It was a textbook example of an effective propaganda campaign - "manufacturing a reformist" out of Mr NOTHING.
First, Myanmar President Thein Sein succeeded in conning Daw Aung San Suu Kyi first.
On her part, having fallen to the regime's psych-war.charm offensive, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was compelled to help Thein Sein, well, con the whole world.
Thein Sein also has a team of western educated spin-masters including U Thant's grandson Thant Myint-U, Ben Anderson's student Kyaw Yin Hlaing, the whole EGRESS team and their networks of western diplomats, investors, brokers, foreign foundations, NGOs, UN staff, journalists, academics, broadcasters, etc.
Here is Zaganar's strategic insights into the world of Burmese politics worth studying.
That Thein Sein was a Con-Man with no real substance, much less reformer, has been my contention from the day Thein Sein assumed nominally highest office in the land - Presidency.
Earlier this week the country's famed political comedian and dissident Zaganar reinforced my view when he shared his first hand knowledge of Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi in the 2-part interview with the Voice Weekly.
Within hours, the Voice took down the interviews.
Here is the relevant gist of what Zarganar has to say about 2015 elections, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,
1). On Thein Sein
I interviewed and/or filmed President Thein Sein 3 times. I got a chance to do a close-up examination of the man, the make-up of his team, their quality. President is NOTHING (meaning has no substance). (Zarni's remark: ex-General San Yu, Ne Win's deputy made "President" in the 1980's, was also known to be a substance-less man; precisely because these men had no backbones or substance did these despots pick them to play Yo-Yo). Ah, the world's media, leaders, etc. - out of their own respective logic and interests -keep on portraying this President NOTHING as "reformer"! LOL!)
2). Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
There is nobody like her among us whom the world would listen to. There is no replacement.
3). On ASSK's (misplaced) trust in Thein Sein
"Aunty told me to just trust President Thein Sein. So, I asked what percentage should I trust him. She replied, "100%". I was taken aback because her trust was based on a single meeting."
4). On 88 Generation Leaders
Well, there are really a total of 7 of them. Long years of imprisonment have taken a huge toll on them. Min Ko Naung, Ko Ko Gyi, Pyone Choe, etc. have exhausted their potential. They can do no more. They know it.
5). On 2015 elections
I have never been excited about 2015 elections, to be blunt. Everyone talks about. But political parties and opposition have no capable 'min-laungs' or prospective leaders to lead. So our goal ought to be 2020. We need to get about 450 capable candidates between
the ages of 30 and 40 and get them ready for (later election cycles).
Here is a sample of a marketing spin making "Mr Nothing", as the country's famed dissident comedian Zarganar put it, a Nobel-nominee and ICG's "In Pursuit of Peace" awardee:
On the road with Burma's reformist president.
By Gwen Robinson (Originally published on Foreign Policy)
RAKHINE STATE, Burma — There are no bullet-proof limousines, sophisticated communications systems, or media gaggles when you travel with Burma’s president. Instead of the lavishly-equipped jets used by western leaders, a humble European-made ATR-42 propeller plane and some aging Russian helicopters recently carried President Thein Sein and his team of about 40 top ministers, officials, and military brass around the country’s troubled western region.
The three-day trip, by air and road through sprawling Rakhine state was unusual for the low-key president — not only because of its high-powered composition (including five cabinet ministers and a few generals) and geographic scope (from remote settlements to ancient pagodas and refugee camps). It also provided a rare close-up of the diminutive former general who has, improbably, initiated one of the boldest reform programs that Burma — and indeed, the developing world — has ever seen. In the process, it yielded glimpses into the inner workings of Burma’s reformist administration as well as the dense, dark forces behind the sectarian violence that has caused hundreds, or possibly many more, deaths and displaced more than 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya Muslims, since mid-2012.
Rakhine (sometimes known by its ancient name, Arakan) is one of Burma’s poorest regions; about half its 3.8 million people live below the poverty line of about $1.20 a day, double the national average of 26 percent. At least one third of the population is Muslim; most — but not all — are stateless Rohingya Muslims, widely seen by the majority Burman population as illegal interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh, although many have resided in Burma for generations.
It is a toxic mix, fuelled by poverty and seething religious and racial resentments. The human toll can be seen in the tin-roofed refugee camps near the state capital, Sittwe, and damaged mosques and villages scattered around the state. The economic costs of religious violence and decades of official neglect are glaringly evident. Many destinations on our trip lacked even basic cell phone coverage. The bumpy roads were often unpaved, and water and electricity supply was patchy.
The days, starting at dawn and stretching into the night, were packed with meetings and site visits to villages, pagodas, refugee areas, and army bases. At every stop, officials in cars of varying ages, security men on small motorbikes, and even antiquated fire trucks received the presidential team. The meeting halls, where we sat on plastic chairs on concrete floors, were inevitably stifling. Yet every event, from talks with civic leaders and meals at military bases to sessions with local business, happened with clockwork precision. So too did the "power tea breaks," in which the president and his team conferred several times a day.
In one such huddle, over coconut drinks and sticky rice cakes near the seaside town of Thandwe, the president and his team debated emergency responses to the latest wave of sectarian violence. Just two days earlier, Buddhist mobs had attacked Muslim communities in villages some 10 to 20 miles away, killing at least seven people, torching homes, and displacing 500.
It was the latest in a series of vicious attacks on Muslim communities that have blighted Rakhine state and other parts of Burma since mid-2012. Human rights groups, citing repeated failures to halt the violence, have accused the government and security forces of complicity in — or even orchestrating — systematic ethnic cleansing. Local groups have in turn accused international organizations and western governments of pro-Muslim bias.
Thein Sein has rejected such charges, insisting that security forces were inadequately equipped for spontaneous outbreaks of mob violence, while admitting shortfalls in government responses. He has also publicly blamed "extremists and political opportunists" for exploiting tensions, giving weight to media reports that political and business elements are financing Buddhist extremist groups.
Citing "dark forces," one advisor told me that the Thandwe attacks, while focused on just one area, were "even more sinister" than last year’s widespread violence, as they were directed at local Kaman Muslims who, unlike the Rohingya, are recognized as Burmese citizens. In Thandwe, the Kaman live alongside and trade with their Buddhist neighbors, unlike the often voluntary segregation of Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists elsewhere in the state.
One presidential advisor, who, like his colleagues, insisted on anonymity, called it "the work of an unholy alliance," spanning ultra-nationalists, rightwing religious extremists, local businesses, and even, he said, elements of the "hard left" who oppose moderate progressives such as the Generation 88 group of former political prisoners. Lowering his voice, the official confided: "You can also include some powerful forces in parliament who have aligned with disaffected business people threatened by the president’s reforms. These people don’t want the president to succeed."
Thein Sein is well aware of "enemies within," one of his ministers told me. When travelling with the president, you quickly learn that the outward appearance of this small, bespectacled man in his longyi sarong is deceptive. He has an almost academic air about him, and shuns displays of wealth and power. When his monthly salary of $5,000 recently became an issue in parliament, he offered to take a pay cut to $3,000 — though government records indicate he has accepted just $1,500 a month since taking office in early 2011.
The president is 68 and wears a pacemaker. Yet members of his inner team describe him as formidably determined and "indefatigable" in a slow, deliberate way — characteristics that propelled him from a childhood in a poor rural village through a military career encompassing areas of intense conflict in ethnic regions to the top echelons of a harsh military junta. Throughout endless meetings, he speaks tirelessly in a low, steady voice, without notes or prompts. He is typically unruffled and, his aides say, almost never loses his temper.
"Initially, when he became president, people close to the former regime thought they could control him because he is quiet, he listens, he seems pliable," a deputy minister said, adding emphatically: "They were wrong."
At a civic gathering in the Muslim-dominated northern town of Maungdaw, scene of some of the worst religious violence last year, Thein Sein ignored the ceremonial desk on the podium and walked into the crowd of 60 or so Muslim and Buddhist leaders. He then conducted a one-hour meeting standing in their midst.
"The violence [here] affected the country in almost every way," he said. "It should never have happened. To rebuild, to achieve growth and provide jobs, it is crucial for both communities to co-exist peacefully." In what became a mantra of his three-day trip, he asked: "Can you, both communities, promise to work together and consult each other?"
"Yes, we can," came a chorus.
What Thein Sein lacks in quick wit and visible dynamism he makes up for with considered strategizing and quiet determination. But his fondness for frequent consultations with trusted advisors sometimes frustrates those around him, who privately wish for quicker decision-making.
As a consensus-seeker, Thein Sein often turns to the six so-called "super ministers" of his inner cabinet, the Office of the President, particularly his key confidantes U Soe Thane, a former navy chief who is the administration’s ebullient economic tsar, and U Aung Min, a former army general who heads peace negotiations with ethnic armed groups.
He also consults a broad range of interest groups, from civic l
eaders to academics, in a constant effort to balance different elements. His urge to build bridges is an essential trait for a leader presiding over such a radical shift from military dictatorship to unruly democracy. But it has also riled powerful entrenched interests, generating resistance in circles spanning business, politics, and the military.
Perhaps in recognition of political fragilities, the general-cum-president errs on the side of caution, some insiders say. "He is always striving to achieve consensus, but that can really take time," says one advisor. In a country as polarized as Burma, it might seem a futile quest. For Thein Sein, it is a vital part of the balancing act. For outside observers, it raises the question of how much this president is in the driving seat.
Under previous military regimes, the "senior general," Burma’s highest military rank, was an absolute dictator. Now, amid an increasingly vibrant democracy, the president must deal with a ferociously active parliament, which often rejects his suggested changes to legislation and has criticized his senior ministers for overstepping their authority.
Now classified as a civilian, Thein Sein must also accommodate an institutionalized role for military representatives in his cabinet. They are entitled under the 2008 constitution (drafted under the previous military regime) to three key posts of a current total of about 37: the powerful home affairs, border affairs, and defense portfolios. The military ministers are chosen by the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who also appoints active officers to 25 percent of seats in national and regional legislatures.
Again, many wonder to what extent Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government is in thrall to the same military that brought him to power. Like so much in Burma, the answers lie between the extremes. According to seasoned Yangon diplomats, the military’s grip is diminishing (despite a widespread view that the generals still pull the strings).
The institution’s grasp on local government structures — controlled through the home affairs ministry — is still strong. But that once pervasive grip of the military is under pressure, not least from Thein Sein’s ambitious government decentralization program and his gradual "civilianization" of government. In the past 18 months, more than 800 mid-level military personnel have been moved out of the bureaucracy — many transferred back to the military or police, according to advisors.
Military-backed businesses meanwhile have seen their cozy monopolies broken up; the institution’s vast holding companies have been required for the first time to pay taxes; and many officers in the upper echelons of government have been replaced by technocrats, academics, and even business representatives.
While more than half the total 93 or so in the expanded cabinet, which includes deputy ministers, have military backgrounds, they are nearly all long-retired officers. In cabinet meetings, say insiders, military ministers increasingly stick to security, their traditional area of expertise. The real challenge for Thein Sein is in the field, where he is still trying to curb the military conduct of campaigns in ethnic areas, primarily in northern Kachin state where fighting goes on despite the government’s strenuous efforts to agree to a ceasefire with rebel leaders.
On the recent Rakhine trip, the generals participated in town hall meetings but also held their own huddles, usually in the military bases that hosted the presidential team for meals and accommodation. (In the photo above, Thein Sein speaks at one such meeting in a military guest house in Thandwe.) In team meetings, though, the interplay between the president, the generals, civilian ministers, and retired military officers was broadly consultative. Active generals from both cabinet and armed forces behaved like ministers deferring to the president.
In terms of international image, the Rakhine situation has been one of Thein Sein’s most difficult challenges and his biggest vulnerability. Today the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on Burma’s human rights record, despite intensive lobbying by the government. This year, the overall message, wording, and criticisms are not as harsh as in previous years.
The document highlights "serious concerns" about the plight of Rohingya communities and urges more action from the government. It also praises "positive developments," including the continuing release of political prisoners. In step with Thein Sein’s pledge to release all political detainees by year-end, a further 69 were released last week, leaving less than 60 from earlier times. Despite its earlier opposition to the resolution, Burma — along with key sponsors the United States and the European Union — accepted the final draft text, reflecting Thein Sein’s pragmatic approach to diplomacy. Even some important Organization of Islamic Conference countries approved it.
In a bid last year to resolve tensions, Thein Sein appointed a special commission to investigate the Rakhine violence. The resulting report blamed both Muslim and Buddhist Rakhine communities and included recommendations to help both sides — in a clear effort to calm tensions. Significantly it urged better conditions in refugee camps and more controversially, relaxation of citizenship criteria for stateless Rohingya. Some measures are underway, but stubborn historic prejudices and paranoia about "Muslim encroachment" mean that the process is painfully slow. Diplomats hope the UN resolution will hasten that process. That clearly depends on how much Thein Sein is willing to take on the "dark forces."
In Rakhine, bitter divisions merely compound the state’s increasingly dire economic situation — a plight that clearly prompted Thein Sein to prioritize the region in his new drive to deliver reforms to the grassroots.
Undoubtedly, the timing of the Rakhine visit also reflected concerns about Burma’s image just before taking over the 2014 leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and ahead of the country’s December debut as host of the Southeast Asian Games. Debate over the Myanmar resolution at UNGA was clearly another factor. Such events — so crucial to Burma’s acceptance on the world stage — are also driving Thein Sein’s push to accelerate reforms.
Judging from the animated discussion in Thein Sein’s Thandwe huddle, the "dark forces" hit a political nerve. At one point, Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant-General Ko Ko briefed the team on his visit to the damaged villages and suggested ways to increase local security and shelter the displaced. Earlier this year, the general expressed doubts that Muslim communities were being systematically targeted. Now, he indicated, there was little question in his mind.
Thein Sein listened intently, asking questions or interjecting as other team members explained the impact of local tensions on their sectors. A deputy minister compared Thein Sein’s approach with the authoritarian ways of his predecessors: "This president listens. You don’t feel nervous saying what you think. Of course he has his own ide
as, but he listens. This never happened before."
Quick government responses are also a new development. Within days of the Thandwe attacks, police had detained nearly 80 people including prominent local figures. A month later, 61 — mostly Buddhists — had been charged with offenses including murder.
Presidential "meet-and-greet" missions and regular radio broadcasts are another hallmark of Thein Sein’s administration. As president, he has been more visible than his predecessors, starting from his time as prime minister under Than Shwe from 2007 to 2011. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the country in 2008 and killed a staggering 140,000-plus people, he oversaw relief efforts and bore the brunt of international criticism over Than Shwe’s initial moves to block foreign efforts.
Less known is Thein Sein’s earlier interest in Rakhine state as prime minister, and his warnings to fellow junta members of festering religious tensions and deepening poverty there. He visited all 17 townships of Rakhine back then, and proposed economic programs including the construction of factories and roads. His ideas were ultimately rejected by Than Shwe. Whether Than Shwe realized the full extent of the changes envisaged by his mild-mannered prime minister is not clear. But he chose Thein Sein as his successor to run in the 2010 elections. The polls were widely condemned as flawed but swept Thein Sein to power.
On this trip, Thein Sein revived his ideas, announcing initiatives to build power plants, airports, and to improve electricity and water supply. "Things have changed, we have shifted to a bottom-up and people-centered approach — but you must all work together for economic development," he repeatedly told community leaders.
Thein Sein is unlikely to seek another term in the 2015 elections, a matter he discussed with the ambitious parliamentary speaker, Shwe Mann, who announced it publicly in October — angering the president’s supporters. Widely seen in 2010 as Than Shwe’s top choice as successor, the speaker has always felt keen rivalry with Thein Sein, say people who know both men.
Thein Sein’s decision to bow out of politics at the end of 2015 is not final, say some advisors, expressing more hope than conviction. But it has fed further speculation about likely presidential contenders. Much depends on the push from some quarters for constitutional change. It will determine the future of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred from the presidency by constitutional provisions against Burmese who marry or have children with foreigners. She had two children with her late husband British academic Michael Aris. Like Shwe Mann, she has declared her ambitions, and has turned from supporter to harsh critic of the president. In what many see as early electioneering, she has been telling the world that "almost nothing has changed" under his leadership.
For Thein Sein, a devout Buddhist, "preserving stability" (a frequent exhortation) means trying to satisfy all sides — a near-impossible task in the sectarian battleground of Rakhine state. In Mrauk-U, the former state capital, and Kyauktaw, a short helicopter ride away, the president visited sacred Buddhist sites including an ancient temple and one of Burma’s most revered Buddha statues, the Maha Muni, where he bowed to the floor.
Unlike western leaders, he pays little attention to PR strategy. Local journalists — let alone foreign media — are rarely briefed and almost never invited on presidential trips. On this trip, nobody briefed the lone foreign journalist.
His relative indifference to spin has its minuses. He was reportedly shaken earlier this year, when harshly lampooned by the Washington Post for his convoluted responses to questions about the 2008 constitution.
In a brief interview during his trip, by contrast, his answers were measured. The emphasis was on economic development, reform, and the need for foreign investment. "The turbulence has been largely confined to this area [Thandwe] this time, although the most important thing is to achieve peace and tranquility throughout the state," he told me. "I will make renewed efforts, but for proper development, it’s so important not to discriminate between race and religion."
The two key priorities, he said, were economic development and the "proper protection of human rights" — a phrase no predecessor ever uttered. "But these two need to be balanced, we need investment, growth, jobs," he added.
While Thein Sein’s belief in consensus-building is often misinterpreted as indecision, his ambitions to accelerate reforms, court local communities, and pursue fraught ceasefire negotiations sit at odds with the priorities of an aging, one-term president.
What, then, is the president’s rationale if he does not intend to run for another term? "Simple. We have to deliver on what we promised," said U Soe Thane, the economics tsar (and ex-Navy chief) who is also driving the government’s radical decentralization plan . "We don’t have much time. It is beyond politics. It is important — it’s our country’s future."
Thein Sein is "a true believer," Ye Htut, presidential spokesman and deputy minister for information, told me. "He says you can’t kick out all the Muslims, even though Buddhist extremists in Rakhine think you can. He tells them why we must deal with the Muslim issue."
All this reinforces what skeptics are only just acknowledging: that Burma’s traditional power centers are breaking up. The juggernaut may be a "bottom up" effort. But the driver is clearly at the top.
We must stop lying, as a people of Burma or Myanmar. For nearly 40 years - since 1979, the country's successive military leaderships from Ne Win (1962-88), Khin Nyunt-Than Shwe (1988-2004) and ThanShwe-TheinSein (2004-present) - have as a matter of national policy attempted to erase Rohingya from the country's official history.
Apparently, some university researchers have professional integrity to state facts as they find them on the ground - rather than going along with the generals in power.
In the above-inserted pieces of photographic evidence, as late as 2012, Rohingya and Chittagonians are recognized as "ancient" people in their ancestral land along present-day Myanmar and Bangladesh - two post-World War II creations as new nation-states.
And yet President Thein Sein to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy to Buddhist monks and other dissidents have joined hands in butchering Rohingya identity and history: indeed within Myanmar or Burma, Rohingya have been made a 'people without history' or identity.
As Myanmar or Burma peoples who claim to be Buddhist and demand basic human rights, we must have the courage and strength to admit our wrong-doings to the Rohingya and stop lying about their genuine history and identity. Bluntly put, we are in effect a nation of ethnocidaires - killers of an ethnic identity, culture and history.
As a Burmese I find this most shameful, most despicable and most unconscionable.
Yes, I support student marchers demanding 'education for democracy'.
Yes, I support the rights of minority or non-Bama ethnic groups to self-determine their own future.
Yes, I support land rights activists and displaced farmers.
But I want us as a people to STOP lying to ourselves and to the world.
Our country - Myanmar or Burma - is verifiably a textbook example of an ETHNO-CIDE, destruction of ethnic identity and existence as an ethnic group.
It is not simply that the world recognizes the group's right to self-identity as a matter of its human rights.
Equally important, Myanmar's official knowledge - as in what goes into Ministry of Education textbooks - evidently recognizes Rohingya to be ancient or early people of Northern Arakan or Rakhine.
The first step towards ending Myanmar's slow genocide of the Rohingya
We must become aware of our own individual roles in and contributions as Myanmar citizens to the on-going ethnocide of more than 1 million Rohingya inside Burma - and another 1 million Rohingya in diaspora.
The first step to end this national crime would be to face up to the irrefutable evidence - that Rohingya are our country's ancient people living on their own ancestral land between Bangladesh and Burma and restore their citizenship and ethnic rights.
Doing so will end Rohingya's immense sufferings of nearly 40 years and enable us the ethnic majority to rehabilitate our own humanity which has degenerated by our complicity in the military-led national genocide.
"သမၼတကေတာင္ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံမွာ ရိုဟင္ဂ်ာ မရွိပါဘူးလို႔ ေျပာထားတဲ့ ရိုဟင္ဂ်ာ အေၾကာင္းပါ ေနတယ္ ဆရာမလို႔ေျပာၿပီး Chapter 4 ေအာက္ရွိ Culture Base ေခါင္းစဥ္ စာမ်က္ႏွာ (၈၃) တြင္ Ancient Culture သင္ခန္းစာကို ဖြင့္ျပလိုက္သည္ ၊ ၿပီးေတာ့ စာမ်က္ႏွာ (၉၄) ထိလွန္လိုက္ၿပီး ပထ၀ီ သင္ရုိးညႊန္းတမ္းတြင္ ပုံႏွိပ္ ေဖာ္ျပထားေသာ စာတစ္ပိုဒ္ကို က်ေနာ္ ဖတ္ျပ လိုက္သည္။ ထိုေခါင္းစဥ္ ေအာက္ရွိ ေနာက္ဆုံး စာပိုဒ္တြင္ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ အတြင္း တိုင္းရင္းသား လူမ်ဳိးမ်ား ပ်ံ႕ႏွံ႔ ေနထိုင္ပုံကို ေရးသားထားရာ၌ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ နယ္စပ္ နယ္နမိတ္ အတြင္း လူနည္းစုမ်ား ေနထိုင္ ေတြ႕ရွိရပုံတြင္ ထိုင္းႏိုင္ငံ ေျမာက္ ပိုင္း ၊ လာအိုႏွင့္ ဗီယက္နမ္ ေျမာက္ပိုင္း တို႔တြင္ ေနထိုင္သည့္ " ေယာင္ " လူမ်ိဳးမ်ားကို ရွမ္းျပည္ ေတာင္ပိုင္း က်ဳိင္းတုံ ၿမိဳ႕နယ္ဖက္တြင္ ေတြ႕ရွိရေၾကာင္း ၊ ထို႔ျပင္ ကိုးကန္႔ တရုတ္ လူမ်ဳိးမ်ားကိုလည္း သံလြင္ျမစ္ အေရွ႕ ဖက္ျခမ္းရွိ ကိုးကန္႔ ေဒသ အတြင္း၌ေနထိုင္ေၾကာင္း ေရးသား ထားၿပီး အလားတူစြာ ရခိုင္ျပည္နယ္ ေျမာက္ပိုင္း ဘဂၤလားေဒရွ္႕ႏွင့္ ဆက္စပ္လွ်က္ရွိေသာ ဘူးသီးေတာင္ ေမာင္းေတာတြင္လည္း ရိုဟင္ဂ်ာမ်ားႏွင့္ စစ္တေကာင္းသားမ်ား ေနထိုင္ၾကေၾကာင္း ေရးသား ေဖာ္ျပ ထားသည္။"
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2015 | USCIRF
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly condemns the package of race and religion bills that Burma’s parliament is considering. These bills would further restrict religious freedom and discriminate against all non-Buddhists, particularly male Muslims, in religious conversions and marriages. USCIRF criticized a May draft of one of these bills, the religious conversion law, as “irreparably flawed” and in contravention of “Burma’s international commitments to protect freedom of religion or belief.”
“Discrimination against non-Buddhists through law, regulation and practice already is pervasive in Burma. Instead of countering prejudices, these bills would further entrench and legalize discrimination,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF Chair. “The bills risk fanning the flames of intolerance and violence against Muslims and other religious minorities. If they become law, Burma will be taking a major step backward.”
During USCIRF’s August trip to Burma (click here to read the report), Commissioners M. Zuhdi Jasser and Eric P. Schwartz raised concerns about these bills in meetings with Burmese parliamentarians and representatives of the Union government.
“Rather than protecting individuals’ rights to peacefully practice their faiths, the government of Burma is promoting restrictive, discriminatory measures that violate religious freedoms,” said Lantos Swett. “The right to change your beliefs and marry a partner of your own choosing are personal decisions not in the scope of government.”
Specific concerns include:
- The Religious Conversion Bill would force those seeking to convert to give to the newly created Registration Boards an extensive list of personal information, answer intrusive questions, and wait 90 days for approval.
- The Interfaith Marriage Bill imposes restrictions on marriages between non-Buddhist men and Buddhist women, including a 14-day waiting period during which time anyone can object to the marriage, and the court reviewing the objections has the power to deny the marriage. Non-Buddhist men are denied numerous rights in the case of divorce and face criminal penalties if they ask their Buddhist wife to convert. Under the bill, non-Buddhist men also bear most of the financial and/or criminal penalties, including prison sentences.
USCIRF concluded in its 2014 Annual Report chapter on Burma (Burmese translation here) that political reforms have not improved legal protections for religious freedom and have done little to curtail anti-Muslim violence, incitement, and discrimination, particularly targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority. For more than a decade, USCIRF has recommended that Burma be designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for its systematic, egregious and ongoing religious freedom violations. The U.S. Department of State has designated Burma as a CPC repeatedly since 1999, most recently in July 2014.
By Maung Zarni
January 22, 2015
Is Myanmar Tatmadaw (or feudal army) re-embracing its Fascist origin?
Burma's army was the sole creation of Southeast Asia unit of Japan's Naval Intelligence. With full blessings from PM General Tojo , Japan's Fascist strategists in the Japanese Navy Intelligence recruited Aung San - Aung San Suu Kyi's father - and his young anti-British nationalist colleagues, in desperate search for arms, funding and other forms of support from an anti-imperialist source. Their initial hope was Mao's Communists. But Communists were in no position or mood to help the young Burmese. The Japanese fascists stepped in and offered the promise of Burma's independence from Britain in exchange for fighting in effect as a 'proxy army' for the Japanese. Japan's fascist vision during WWII was to expand its control all the way to Australia and New Zealand via what US strategic command then called "South East Asia" - the invented origin of the region that now came to be referred to as ASEAN. Burma was crucial as a launching pad for Japanese Armed Forces to invade British India.
The allure of independence and having no real alternative forced the Burmese nationalists to collaborate with the Fascists in Tokyo beginning in 1942. Come Christmas young nationalist activists had morphed into military-men, soaked in authoritarianism and the old Bama feudalist values.
Seventy two years after the founding of the Myanmar feudal army, all the signs are pointing to the resurgence of Fascism - this time with Bama and "Buddhist" characteristics! . As a matter-of-factly speaking, everything Myanmar Tatmadaw (or feudal army) is doing indicate that it has re-embraced and re-institutionalized Fascism. Here are SOME of the most disturbing signs.
1. Troops fired at land-robbed farmers.
2. Anti-Chinese mine Buddhist monks get fire-bombed.
3. Kachin volunteer teachers got raped and murdered.
4. Muslims as religious minorities and non-Bama ethnic peoples are second class citizens.
5. Rohingya in particular are starved, brutalized and forced out.
6. Nazi-inspired Rakhines are promoted as 'leaders' and being used as 'local proxies'.
7. Generals & cronies have been robbing the public openly.
8. Myanmar Tatmadaw is widely accused - and justifiably - of raping religious and ethnic minority women, including Rohingya women, with blanket impunity for decades.
9. Journalists are killed and/or otherwise persecuted.
10. Anti-Muslim hate-mongers and violent hate groups such as 969 and Ma-Ba-Tha have official backing by the Government and Legislature (the same thing, different names).
11. The highest level of authorities, including Nwa Thein Sein's Presidential Office, propagates racism and religious bigotry - while Nwa President talks about 'inclusion and tolerance' to please the ears of his marketiing agents and business partners in US and other Western governments.
12. The Tatmadaw feudal generals since 1979 have presided over the slow genocide of nearly 2 million Rohingya (including the Rohingyas who have fled the country as the direct result of several major waves of terror which began in February 1979).
13. Military feudalism is being pursued. (Only the army-bred officers are now entrusted with top positions, from the Commander in Chief to the head of military intelligence to other strategic positions).
14. The military has institutionalized and consolidated its signature neo-Fascist Militarism - Generals and ex-Generals, "Pure Patriots" but dissidents and civilians, not patriotic enough or capable.
Where are the much-hyped up 'reforms'? Are these signs of a regime that is merely back-sliding from those 'reforms'?
Myanmar: NOT serious about peace.
Troops gang-raped and killed 2 Kachin Baptist Christian missionary women in church just yesterday.
Spread the word.
From a 100% reliable Kachin Independence Army friend:
I couldn't sleep tonight when I spoke with Laiza.
Two Kachin Baptist Missionaires were gang-raped and beaten to death by Burma Army. I have emailed the incident to American Baptist Gen Sec.
Jan 19, 12pm, soldiers under Maj Aung soe Myint from LIB 503 gang-raped and beat to death two Kachin Baptist Church volunteers Maran Lu Ra 20 and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Din 20 at the church compound in Kawng Hka Shabuk village west of Nam Tau and Nbaw Pa Road, Northern Shan State. Images attached."
Sign ceasefire or we will rape, kill and brutalize your women!
That is a real message.
The following is a public relations spin - by Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander in Chief of Myanmar Tatmadaw (feudal army).
"This depends on the armed ethnic groups. Do they really want peace? If they really want peace, there is no reason why they should not get it. If they wish to go along the path of democracy, and if they have the desire to bring unity and development in their region, they can choose this path. We cannot keep arguing. Disputes hinder the country's development."
- Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to Singapore's official mouthpiece Channel News Asia
Myanmar's #1 General Min Aung Hlaing:
Talking "peace" while raping and killing ethnic minority women.
The father Brigadier Min Gaung (initially Than Maung, who was a hire-hand in my late grandfather's mini-"casino" in Mandalay before he joined the army) was involved in the early wave of Rohingya genocide as Commander of Western Command based in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State.
Now the son is talking peace while his troops are raping and murdering ethnic minority women - this time Kachin Baptist missionaries - with complete impunity.
Myanmar Tatmadaw has been raping and killing minority women for decades - with impunity. The military leadership at the highest level KNOW and CONDONE the practice, in effect.
Rape of women in 'enemy territories' is used as a matter of strategy at worst and tolerated at best in many a military around the world.
Myanmar Tatmadaw's use of rape of ethnic minority women - hundreds of them - has been well-documented by Shan Women Action Network, Kachin, Chin, Karen and other ethnic minority human rights network.
Millions have been spent by Western governments such as USA, UK, Australia, etc. on organizing 'human rights and other civil-military workshops' with Myanmar officers.
It doesn't look like the workshops are having any appreciable impact on the Myanmar military's use of rape as part of its implicit military strategy to bring the target resistance groups - referred to as 'insurgents', the obsolete anti-Communist Cold War vocabulary which continues to be used by mindless academics and journalists.
This interview by Channel News Asia, Singapore's mouthpiece helps promote the Burmese military's spin: we want peace, but the ethnic groups are flouting the rules and undermining peace process! Singapore is NOT alone in piling pressure via the media and/or $. Japan, Norway and EU governments have also resorted to various strategies to persuade the oppressed to accept Myanmar regime's offer of peace - near total surrender - so that these external interests can get on with whatever their own un-declared agendas: peace and development again are NOT real objectives for the 'donors' and 'peace supporters'. There is no free lunch in international relations.
Channel News Asia: Myanmar peace process in rebel hands: army chief
YANGON: Myanmar's military has suggested that ethnic armed groups may not be fully committed to end the civil war in the country. In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, its Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing accused some ethnic groups of flouting the rules, which has resulted in clashes with the military.
In a sign of how volatile the situation is, fresh clashes between the ethnic Kachin Independence Army and the government military erupted a few days ago. But the Myanmar government is still keen to sign a national ceasefire agreement with key ethnic armed groups next month.
Ethnic armed groups have been fighting the government military in Myanmar for 60 years. Their demands are clear - they want political equality and the right to self govern. As minority communities, these ethnic groups have often felt unfairly treated - their rights as citizens ignored.
Several violent conflicts have occurred over the years. One such incident in 2011 between the Kachin Independence Army and the government military in the northern state left more than 100,000 people homeless. Many remain housed in temporary camps today.
Recent negotiations between the ethnic armed groups and the government have calmed the situation somewhat and reduced the frequency of clashes. The aim of the talks is to have the groups sign a nationwide ceasefire pact. But sporadic battles still occur, hampering negotiations.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said: "This depends on the armed ethnic groups. Do they really want peace? If they really want peace, there is no reason why they should not get it. If they wish to go along the path of democracy, and if they have the desire to bring unity and development in their region, they can choose this path. We cannot keep arguing. Disputes hinder the country's development."
The Nationwide Ceasefire Co-ordinating Team (NCCT) agrees the agreement will push Myanmar forward. And the team, which represents 16 major ethnic armed groups, is determined to end the conflict.
Dr Lian Sakhong, a NCCT member and Chin National Front Supreme Council member, said: "We are truly committed for peace. We're truly, truly committed for national ceasefire agreement. Look, we're the ones who proposed and drafted this nationwide ceasefire agreement text. As soon as President Thein Sein came to power, we issued a statement, calling for a dialogue, calling for a ceasefire agreement."
Two issues remain a challenge: the future of ethnic armed groups and the government's commitment to continued political dialogue after the ceasefire pact has been signed.
The ethnic armed groups believe it will be more realistic to sign the ceasefire agreement in early April, rather than in February as President Thein Sein has hoped. Failing to do so, however, will result in wasted efforts and jeopardize the entire negotiation process as the country may see a change in administration after this year's general elections.
In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, Myanmar's military chief accuses some ethnic armed groups of flouting the rules, resulting in clashes with the government military.
Exclusive interview video can be viewed here.
Event: Dr. Zarni and Dr. Lian will discuss the state of reforms, conflicts and violence in Burma or Myanmar
What happened to the peace and democratization process in Burma?
Date: February 10, 2015
Venue: The Swedish Institute of International Affairs
Drottning Kristinas vag 37, Stockholm
Time: 15:00 to 16:30
By Maung Zarni
January 18, 2015
Myanmar's slow Rohingya genocide is a brilliant strategy that kills several birds with a single stone - as far as the country's ruling military Bama regimes.
Myanmar's great commercial opening, talked up as "reforms", triggered Rakhine nationalists and democrats' loud demands and agitations for 3 things - up until the state's manufacturing of the Rohingya-raped-Rakhine woman story (the body of the victim Ma Thida Htwe had absolutely no trace of having been assaulted sexually - according to the medical doctor who performed the medical examination of her body - ask Mr Maung Thura (a.k.a Zargana. He is not telling the country or world, the real truth he knows for a fact because he interviewed the medical examiner on video camera)
1) more equitable revenue sharing (or greater control over Rakhine's economic life)
2) greater political and administrative autonomy of the Rakhine people (the Bama king named Ba Dun or popularly King Grandfather, invaded, destroyed their kingdom, annexed the Rakhine territory into the present day Burma in 1785. The colonialist Bama feudal rulers used Rakhines as Prisoners of War and slaves in temple building and irrigation projects). Rakhines feel and remain a colonized people in their own land, truth be told).
3) resurgence of ethno-nationalism not allowed to express itself peacefully until after the opening up began
Myanmar regime has dealt with all 3 objectives of the Rakhine rather brilliantly - by diverting the Rakhines nationalist anger towards the Rohingya - most vulnerable, without any revolutionary or radical movement or organization to defend their own people or territory.
To date, Rakhines are perceived around the world as Nazi-like genocidal lot: the new perception serves the military leaders' interests in multiple ways.
First, it helps erase their finger-prints on the 37-years of systematic genocide of the Rohingya.
Second, Rakhines are no longer in a position to demand anything successfully from the central colonizer - Bama ruling class EXCEPT the greater repression of their down-trodden and more oppressed Rohingya co-habitants of Rakhine land and denial of the Rohingya rights (such as identity recognition, which early military leaders including Ne Win and his deputies accorded the Rohingya - that the Rohingya would be known, recorded and referred to by their self-chosen identity Rohingya because they were borderland people like Wa, Karen, Chin, Mon, Shan, etc. whose presence in their ancestral land predates the creation of new nation-states such as Burma, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, China, etc.)
Rohingya continue to be subject to the central military's genocidal policies albeit this time through Naypyidaw's strategy of OUTSOURCING DIRECT VIOLENCE AND DESTRUCTION.
Rakhine nationalists, who wanted to full independence and/or greater autonomy from Rangoon/Bama rule, had never forgiven the Rohingyas for always siding with the Burmese rulers in Rangoon against the wishes of the Rakhines.
Bama rulers neither welcome the Rohingya presence nor like the Rakhine (for their ethno-nationalism, which is the result of their colonial status as a people).
Third, the military rulers and their spin-masters like Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing, who is involved in formulating, articulating and selling the Rakhine Action Plan (Myanmar's equivalent of Final Solution) are telling international visitors and others in Burma policy circle to provide more development aid to addess the lack of development and resultant POVERTY needs to be tackled as a long term strategy!
and the Development Industry loves this b/s.
It even serves the Pentagon as it is placed in a position to discuss beefing up security capacity of the Burmese armed forces - both the Navy and the Army in Rakhine coastal region - where China has twin gas and oil pipeline and wants to have access to the port! (The American 'strategic communitications adviers' - then based in Naypyidaw, on and off, were known to have helped Kyaw Yin Hlaing and the government Rakhine Inquiry Commission in formulating the right spin. Read the recommendations - it reads like a blue print for the defence cooperation between the Pentagon and Burmese Ministry of Defence!)
Boy, genocide pays!
So, the current strategy of the military is paying off handsomely. Rakhine are used as local proxies to pursue the central regime's long-term genocidal policies towards the Rohingya and will take the fall for the crimes of the Bama rulers. Rohingya, whom the regime has long come to view, rather out of its national security paranoia, as a security threat to Burma (because it is the only Muslim population concentrated in the 171 mile-long Burmese-Bangladesh border with linguistic and ethnic ties to the populous Bangladesh.
The Rakhine nationalist leaders, as in effect, finished as far as their demands for autonomy and economic control of Rakhine. Rohingyas continue to be destroyed as a community.
This is not simply a conflict between two religious and ethnic communities settling scores as the result of "the great transition" as morons and dishonest Myanmar experts and researchers have made it out to be.
There are those who those who think the United States Government is going to help rescue the Rohingyas from the slow genocide they need to think and look harder at the below-the-radar politics.
Twice Obama went to Burma and defended publicly Rohingya's right to dignity, identity, etc.
His UN Rep Samantha Power makes mentions of Rohingya in her pronouncements.
At the same time, the Pentagon and its men and women plays a different game - vis-a-vis China.
The American 'Strategic Communications advisers/specialists' - in plain language 'propaganda specialists - - then based in Naypyidaw, on and off, were known to have helped Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing and the government Rakhine Inquiry Commission in formulating the right spin. Read the recommendations in the Inquiry Commission Report (released in Spring of 2013): the list of recommendations reads like a blue print for the defence cooperation between the Pentagon and Burmese Ministry of Defence!
A northern-Italian miller in the sixteenth century, known as Menocchio, literate but not a member of the literary élite, held a number of unconventional theological beliefs. He believed that the soul died with the body, that the world was created out of a chaotic substance, not ex nihilo, and that it was more important to love one’s neighbor than to love God. He found eccentric justification for these beliefs in the few books he read, among them the Decameron, the Bible, the Koran, and “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville,” all in translation. For his pains, Menocchio was dragged before the Inquisition several times, tortured, and, in 1599, burned at the stake. He was one of thousands who met such a fate.
Western societies are not, even now, the paradise of skepticism and rationalism that they believe themselves to be. The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture. But, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering serenity and fortitude in the face of provocation. Yet European and American history are so strongly marked by efforts to control speech that the persecution of rebellious thought must be considered among the foundational buttresses of these societies. Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the censuring of critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
|The Eiffel Tower after its lights were shut off in memory of the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo; January 8, 2015. Credit Photograph by Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu / Getty|
More than a dozen people were killed by terrorists in Paris this week. The victims of these crimes are being mourned worldwide: they were human beings, beloved by their families and precious to their friends. On Wednesday, twelve of them were targeted by gunmen for their affiliation with the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Charlie has often been aimed at Muslims, and it’s taken particular joy in flouting the Islamic ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s done more than that, too, including taking on political targets, as well as Christian and Jewish ones. The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in a sexual threesome. Illustrations such as this have been cited as evidence of Charlie Hebdo’s willingness to offend everyone. But in recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans, variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a massacre. It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is necessary to try. Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech, got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anti-clericalism can be a joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of Jews.
This week’s events took place against the backdrop of France’s ugly colonial history, its sizable Muslim population, and the suppression, in the name of secularism, of some Islamic cultural expressions, such as the hijab. Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one of the magazine’s cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism); another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim Crow-era illustrations.
On Thursday morning, the day after the massacre, I happened to be in Paris. The headline of Le Figaro was “LA LIBERTÉ ASSASSINÉE.” Le Parisien and L’Humanité also used the word liberté in their headlines. Liberty was indeed under attack—as a writer, I cherish the right to offend, and I support that right in other writers—but what was being excluded in this framing? A tone of genuine puzzlement always seems to accompany terrorist attacks in the centers of Western power. Why have they visited violent horror on our peaceful societies? Why do they kill when we don’t? A widely shared illustration, by Lucille Clerc, of a broken pencil regenerating itself as two sharpened pencils, was typical. The message was clear, as it was with the hashtag #jesuischarlie: that what is at stake is not merely the right of people to draw what they wish but that, in the wake of the murders, what they drew should be celebrated and disseminated. Accordingly, not only have many of Charlie Hebdo’s images been published and shared, but the magazine itself has received large sums of money in the wake of the attacks—a hundred thousand pounds from the Guardian Media Group and three hundred thousand dollars from Google.
But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions. The A.C.L.U. got it right in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal. But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights as a defense of Nazi beliefs. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were not mere gadflies, not simple martyrs to the right to offend: they were ideologues. Just because one condemns their brutal murders doesn’t mean one must condone their ideology.
Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data, has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence. There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly. The only person in prison for the C.I.A.’s abominable torture regime is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They, too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized, as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
The killings in Paris were an appalling offense to human life and dignity. The enormity of these crimes will shock us all for a long time. But the suggestion that violence by self-proclaimed Jihadists is the only threat to liberty in Western societies ignores other, often more immediate and intimate, dangers. The U.S., the U.K., and France approach statecraft in different ways, but they are allies in a certain vision of the world, and one important thing they share is an expectation of proper respect for Western secular religion. Heresies against state power are monitored and punished. People have been arrested for making anti-military or anti-police comments on social media in the U.K. Mass surveillance has had a chilling effect on journalism and on the practice of the law in the U.S. Meanwhile, the armed forces and intelligence agencies in these countries demand, and generally receive, unwavering support from their citizens. When they commit torture or war crimes, no matter how illegal or depraved, there is little expectation of a full accounting or of the prosecution of the parties responsible.
The scale, intensity, and manner of the solidarity that we are seeing for the victims of the Paris killings, encouraging as it may be, indicates how easy it is in Western societies to focus on radical Islamism as the real, or the only, enemy. This focus is part of the consensus about mournable bodies, and it often keeps us from paying proper attention to other, ongoing, instances of horrific carnage around the world: abductions and killings in Mexico, hundreds of children (and more than a dozen journalists) killed in Gaza by Israel last year, internecine massacres in the Central African Republic, and so on. And, even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this week—or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others.
France is in sorrow today, and will be for many weeks to come. We mourn with France. We ought to. But it is also true that violence from “our” side continues unabated. By this time next month, in all likelihood, many more “young men of military age” and many others, neither young nor male, will have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. If past strikes are anything to go by, many of these people will be innocent of wrongdoing. Their deaths will be considered as natural and incontestable as deaths like Menocchio’s, under the Inquisition. Those of us who are writers will not consider our pencils broken by such killings. But that incontestability, that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.
Originally published here.
This is the fifth in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor in the department of comparative literature and the program of critical theory at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of numerous influential books, including “Dispossession: The Performative in the Political,” which she co-authored with Athena Athanasiou. She will publish a book on public assemblies with Harvard University Press this year. — George Yancy
George Yancy: In your 2004 book, “Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence,” you wrote, “The question that preoccupies me in the light of recent global violence is, Who counts as human? Whose lives count as lives?” You wrote that about the post-9/11 world, but it appears to also apply to the racial situation here in the United States. In the wake of the recent killings of unarmed black men and women by police, and the failure to prosecute the killers, the message being sent to black communities is that they don’t matter, that they are “disposable.” Posters reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot,” “I Can’t Breathe,” communicate the reality of a specific kind of racial vulnerability that black people experience on a daily basis. How does all this communicate to black people that their lives don’t matter?
Judith Butler: Perhaps we can think about the phrase “black lives matter.” What is implied by this statement, a statement that should be obviously true, but apparently is not? If black lives do not matter, then they are not really regarded as lives, since a life is supposed to matter. So what we see is that some lives matter more than others, that some lives matter so much that they need to be protected at all costs, and that other lives matter less, or not at all. And when that becomes the situation, then the lives that do not matter so much, or do not matter at all, can be killed or lost, can be exposed to conditions of destitution, and there is no concern, or even worse, that is regarded as the way it is supposed to be. The callous killing of Tamir Rice and the abandonment of his body on the street is an astonishing example of the police murdering someone considered disposable and fundamentally ungrievable.
When we are taking about racism, and anti-black racism in the United States, we have to remember that under slavery black lives were considered only a fraction of a human life, so the prevailing way of valuing lives assumed that some lives mattered more, were more human, more worthy, more deserving of life and freedom, where freedom meant minimally the freedom to move and thrive without being subjected to coercive force. But when and where did black lives ever really get free of coercive force? One reason the chant “Black Lives Matter” is so important is that it states the obvious but the obvious has not yet been historically realized. So it is a statement of outrage and a demand for equality, for the right to live free of constraint, but also a chant that links the history of slavery, of debt peonage, segregation, and a prison system geared toward the containment, neutralization and degradation of black lives, but also a police system that more and more easily and often can take away a black life in a flash all because some officer perceives a threat.
So let us think about what this is: the perception of a threat. One man is leaving a store unarmed, but he is perceived as a threat. Another man is in a chokehold and states that he cannot breathe, and the chokehold is not relaxed, and the man dies because he is perceived as a threat. Mike Brown and Eric Garner. We can name them, but in the space of this interview, we cannot name all the black men and women whose lives are snuffed out all because a police officer perceives a threat, sees the threat in the person, sees the person as pure threat. Perceived as a threat even when unarmed or completely physically subdued, or lying in the ground, as Rodney King clearly was, or coming back home from a party on the train and having the audacity to say to a policeman that he was not doing anything wrong and should not be detained: Oscar Grant. We can see the videos and know what is obviously true, but it is also obviously true that police and the juries that support them obviously do not see what is obvious, or do not wish to see.
So the police see a threat when there is no gun to see, or someone is subdued and crying out for his life, when they are moving away or cannot move. These figures are perceived as threats even when they do not threaten, when they have no weapon, and the video footage that shows precisely this is taken to be a ratification of the police’s perception. The perception is then ratified as a public perception at which point we not only must insist on the dignity of black lives, but name the racism that has become ratified as public perception.
In fact, the point is not just that black lives can be disposed of so easily: they are targeted and hunted by a police force that is becoming increasingly emboldened to wage its race war by every grand jury decision that ratifies the point of view of state violence. Justifying lethal violence in the name of self-defense is reserved for those who have a publicly recognized self to defend. But those whose lives are not considered to matter, whose lives are perceived as a threat to the life that embodies white privilege can be destroyed in the name of that life. That can only happen when a recurrent and institutionalized form of racism has become a way of seeing, entering into the presentation of visual evidence to justify hateful and unjustified and heartbreaking murder.
So it is not just that black lives matter, though that must be said again and again. It is also that stand-your-ground and racist killings are becoming increasingly normalized, which is why intelligent forms of collective outrage have become obligatory.
G.Y.: The chant “Black Lives Matter” is also a form of what you would call “a mode of address.” You discuss questions of address in your essay, “Violence, Nonviolence: Sartre and Fanon,” where Fanon, for example, raises significant questions about sociality in talking about his freedom in relationship to a “you.” “Black Lives Matter” says something like: “You — white police officers — recognize my/our humanity!” But what if the “you,” in this case, fails to be moved, refuses to be touched by that embodied chant? And given that “racism has become a way of seeing,” is it not necessary that we — as you say in your essay “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia”— install “an antiracist hegemony over the visual field”?
J.B.: Sometimes a mode of address is quite simply a way of speaking to or about someone. But a mode of address may also describe a general way of approaching another such that one presumes who the other is, even the meaning and value of their existence. We address each other with gesture, signs and movement, but also through media and technology. We make such assumptions all the time about who that other is when we hail someone on the street (or we do not hail them). That is someone I greet; the other is someone I avoid. That other may well be someone whose very existence makes me cross to the other side of the road.
Indeed, in the case of schematic racism, anti-black racism figures black people through a certain lens and filter, one that can quite easily construe a black person, or another racial minority, who is walking toward us as someone who is potentially, or actually, threatening, or is considered, in his very being, a threat. In fact, as we can doubtless see from the videos that have swept across the global media, it may be that even when a black man is moving away from the police, that man is still considered to be a threat or worth killing, as if that person were actually moving toward the police brandishing a weapon. Or it could be that a black man or woman is reaching for his or her identification papers to show to the police, and the police see in that gesture of compliance — hand moving toward pocket — a reach for a gun. Is that because, in the perception of the police, to be black is already to be reaching for a gun? Or a black person is sleeping on the couch, standing, walking, or even running, clearly brandishing no gun, and there turns out to be evidence that there is no gun, still that life is snuffed out – why? Is the gun imagined into the scene, or retrospectively attributed to the standing or fleeing figure (and the grand jury nods, saying “this is plausible.”)? And why when that person is down, already on the ground, and seeks to lift himself, or seated against a subway grate, and seeks to speak on his own behalf, or is utterly subdued and imperiled by the chokehold, he never stops looming as a threat to security, prompting a policeman to beat him or gun him down?
It may be important to see the twisted vision and the inverted assumptions that are made in the course of building a “case” that the police acted in self-defense or were sufficiently provoked to use lethal force. The fleeing figure is coming this way; the nearly strangled person is about to unleash force; the man on the ground will suddenly spring to life and threaten the life of the one who therefore takes his life.
These are war zones of the mind that play out on the street. At least in these cases that have galvanized the nation and the world in protest, we all see the twisted logic that results in the exoneration of the police who take away the lives of unarmed black men and women. And why is that the case? It is not because what the police and their lawyers present as their thinking in the midst of the situation is very reasonable. No, it is because that form of thinking is becoming more “reasonable” all the time. In other words, every time a grand jury or a police review board accepts this form of reasoning, they ratify the idea that blacks are a population against which society must be defended, and that the police defend themselves and (white) society, when they preemptively shoot unarmed black men in public space. At stake is a way that black people are figured as a threat even when they are simply living their lives, walking the street, leaving the convenience store, riding the subway, because in those instances this is only a threatening life, or a threat to the only kind of life, white life, that is recognized.
G.Y.: What has led us to this place?
J.B.: Racism has complex origins, and it is important that we learn the history of racism to know what has led us to this terrible place. But racism is also reproduced in the present, in the prison system, new forms of population control, increasing economic inequality that affects people of color disproportionately. These forms of institutionalized destitution and inequality are reproduced through these daily encounters — the disproportionate numbers of minorities stopped and detained by the police, and the rising number of those who fall victim to police violence. The figure of the black person as threat, as criminal, as someone who is, no matter where he is going, already-on-the-way-to-prison, conditions these pre-emptive strikes, attributing lethal aggression to the very figure who suffers it most. The lives taken in this way are not lives worth grieving; they belong to the increasing number of those who are understood as ungrievable, whose lives are thought not to be worth preserving.
But, of course, what we are also seeing in the recent and continuing assemblies, rallies and vigils is an open mourning for those whose lives were cut short and without cause, brutally extinguished. The practices of public mourning and political demonstration converge: when lives are considered ungrievable, to grieve them openly is protest. So when people assemble in the street, arrive at rallies or vigils, demonstrate with the aim of opposing this form of racist violence, they are “speaking back” to this mode of address, insisting on what should be obvious but is not, namely, that these lost lives are unacceptable losses.
On the one hand, there is a message, “Black Lives Matter,” which always risks being misheard (“What? Only black lives matter?”) or not heard at all (“these are just people who will protest anything”). On the other hand, the assembly, even without words, enacts the message in its own way. For it is often in public spaces where such violence takes place, so reclaiming public space to oppose both racism and violence is an act that reverberates throughout the public sphere through various media.
G.Y.: I’ve heard that some white people have held signs that read “All Lives Matter.”
J.B.: When some people rejoin with “All Lives Matter” they misunderstand the problem, but not because their message is untrue. It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered, and are struggling to matter in the way they deserve.
Claiming that “all lives matter” does not immediately mark or enable black lives only because they have not been fully recognized as having lives that matter. I do not mean this as an obscure riddle. I mean only to say that we cannot have a race-blind approach to the questions: which lives matter? Or, which lives are worth valuing? If we jump too quickly to the universal formulation, “all lives matter,” then we miss the fact that black people have not yet been included in the idea of “all lives.” That said, it is true that all lives matter (we can then debate about when life begins or ends). But to make that universal formulation concrete, to make that into a living formulation, one that truly extends to all people, we have to foreground those lives that are not mattering now, to mark that exclusion, and militate against it. Achieving that universal, “all lives matter,” is a struggle, and that is part of what we are seeing on the streets. For on the streets we see a complex set of solidarities across color lines that seek to show what a concrete and living sense of bodies that matter can be.
G.Y: When you talk about lives that matter, are you talking about how whiteness and white bodies are valorized? In “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,” you discuss gender as “a stylized repetition of acts.” Do you also see whiteness as “a stylized repetition of acts” that solidifies and privileges white bodies, or even leads to naïve, “post-racial” universal formulations like “all lives matter”?
J.B.: Yes, we can certainly talk about “doing whiteness” as a way of putting racial categories into action, since whiteness is part of what we call “race,” and is often implicitly or explicitly part of a race project that seeks to achieve and maintain dominance for white people. One way this happens is by establishing whiteness as the norm for the human, and blackness as a deviation from the human or even as a threat to the human, or as something not quite human. Under such perceptual conditions built up through the history of racism, it becomes increasingly easy for white people to accept the destruction of black lives as status quo, since those lives do not fit the norm of “human life” they defend. It is true that Frantz Fanon sometimes understood whiteness in gendered terms: a black man is not a man, according to the white norms that define manhood, and yet other times the black man is figured as the threat of rape, hyper-masculinized, threatening the “virgin sanctity” of whiteness.
In that last formulation whiteness is figured as a young virgin whose future husband is white — this characterization ratifies the sentiments that oppose miscegenation and defend norms or racial purity. But whose sexuality is imperiled in this scene? After all, black women and girls were the ones who were raped, humiliated and disposed of under conditions of slavery, and it was black families who were forcibly destroyed: black kinship was not recognized as kinship that matters. women of color, and black feminists in particular, have struggled for years against being the sexual property of either white male power or black masculinity, against poverty, and against the prison industry, so there are many reasons it is necessary to define racism in ways that acknowledge the specific forms it takes against men, women, and transgendered people of color.
Let us remember, of course, that many black women’s lives are taken by police and by prisons. We can name a few: Yvette Smith, 48, in Texas, unarmed, and killed by police; or Aiyana Stanley-Jones, age 7, killed while sleeping on her father’s couch in Detroit. After all, all of those are among the people on the street, outraged and demonstrating, opposing a lethal power that is becoming more and more normalized and, to that degree, more and more outrageous.
Whiteness is less a property of skin than a social power reproducing its dominance in both explicit and implicit ways. When whiteness is a practice of superiority over minorities, it monopolizes the power of destroying or demeaning bodies of color. The legal system is engaged in reproducing whiteness when it decides that the black person can and will be punished more severely than the white person who commits the same infraction, when that same differential is at work in the question, who can and will be detained? And who can and will be sent to prison with a life sentence or the death penalty? Angela Davis has shown the disproportionate number of Americans of color (black and Latino) detained, imprisoned and on death row. This has become a “norm” that effectively says “black lives do not matter,” one that is built up over time, through daily practices, modes of address, through the organization of schools, work, prison, law and media. Those are all ways that the conceit of white superiority is constructed.
G.Y.: Yes. Whiteness, as a set of historical practices, extends beyond the skin. And yet, when a person with white skin walks into a store, it is assumed that she is not a threat. So, there is an entire visual technology that is complicit here, where the skin itself, as it were, is the marker of innocence. It is a visual technology that reinforces not only her sense of innocence, but that organizes the ways in which she gets to walk through space without being profiled or stopped. Hence, she contributes to the perpetuation of racial injustice even if she is unaware of doing so.
J.B.: Well, of course, class is also there as a marker of how anyone is perceived entering the door to the public building, the office, the post office, the convenience store. Class is in play when white people fail to look “moneyed” or are considered as working class, poor or homeless, so we have to be clear that the “white” person we may be talking about can be struggling with inequality of another kind: whiteness has its own internal hierarchies, to be sure. Of course there are white people who may be very convinced that they are not racist, but that does not necessarily mean that they have examined, or worked though, how whiteness organizes their lives, values, the institutions they support, how they are implicated in ways of talking, seeing, and doing that constantly and tacitly discriminate. Undoing whiteness has to be difficult work, but it starts, I think, with humility, with learning history, with white people learning how the history of racism persists in the everyday vicissitudes of the present, even as some of us may think we are “beyond” such a history, or even convinced that we have magically become “post-racial.” It is difficult and ongoing work, calling on an ethical disposition and political solidarity that risks error in the practice of solidarity.
Whiteness is not an abstraction; its claim to dominance is fortified through daily acts which may not seem racist at all precisely because they are considered “normal.” But just as certain kinds of violence and inequality get established as “normal” through the proceedings that exonerate police of the lethal use of force against unarmed black people, so whiteness, or rather its claim to privilege, can be disestablished over time. This is why there must be a collective reflection on, and opposition to, the way whiteness takes hold of our ideas about whose lives matter. The norm of whiteness that supports both violence and inequality insinuates itself into the normal and the obvious. Understood as the sometimes tacit and sometimes explicit power to define the boundaries of kinship, community and nation, whiteness inflects all those frameworks within which certain lives are made to matter less than others.
It is always possible to do whiteness otherwise, to engage in a sustained and collective practice to question how racial differentiation enters into our daily evaluations of which lives deserve to be supported, to flourish, and which do not. But it is probably an error, in my view, for white people to become paralyzed with guilt and self-scrutiny. The point is rather to consider those ways of valuing and devaluing life that govern our own thinking and acting, understanding the social and historical reach of those ways of valuing. It is probably important and satisfying as well to let one’s whiteness recede by joining in acts of solidarity with all those who oppose racism. There are ways of fading out whiteness, withdrawing its implicit and explicit claim to racial privilege.
Demonstrations have the potential to embody forms of equality that we want to see realized in the world more broadly. Working against those practices and institutions that refuse to recognize and mark the powers of state racism in particular, assemblies gather to mourn and resist the deadly consequences of such powers. When people engage in concerted actions across racial lines to build communities based on equality, to defend the rights of those who are disproportionately imperiled to have a chance to live without the fear of dying quite suddenly at the hands of the police. There are many ways to do this, in the street, the office, the home, and in the media. Only through such an ever-growing cross-racial struggle against racism can we begin to achieve a sense of all the lives that really do matter.
This interview was conducted by email and edited. Previous interviews in this series can be found here.
George Yancy is a professor of philosophy at Duquesne University. He has written, edited and co-edited numerous books, including “Black Bodies, White Gazes,” “Look, a White!” and “Pursuing Trayvon Martin,” co-edited with Janine Jones.
Originally published here.