Monday, October 01, 2007

Two, Three, Many Burmas

With the protests in Burma slowed--perhaps only temporarily--I thought I'd post a few updates on the situation:

I wrote earlier wondering what the protests would mean for China. A visit to Boxun's international news page shows Burma, Burma and Burma (and yes, people in China do read Boxun). John Kennedy has a nice translation in Global Voices of Chinese blog posts in support of the protesters. There are plenty of Chinese e-mail calls to action floating around, some of which I've received.

H.H. the Dalai Lama came out in support of the monks early on in clear terms. Archbishop Desmond Tutu just spoke out forcefully, too, linking the repression to the Beijing Games. There were big protests in Japan (who lost a reporter to the repression) and, of course, the Southeast Asian nations neighboring Burma.

The Burmese protests are casting an even wider net, though. Pakistan's civil society was dealt another beating--and tear gassing--the other day when lawyers, political activists (such as Fariq Tarooq, head of the Labor Party of Pakistan) and journalists were brutally attacked by riot police right outside the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Writing in The News, Ayesha Tammy Haq has the following to say:

There are two countries in this world ruled by military dictators, Pakistan and Myanmar, formerly Burma. Both have seen peaceful protests turn violent and currently both are in the news with a new series of protests and resultant police brutality. In Myanmar the monks are out in their orange and rust robes while Pakistan is a sea of black coats. Fortunately for Myanmar, it has in Aung San Suu Kyi a political leader in residence with commitment and vision. We in Pakistan are not as fortunate. Our political leaders, tainted by scandals involving financial malfeasance and stories of power-sharing deals with the very people who carry out these and other excesses, lack moral authority.

Sadly, Haq adds:

While the western powers are willing to condemn the brutality in Myanmar they are not so quick to do so in Pakistan. Burma's military junta is not a part in the so-called war against terror and Al Qaeda is not growing like a fungus in the Shan Mountains.

We can and should demand that Bush act in a more even-handed manner. Certainly, when Israeli troops recently opened fire at a crowd of Palestinians waiting at the Erez crossing in Gaza, wounding a fourteen year old, Bush could have said something. He might also have spoken out about Egypt's recent roundups of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Or come out strongly about the Philippines' grisly record of 33 murdered trade unionists last year.

But the obvious hollowness of the Burmese leaders' recent claim--that criticism of them amounts to neo-colonialism--only serves to emphasize that events in Burma have moved beyond Bush and the support-counter-reaction-support that he inspires. The situation is bigger than him. And it may even be the case in Rangoon, in this one instance, that he can't mess things up.

There might be a wonderful solidarity in the works.

Benedict Anderson describes how novels gave eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century people a sense of nation, the idea of several characters, several lives being lived across a "single" culture in any given instant.

Reading about the beginning of the twentieth century I've often been struck by how people then seem to have felt that they were living something else, even bigger than the nations written of by Anderson, how they identified with struggles in Italy, Russia, Spain, China, etc. The enduring image in my mind (from, admittedly, the novel "Ragtime") is of U.S. workers packing a union hall to raise money for Mexican revolutionaries.

That's all nostalgia on my part--and nostalgia for something before my time, to boot!--but the sympathy that these Burmese protests have ignited abroad is real. I hope it shows the way to a truer movement for democracy--and social justice, too--than has been possible these past nigh-on-eight years.

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