opposed to opinion. This is the subject of my complaint.
It is widely understood that the media, including Burmese language media, is a key contributory factor in the rise of hate-speech and the accompanying violence against Myanmar’s Muslims, including the Rohingya. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has called for the Government of Myanmar to stop the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment, hate-speech and violence. The responsibility for stopping the spread of anti-Rohingya sentiment in the overseas Burmese language media, or international media about the Rohingya, does not lie with the Government of Myanmar, but with the bodies that govern editorial content in international contexts, such as yourselves at the Editorial Complaints Unit. For this reason I hope you take the complaint seriously. You may be aware of the central and important role the BBC Burmese language service has played in Myanmar in making unbiased information available to the Burmese public during the 50 years of military dictatorship. It would be a deep shame to tarnish this record with the presentation of state-based and prejudicial information on Muslims in Myanmar in the face of Myanmar’s ethnic-cleansing.
Whilst the situation relating to the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities in Myanmar has been documented by Human Rights Watch as Ethnic Cleansing and by the Sentinel Project for the Prevention of Genocide as impending genocide, thus far the response from the BBC complaints website including from the Producer of the programme have been insulting, offensive and ignorant. Beneath, I include the correspondence between me and the BBC on this issue as well as between Maung Zarni and the BBC (who was interviewed on the programme in question), including his open letter of complaint to Lord Pattern, which can be found on the following web link:
http://www.maungzarni.net/2013/10/a-public-complaint-to-chris-patten-bbc.html and my own letter providing an detailed rebuttal as to what the programme presented “as fact”. This can be found on the following web link: http://www.maungzarni.net/2013/10/bbc-attempts-to-defend-its-racist.html
The complaint regarding the programme relates to two areas:
A) HARM AND OFFENSE
Two key issues arise in this category from the programme:
1) Discriminatory language on the grounds of race and religion. Throughout the programme, the terms “Rohingya” and “Bengali” were used interchangeably. Rohingya is a term that means Muslim indigenous to Rakhine State – Bengali is a label imposed by the State and by hostile populations on to the Rohingya or Rakhine Muslims with the purpose of marking them out as outsiders and racial “others” - a process that is part and parcel of denying them their fundamental rights, including their right to nationality, and ostracising them from the rest of society. Even following my complaint, the Producer of the programme, backing up comments by the BBC Burmese editor who was involved in the discussion in the programme, continued to use the terms Rohingya and Bengali interchangeably. In her response to my complaint Liz Leonard claims that it is “fact” that:
“95% of the population is Rohingyas, or Bengalis there.”[referring to two of the townships of North Rakhine State where the Rohingya are ghettoised and subject to several decades of discrimination and human rights abuses]
This is clearly a racist use of the term “Bengali” used to describe the Rohingya rather than people who would self-identify as Bengali, since to insinuate that within this area, that has a massive presence of security forces that regularly conduct household checks against family lists, often resulting is arbitrary detention, torture and extortion, killings, enforced disappearances and sexual violence hosts a growing population of “Bengalis”, i.e. immigrants, is frankly preposterous. This comes on top of the fact that the term was also used interchangeably throughout the programme.
The first response quoted above utterly undermines the claim in the second response to my complaint,
“I can assure you that Soe Win Than did not intend to undermine the Rohingya, but instead try to explain the fact that the term Rohingya is not widely recognised in Burma and that the local Burmese population regards the Rohingya population as Bengalis”
Both Soe Win Than and producer Liz Leonard continue to use the two terms interchangeably in the first response to my complaint. Further it was absolutely clear that in the programme the terms were not effectively problematized and were used interchangeably causing considerable offense.
There is a reason why in the UK we respect people’s right to self-identify – so that we do not insult people racially or discriminate against people. The BBC would not call, for example, someone who identifies as black British “African” against their wishes because it could be racist and insulting. And we certainly would not do so if that person had roots in the UK going back centuries. Why is the same code of conduct regarding self-identification – also used by the UN- not applicable to the Rohingya in the eyes of the BBC?
2) Factually misleading the audience
Burmese editor Soe Win Than, claimed that violence against Rohingya and Muslims by local populations in Myanmar was a result of a “well-founded” fear of Rohingya population growth. This was backed-up by producer Liz Leonard, who stated,
“For example, when he says “well-founded fear” he is referring to figures about Rakhine townships and that “originally there were more Rakhine people but now 95% of the population is Rohingyas, or Bengalis there.”
This is factually misleading. Rakhine State as a whole is roughly 30% Muslim today – as it has always been since records began. See for example the Paton, C. Sub-Commisioner of Arakan, April 26, 1826, A Short Report on Arakan P36, which notes that at the very start of the colonial period, a third of the population in Rakhine State was Muslim. In a major study and analysis of the available post-independence data, David Dapice and Nguyen Xuan Thanh of Harvard University conclude that there is: “no evidence of large post-1950 migratory flows into Rakhine – indeed both the official data and information on income and poverty would suggest the opposite” http://www.ash.harvard.edu/extension/ash/docs/creating.pdf
In referring to 95% Rohingya areas, Mr Soe Win Than is referring to the townships of North Rakhine State which have majority Rohingya or Rakhine Muslim (over-lapping terms) population–not Bengali. In fact these areas have for centuries had a majority Rohingya population. Since the 1960s the increase in the proportion of Rohingya is not due to in-migration from Bengal as he and Ms Leonard would have us believe but through forced migration under a xenophobic military dictatorship and latterly military-civilian rule. Thus the areas that are majority Rohingya – not Bengali- do not represent a “well-founded” demographic threat to the Rakhine, but a deliberate system of segregation, apartheid (as Bishop Desmond Tutu put it) and ghettoization of the Rohingya population who have been squeezed into geographical pockets, no longer able to survive in areas where they are in the minority. The restrictions in these townships have been compared to “open prisons” and “concentration camps.”
I do not believe the BBC would consider it appropriate to call complaints of Jewish population growth by the residents of areas hosting concentration camps in Nazi Germany “well-founded”, so why would they consider a similar claim appropriate in the case of the Rohingya in Myanmar who are facing ethnic cleansing and genocide?
Whilst in the first response to my complaint relating to “well-founded” fear, the producer Ms Leonard stood by the claim of “well-founded” fear in the programme stating that it was backed up by “facts and figures”(which I refute in my letter to her copied below). In the second response to my complaint I was given a contradictory answer,
“Soe Win Than’s reference to “well –founded fear” should have been attributed to the views of the Rakhine population. It did unfortunately sound as if he felt the fears were well founded, which was not what he meant.”
This is an utterly ridiculous statement. There is only one way for the audience to understand the term “well-founded” in relation to other peoples’ Islamaphobic and racist concerns about population growth – and that is that the person speaking has weighed up the evidence and come to the conclusion based on the evidence that their fears are not perception-based but valid. It is impossible to use the term “well-founded” in relation to others’ perceptions, it is a term that means “justifiable, valid, legitimate, well-grounded, sensible and acceptable”. Further to this ridiculous statement, I was told,
“His knowledge of the views of the local Rakhine population is based on the reports from Burma about the concerns of the local Rakhine population.”
This statement is extremely concerning to two ways. Firstly, if he was only aware of reports from a genocidal local population and not of the more neutral kind, why was he allowed to present these bias prejudicial opinions as fact without anyone available to refute the allegations? Secondly, and more alarmingly, why is an editor of BBC Burmese service not in possession of balanced information on the single most important issue to affect his country in transition– the issue of violence and hate speech against Myanmar’s Muslim population (see recent UNGA resolution on Muslim violence in Myanmar)? Does this not ring alarm bells with the BBC as to what the editorial line of BBC Burmese language broadcasts relating to this issue might be? If not, it should.
In fact throughout the discussion Soe Win Than’s comments presented a bias perspective against the Rohingya. His comments were utterly shocking to all that have a balanced knowledge of the situation for Rohingya in Myanmar. Equally shocking was that the programme did not question these biased perspectives. The reason I have picked out the “well-founded” fear comment rather than others as an example is that it clearly indicates that Soe Win Than was presenting his own views as fact, not simply presenting the perceptions of the Buddhist society in Myanmar.
B) REPRESENTATION AND UNDUE PROMINENCE OF VIEWS AND OPINIONS
My original complaint asked the question of why a programme about Buddhist violence against Muslims in Myanmar (the vast majority of those who have suffered violence are Rohingya Muslims) did not include a single Muslim voice. And why no-one was made available who was in a position to refute the un-problematized repetitions of state-based racist and Islamaphobic propaganda that were voiced by the BBC Burmese editor. In the first response to my complaint, producer Ms Leonard claimed,
“Whilst the programme did refer to the Burmese Rohingyas, they were not its focus. Its purpose was to examine Buddhism and non-violence, using the example of what is happening in Myanmar. Until the very end of the first half, the discussion in the opening part of the programme was solely about whether violence is permitted in Buddhism generally.”
I pointed out that she admitted herself that over half the programme was not about Buddhist scriptures but about violence against Muslims in Myanmar. It is impossible for a programme about Buddhism and non-violence in Myanmar, where ethnic cleansing against Myanmar’s Muslims is taking place to not also be about violence, Islamaphobia and racism (racism is inseparable from Islamaphobia in Myanmar) no matter how much emphasis is given to scriptures. Since the brunt of the violence against Muslims is born by the Rohingya Muslims, of course the violence against them is an integral part of the discussion.
In the second response to my complaint, I was told,
“The second half of the programme highlighted the violent nature of the Buddhist extremists in Burma and it was not about racism and violence against Muslims. We would definitely include a Muslim voice if the programme was to be about racism.”
I hope that the Editorial Complaints commission find this statement as utterly ridiculous and ignorant as I do. How on earth can a programme intending to highlight the violent nature of Buddhist extremism in Burma (which manifests itself as violence against Muslims including mostly the Rohingya) not be about Islamaphobia, racism and violence!? I just cannot think of a more stupid response that this. I find it utterly insulting and defensive. If you listen to the programme, you will be clear that the programme is about Buddhist violence against Muslims regardless of whether it explores scriptures or not. To claim it is not, is dishonest. As such, it is unfathomable why a Myanmar Muslim voice was not included in the programme. To make it worse, no-one who had a contextual understanding of the issues in Myanmar was made available to refute the BBC Burmese editor’s racist claims.
As I mentioned in my original complaint, it would be entirely unacceptable to broadcast a programme about Islamaphobia or anti-Muslim violence in the UK without including a single Muslim voice. So why does the BBC think it is acceptable to have a programme about violence against Muslims in Myanmar (even if looked at in parts through the lense of deconstructing notions of Buddhism and non-violence) without including a single Muslim voice?
To be clear about what response from the BBC we would be appropriate to this very serious complaint, I would like to highlight the following expected/suggested outcomes.
A) A public apology from the BBC for using the term “Bengali” to refer to the Rohingya population in Myanmar including clarification as to why it is insulting.
B) A public apology for claiming that local Myanmar and Rakhine populations have a “well-founded” fear of Rohingya population growth, with clarification as to why this is factually misleading and biased.
C) An investigation into the editorial line of BBC Burmese language service on the Rohingya crisis including considering the discourse they use in relation to the Rohingya and other Muslims.
Below, I copy the correspondence between myself and BBC complaints for your easy reference and to assist you in understanding the context of the situation relating to the Rohingya and Muslims in Myanmar. If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to get in touch with either myself or Maung Zarni, who is cced.
By Roger Mitton
It’s nothing new. Throughout history, prominent political and even religious leaders and institutions have kept silent about enormities which they had vehemently opposed in the past.
From the late Pope Pius XII’s failure to loudly condemn Nazi Germany’s extermination of millions of Jews during World War II, to Washington’s reticence in denouncing Cairo’s brutal suppression of Islamist protests earlier this year, there are many examples of tongue-tied regimes playing politics with morality and justice.
That doesn’t make such politically motivated no-comments right; nor does it serve the entities keeping mum in the long run. Silence means consent, the law has long stipulated, and renowned opponents of abuse and oppression send that very signal when they don’t speak out against such abuses and atrocities, whatever their reasons.
Speak up, Aung San Suu Kyi
So it is right and just for many human rights advocates across the globe to attack Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi for her public acquiescence in the persecution of Muslims in her country.
Ethnic violence erupted in June and October last year between Buddhists in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and its Muslim minority, which comprised most of the 140,000 rendered homeless and the hundreds killed. The government puts the death toll at 192; one Muslim group, the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship despite having lived in Myanmar for generations, count 748 dead.
While not state policy, animosity and violence against Muslims has been tacitly sanctioned for years, and foreign governments and world media have long ignored it. But it’s still reprehensible, and even more so is the assenting silence of a widely admired and supported advocate of freedom and democracy.
A condemnation from Suu Kyi might not have stopped the excesses, but then her word’s failure to stanch the Myanmar junta’s suppression over two decades didn’t stop her from speaking out against it, so why not the ethnic attacks? Is it because opposing military rule and keeping silent about the Muslims’ plight both help her quest for national power?
Well, if Suu Kyi won’t speak up against the oppression and killing of Myanmar Muslims, she should, among other remedies, return her Nobel Peace Prize.
The presidency before principles
The belated outrage over recent pogroms, the latest in Thandwe last month, have centered less on the inaction of President Thein Sein’s government and more on the lack of condemnation by the country’s democracy icon Suu Kyi.
Recently, Maung Zarni, a Myanmar academic at the London School of Economics, said: “It is Suu Kyi, not the ethnic cleansing itself, that the media finds worthy of a headline.”
Certainly, there have been lots of headlines that have battered her freedom-loving reputation by exposing her as a hardheaded politician focused on one and only one thing: the presidency of her country.
Hence, her utter silence about the ultra-nationalist Buddhist majority’s attacks on Muslims, in her calculated tactic to win voter support at the expense of what is right and just.
No matter that the presidency is a goal almost impossible for her to achieve. But she will give it her best shot, even if it means turning her back on the democratic principles for which she suffered more than two decades of house arrest.
For sure, the Lady’s not for turning on this, as indicated by her recent refusal to meet a delegation from the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, which groups the world’s Muslim nations, and as she coldly demonstrated in her October interview with the BBC’s Mishal Husain.
Repeatedly asked to condemn anti-Islamic sentiment and the wave of mob-led massacres of Muslims in Myanmar, she declined to do so. No sense, she evidently thought, in riling the country’s huge Buddhist majority, which loathes its small Muslim community with a passion.
A passionate hatred for Muslims
As Thomas Fuller wrote in The New York Times on November 9: “Hatred for Muslims and the fear of appearing sympathetic to them run so deeply in Myanmar that officials seem afraid even to console the victims’ families.”
Fuller’s report about the latest butchery includes an account of the hacking and burning to death of crippled and elderly Muslims. His story, headlined ‘Horrendous killings, without an uproar’, noted: “In Myanmar today, deploring the fatal stabbing of a 94-year-old woman is considered taking sides.”
That animosity is now openly displayed in Nazi-inspired 969 signs on shops and restaurants to indicate Muslims are not welcome. And Suu Kyi is not going to alienate her biggest vote bank by sympathizing with the Muslim minority no matter what atrocity befalls them. Instead, she is going to do what her fellow bigoted Buddhist compatriots do: stay quiet or dissemble, and in private cheer.
Especially since many Muslims aren’t even voting citizens. Last week, the government rejected a U.N. General Assembly resolution asking for citizenship to be granted to the Rohingya. “Citizenship will not be granted to those who are not entitled to it under this law no matter whoever applies pressure on us,” government spokesman Ye Htut said in a statement. “It is our sovereign right.”
Like Fuller’s report, most Western press also deplore not just the institutionalized abuse and violence against Muslims, but the silence of Suu Kyi. Her evasive answers to the BBC, said David Blair in London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, “sent a shiver down my spine.” He was particularly shocked when the democracy icon claimed that Buddhists suffer as much from the fear of violence as Muslims.
Suu Kyi was lying. They don’t.
The latest anti-Muslim pogroms have occurred in 11 towns across Myanmar, causing more than 100 deaths, displacing 12,000 people and destroying 1,300 homes and 32 mosques. Nothing remotely comparable has happened to the Buddhist community.
Where is her courage now?
When Mishal Husain asked her: “Do you condemn the anti-Muslim violence?” Suu Kyi replied: “I condemn any movement that is based on hatred and extremism.” Blair aptly remarked: “How could a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize fail to answer that question with a simple ‘Yes’?”
Well, Suu Kyi could and she will continue to do so because she wants to be president.
But others, especially in this region, can act by not visiting Myanmar till this carnage ends.
Or if a visit must be made, take a big black marker pen and daub a swastika over those foul 969 stickers. But it’ll take courage. Something evidently gone on this issue from Myanmar’s freedom advocate-turned-political animal.
(Roger Mitton is a Southeast Asia regional consultant and a former senior correspondent for Asiaweek magazine and The Straits Times of Singapore.)
Go to Original - The Manila Times
By Maung Zarni
Myanmar’s radical “969 movement” has been central in the recent brutal pogroms against minority Muslims that have left hundreds dead and 12,000 displaced. The Buddhist monk-led group, however, cannot be understood outside of the interface between President Thein Sein’s government and the country’s racist society at large.
Nor can it be explained without examining the respective roles of a) the State, which in effect offers the country’s neo-Nazi Buddhists impunity, b) Thein Sein’s inaction, even amid indications of ethnic cleansing against minority Muslims, and c) the Aung San Suu Kyi-led opposition’s moral bankruptcy throughout the crisis. The orgy of violence has raised several important questions about the country’s direction and hopes for reform.
How popular and widespread is the “969 movement” and how likely is it to spread throughout the country?
As a new nationalist movement with a clear message of “racial and religious purity,” a false sense of Buddhist victimhood, and cultural and economic nationalism — not dissimilar to Germany’s Nazism in the 1930s — 969 is gaining popularity for three main reasons. First, some of the militant Buddhist preachers from nationally well-connected Buddhist teaching colleges (such as 969 leader Wirathu) effectively scapegoat the country’s Muslims for the general economic hardships and cultural decay in society, portraying the ethnic Burmese as victims at the hands of organized Muslim commercial leeches and parasites. Second, 969 preys on the historical and popular anti-Muslim racism among the majority Buddhists. Last but not the least, virtually all state institutions at all levels — including the police, intelligence agencies, the army, local civil administration and even fire departments — under Thein Sein’s management have offered this Buddhist neo-Nazi movement both impunity and passive cooperation. What is the Naypyidaw government doing to crack down on the radical movement?
Thein Sein’s official report to Parliament on the anti-Muslim violence against ethnic Rohingyas last year in western Burma/Myanmar’s Rakhine State blamed political parties and Buddhist monks for spreading “ethnic hatred.” Yet his administration has not taken a single action against anyone who openly incited anti-Muslim hatred or ethnic hatred toward the Rohingyas. Nor has his government detained or even deterred a single Buddhist preacher of hate for acts of spreading anti-Muslim hatred in society and inciting blatant calls for phase-by-phase elimination of Muslims and their influence in society.
“Political parties, some monks and some individuals are increasing the ethnic hatred. They even approach and lobby both the domestic and overseas [Arakan] community,” Thein Sein’s report, submitted to Parliament last August, said. There is thus an unbridgeable gap between Thein Sein’s messages of coexistence and tolerance, to which the Western mainstream media has given wide coverage, and his government’s inaction, which the same media has failed to report beyond the observation that local police have stood by idly when organized mob violence unfolded before them.
All over Myanmar one can easily find numerous publications, DVDs, CDs and other anti-Muslim propaganda materials. It is not illegal to spread anti-Muslim misinformation and hateful views in the country’s more open environment. Instead, the government sued the Voice Weekly newspaper for printing a single article about corruption at the ministry of mines.
Unless Thein Sein’s government systematically cracks down on those who promote and organize Islamophobic violence and hate speech and effectively ends its long-standing policy of impunity for those who commit crimes against Muslims (and other ethnic minorities), it will run the risk of 969 morphing into a full-blown genocidal movement. Despite its pretensions toward democracy, Thein Sein’s military-propped regime has over 50 years of proven experience in suppressing organized opposition movements. For decades, the military was effectively able to censor and stop any news or messages it didn’t want disseminated in society.
In his article “Challenging the authoritarian state: Buddhist monks and peaceful protests in Burma, issues and policy”, published in the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs in 2008, Kyaw Yin Hlaing, a Burmese academic from the City University of Hong Kong and now a top Thein Sein adviser who directs the government’s Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), observed the military’s central role in inciting anti-Muslim riots in the past:
In 1997, the junta became aware of the monks’ plan to protest against the regional (military) commander’s improper renovation of a famous Buddhist statue in Mandalay. Before the monks could launch the protests, a rumor emerged that a Buddhist woman had been raped by a Muslim businessman. The government diverted their attention from the regional commander to the Muslim businessman, eventually causing an anti-Muslim riot. Some observers noted that intelligence agents often instigate anti-Muslim riots in order to prevent angry Buddhist monks from engaging in anti-government activities. (pp. 137-138). As recently as March 30, Prof. Donald Seekin, the author of The Disorder in Order: the Army-State in Burma since 1962, wrote, in a response to a New York Times op-ed on March 29 entitled “Kristallnacht in Myanmar:”
“Hatred of Muslims is deeply rooted in Burmese society, and was actively encouraged by both the Ne Win and SLORC/SPDC regimes during the 1962-2010 periods. One of their favorite tactics was to spread rumors that Muslims had raped Burmese Buddhist women, and plotted to convert the entire Buddhist population to Islam. The ‘divide and rule’ tactic used by the authorities in the recent past possibly grew out of the British colonial regime’s policy of fostering a “plural society” with minimal national unity.” In spite of Thein Sein’s official messages of religious harmony and coexistence in society, he has so far done virtually noting to nip the neo-Nazi Buddhist movement of 969. Nor has the military suddenly embraced unconditional free speech after overseeing decades of harsh media censorship. Rather, the impunity and inaction are more likely anchored in Naypyidaw’s strategic calculation to create a general climate of fear and uncertainty; consistent with the divide-and-rule tactics it has always used to exert unrivaled control and influence over the state and economy. What is Aung San Suu Kyi, the global icon of non-violence, doing to stem the tide of violent racism among her main Buddhist supporters?
Incomprehensibly, Suu Kyi herself is complicit in the spread of Islamophobic hatred and fear, both by her silence over the violence perpetuated against Muslims and by spreading moral responsibility for the death and destruction across both Muslim and Buddhist communities. For whatever reason, she has ignored blatant facts, including: 1) The violence and hate campaigns are one-directional in that they target only Muslims and are organized by Buddhist mobs which are made up of both out-of-towners and local community members; 2) the Muslims (and other minorities such as the Kachins) bear the brunt of the violence, death and devastation; and 3) the military and security forces have 50 years of experience in crowd control.
To be sure, Suu Kyi has not been entirely quiet on the anti-Muslim violence. After the three days of attacks against Muslims in the central town of Meikhtila, she spoke out in defense of the way the local security forces handled the situation, despite widespread evidence security forces sat on their hands while organized mobs went on sprees of slaughter and arson. For three days, security forces let roaming gangs of armed Buddhists burn down nearly 1,000 buildings, including mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and houses. In her Burmese language press interviews, Suu Kyi defended the deliberate inaction of the local security forces, offering the excuse that they weren’t experienced in riot control in the country’s new democratic context.
Despite serving as chairwoman of an inquiry of commission into protests and violence at a Chinese and Myanmar military-invested copper mine in central Myanmar, Suu Kyi’s comment overlooked security forces’ recent use of firebombs laden white phosphorous to crack down on protesters who lost their land and Buddhist monks who lent their demonstration moral support. Rather than visiting Muslim victims of the recent violence in Meikhtila, Suu Kyi instead attended the annual military parade on March 27, where she shared intimate moments with highly decorated generals.
Will recent rumors and violence persuade more people to participate in anti-Muslim actions? And from where do these rumors claiming expansionary designs of Islam in Myanmar originate?
Frighteningly for the country’s Muslims — who make up about 4% of the total 60 million population — one of President Thein Sein’s own spokespersons, ex-Major Zaw Htay, or Hmu Zaw, has served as a major source of anti-Muslim rumors and slanders since the first wave of violence against the Rohingya last June. On his Facebook page, the spokesman for the President’s Office has posted several one-liners designed to stoke popular anti-Muslim hatred and fear. One example: “We have just received information about a group of armed Muslim terrorists who are crossing the Burmese-Bangladesh borders. Stay tune.”
The state media, meanwhile, has published several articles with anti-Muslim slants and used the word “kalar,” the Burmese language equivalent of “nigger”, in referring to Muslims and people of Indian sub-continental origin. With state security and propaganda agencies, as well as culturally and ideologically influential figures, working in unison to stoke anti-Muslim hatred and fear, public opinion naturally follows. Culturally, Buddhist monks are very influential in Burmese society — more so than dissidents and generals. It is extremely difficult to draw a line between the government’s anti-Muslim activities and propaganda and those carried out by influential skinhead monks. Anti-Muslim postings on Facebook, including those with images of the recent deaths and destruction in Meikhtila, have been “liked” by thousands and solicit approving howls from Burmese netizens who show no restraint in expressing their neo-Nazi views in public online domains.
In recent interviews, Buddhist monk and 969 movement leader Wirathu has seemed to condemn the violence and even claimed in cases he had stopped rampaging, anti-Muslim rioters. Does this indicate he is toning down his movement’s rhetoric, or is the 969 movement still calling for the elimination of Muslim influence in Myanmar? In his Burmese language Facebook pages, Wirathu has posted several irreconcilable messages. On certain mornings he has posted messages of religious tolerance and compassion, while in the afternoon of the same day he has written provocatively anti-Muslim statements, including warnings against the “forced conversion of Burmese women who marry into Muslim families” and are coerced into changing their names from Burmese to Muslim and Indian ones. It seems unlikely that a preacher like Wirathu, who was jailed for his public incitement, which resulted in the death of an entire Muslim family in an arson attack in the small town called Kyauk Hse in 2003, would suddenly feel repentance for his inflammatory rhetoric. To date he has shown no sign of remorse or regret about his role in recent anti-Muslim violence.
Ten years ago, Wirathu was a fringe figure, perceived as having fringe anti-Muslim views. Now, with the rise of state-tolerated neo-Nazism, he has emerged as a cultist hatemonger, and a must-meet for visiting international media. The popularity of this neo-Nazi Buddhist preacher does not augur well for the country’s “democratic” future, and most certainly not for its minority Muslims and Rohingyas.
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