The Responsibility of the Oppressed

Whatever happened to the segment of the educated Myanmar or Burmese of all ethnic and religious backgrounds? When do we take responsibility for the failures of a society of which we play shapers and makers of public opinions? 

Except in situation involving inmates in what the renowned American sociologist Ervin Goffman calls 'total institutions', that is, the military, mental 'asylums' and prisons, there is also room for resistance and its ultimate aim, namely liberation.

The fact that Myanmar public, particularly those members with intellectual, cultural, ideological and spiritual influence over the rest of the society, have failed to stand up for the most wretched of Myanmar or Burma, the Rohingya is irrefutable.

This is a categorical societal failure, which cannot be explained adequately, much less defended, by saying that the oppressive military leaderships have systematically undermined the people's ability to think and act progressively. 

Yes, since 1962, Myanmar has been ruled by the anti-intellectual and deeply racist military leaderships, with the support of the Establishment Intellectuals and Professionals (opinion makers and technocrats).

Yes, the military has made serious attempts at propaganda shaping the public opinion on matters of strategic importance, such as the public's attitude and perspectives towards individuals, groups and communities whom the generals deem "threats to national security".

But a society, however oppressed is, not a total institution, like the armed forces, "mental asylums" and prisons. 

In fact, Myanmar's elites have never been intellectually or culturally cut off from the outside world.

Yes, the first 25 or 26 years of the military rule under General Ne Win was effectively isolationist - 'neutralist' as Ne Win put it. That stance was supported by the United States Government that wanted Ne Win to not align itself with either China or USSR.

But following the 8.8.88 uprisings, the isolation of the Burmese society effectively crumbled. Estimated 10,000 Myanmar activists and "average" citizens fled the country into Myanmar's immediate neighbourhoods such as Thailand and India.

Out of these 10,000, hundreds reached Western liberal societies. Scores of them received tremendous educational opportunities to resume their disrupted university and professional education some in world's top universities and colleges.

Educational opportunities completely free from Myanmar's dictatorial regimes since 1962 mean or ought to mean the cultivation of critical intellectual (ability to think for oneself) and a more progressive mindset.

Besides these 8888-incubated or -resultant Myanmar dissidents abroad, there are estimated 4-5 million Burmese. Not all of them are engaged in modern day-slavery such as shrimp farming and rubber plantation, or domestic servitude such as working as maids across the first-tiered ASEAN economies such as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Some are employed in educational and professional sectors. 

Additionally, the number of Burmese who have received educational opportunities through the grant programs of the Open Society Institution (OSI) - renamed Open Society Foundations - and Aung San Suu Kyi's Prospect Burma are certainly in the thousands.

Then there are children of the military ruling class who have managed to evade visa ban lists to study and/or obtain foreign citizenships in English speaking liberal societies such as USA, Canada, UK, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, etc. 

And there is another segment of the Burmese public that have also been receiving 'capacity training' since the military began allowing back in Western NGOs engaged in so-called civil society over the last 25 years. From the NGO reports the number of Burma or Myanmar people who have received "capacity training" are in the hundreds of thousands - if not in the millions. 

And what of the Oxford-educated Aung San Suu Kyi, and her decades of life in liberal North Oxford? 

These combined educational and capacity building opportunities should mean something intellectually substantive and transformative in the recipients.

There is a point in the course of oppression, however systematic and ruthless, the oppressed must bear the responsibility for their own internal, spiritual, intellectual and personal failure to break their own silence, and to stand with the most wretched amongst them.

The Burmese military leaderships and the System - some of whom I knew and had even worked with when I was attempting to burst Aung San Suu Kyi's mis-guided isolationalist sanctions - they have put in place have never made me powerless or dejected.

But this massive societal failure to break this silence against mass atrocities against a community of humans, whatever their citizenship status or ethnic history within Myanmar is the most demoralizing to me. 

We have a case wherein both the oppressive regime in power and the oppressed public have crossed the line into committing a genocide against the most vulnerable, peaceful ethnic community. 

We as a society and a people (or peoples) cannot blame it on the oppressor - the Burmese generals and their collaborating technocrats, professional advisers and legitimizers. 

When do we bear the responsibility for our thunderous silence in the face of the country's de-humanizing treatment, attitude, policies and practices against the Rohingya?

As Zarganar said in his Guardian article - which I believed was drafted by the former British Ambassador Vicky Bowman - in 2012, how we treat the Rohingya is a 'litmus test' for the country and our people.

We are failing that test. Even the Germans in the Third Reich showed greater level of conscience and compassion for the main target of Nazism - the Jewish victims. 

The public in Burma or Myanmar - Buddhist, Christians, Muslims, "Taiyinthar", etc. most certainly lack cultivated conscience or actionable compassion - in spite of the opportunities for 'capacity building', educational credentials, other educational opportunities and liberal exposure.

This raises the question - which most outside scholars and experts on Burma or Myanmar would consciously avoid- namely, the character of a people or peoples.

Who are we as a people? Are we human enough? When do take responsibility for our own failures and stop blaming it all on the 'system', the oppressors, the oppression?


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