September 28, 2007

Burmese Days

First off, "Burma" or "Myanmar"? As we know, this goes beyond mere semantics, into ethical dilemmas.

Agree with a criminally stupid American President - I mean, part of me suspects that all this is simply because he can't pronounce "Myanmar" or doesn't know whether it's "Myamarian" or "Myanmarese"?

Laugh at the Orwellian situation of the current British Prime Minister declaring "the age of impunity" is over about a few months after his war criminal of a predecessor left the scene with the impunity that only the powerful enjoy?

What is the appropriate balance between helping the powerless out and ensuring that we ourselves do not align with the hegemonic project that weakens them further in the long run?

Secondly, as a firm secularist who believes in the separation of religion and politics, I would like to applaud the Burmese regime for going into the monasteries and mercilessly beating up these impertinent RELIGIOUS monks full of medieval ancient ideas who are telling these honourable, expert, MODERN men how to run their country.

Anyone who's a regular at this blog knows exactly how much sarcasm went into the above. I'd laugh if the situation were a bit less dire. But our own "secularists" better come up with an explanation if they want to support the Burmese democracy movement.

But I suppose this explains one perplexing question at least: why India has remained silent. Obviously, the world's biggest democracy does not want to sacrifice its "real practice of secularism". I'm kidding of course: Indian realpolitik would embarrass Machiavelli. Or Chanakya for that matter!

Thirdly, (and this relates thematically with my first point), BBC reports:

"In a sign that the military junta is afraid of foreign radio and satellite TV coverage of the protests and the crackdown, the state-run media has begun to blame foreign media for inciting the trouble.

The Light of Myanmar newspaper said: "Saboteurs from inside and outside the nation and some foreign radio stations, who are jealous of national peace and development, have been making instigative acts through lies to cause internal instability and civil commotion."

Any parallels with Bangladesh and the rhetoric emanating from a certain Barrister gifted with Extra-Conspiracy-Perception (ECP) is of course unintentional. Last thing I want is to have this blog blocked by people with heightened ECP.

Fourthly, and with all seriousness, let us acknowledge one simple truth: a "government" that fires on its own people loses its right to rule. Maybe not all at once, but certainly incrementally. Power might derive from the barrel of a gun, but legitimacy derives over ensuring that obedience to power is not completely against the interests of those supposed to be obeying. And legitimacy, not power, is what ensures longevity and leads to prosperity.

Just something to think about.....


Anonymous said...

Asif, secular does not mean devoid of religion. There are many examples of religious leaders participating in or leading democratic movements: Bishop Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King, Archbishop Romero come immediately to mind (I will keep my examples far away from the land of our birth so that the conversation does not get derailed! :)).

The problem is not religion, it never has been. The problem is religious groups trying to impose their religion on others, often by force. Mature democracies protect religious freedom. That is why many religions find a home in a democracy, where they can practice without being persecuted.

I am not comfortable with the "secular" vs "religious" divide. Many religious people are firm believers in democracy. Anyone who believes that there is no place for religious people in a democracy is not a "secularist", but a bigot.

I see no contradiction in Burmese monks joining the movement for democracy. I would be surprised if they did not. What we have seen all around the world is that people of conscience always come together to resist oppression.

My prayers are with the Burmese people today as they face another day under the gun.

asif said...


I couldn't agree more. Let me just say here that my little rants were not aimed at you or a lot of other people who use secularism with a broad tolerance for all ideas.

I'm not comfortable with that divide either. I understand that it is a product of our history. It's just that a lot of people try to battle Jamaat by making over-arching comments about religion; or battle for secularism by focussing on the ignominy that is Jamaat. Either way, intellectually dishonest you see.

By no means will I compare Muslim religious leaders with these brave monks. It takes a lot of courage to oppose power. They have not shown that sort of balls in over a century.

Once again, I never counted you as one of the people my criticism was aimed at.

Anonymous said...

Asif, I didn't take it personally :)

You raised a pretty important question. I just wanted to lay down a marker on this as a way of answering that question. Too often the conversation devolves into "secular" vs. "religious" - these terms become caricatures.

Just as Islamists co-opt religion, sometimes bigotry tries to co-opt secularism as well.

So, your rants are much appreciated.