Saturday, September 29, 2007

Honor And Dishonor In Burma's Saffron Revolution

It is the British newspapers which this week have been giving the most comprehensive coverage to Burma's Saffron Revolution. Two British papers, the London Times and The Scotsman, have managed to get reporters filing from Rangoon, and both had possibly significant reports this morning.

The London Times' reporter, Kenneth Denby, wrote that the United Nations emissary, Ibraham Gambari, has arrived in Burma on a mission to press the junta to cease its bloody repression of the Buddhist monks and ordinary citizens who have been marching in Burmese cities. However, Denby said the Gambari mission may founder at the beginning, because he is asking to meet with the pro-democracy leader, the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the regime won't let him. San Suu Kyi, the legitimate leader of Burma, whose election with 80% of the vote in 1990, was spurned by the junta, was moved this week from house arrest to prison. Denby said there is now an issue whether Gambari will even talk with heads of the junta unless he can see San Suu Kyi.

The Scotsman, with Aung Hla Tun reporting from Rangoon, carried the latest of a few tantalizing reports that the military junta itself is split on its response to the uprising. This report was that the No. 2 man in the junta, Brig. Gen. Maung Aye, who some regard as the eventual replacement for the aging (74) junta chief, Gen. Than Shwe, has resisted the crackdown and has met with San Suu Kyi for talks. This is their report, but it remains unconfirmed. There have also been scattered reports of individual Burmese military units refusing to fire on the crowds.

As the crackdown has confined scores of thousands of monks to monasteries, and arrested hundreds of others, and for the most part cleared the streets of demonstrators, both the New York Times and the Washington Post continue to write about developments from Bangkok. NYT correspondent Seth Mydans and Washington Post writer Edward Cody have written at length, but necessarily have had to rely on reports making their way on the Internet, telephones and shortwave radio from hundreds of miles away, communications which the junta has been trying to disrupt. The Post had an editorial today entitled, "The Saffron Olympics," which criticized China for not doing more to rein in the junta and suggested that its 2008 Olympics could be overshadowed by world revulsion at Chinese association with such corrupt tyrannies as Burma, North Korea, the Sudan and Zimbabwe. The Chinese so far have confined themselves publicly to urging "restraint" on the junta, although after opposing a condemnatory UN Security Council resolution, the Beijing government did agree to the sending of Gambari, the UN emissary. The Japanese, British and American governments have all urged China to adopt a more forthcoming position. The New York Times had a similar editorial to the Post's, and there was an Op Ed Page column in the L.A. Times extolling the value of the Buddhist monks in the Burmese developments.

The least satisfactory coverage of the events in Burma overall has come from the Los Angeles Times, which has no one closer to Rangoon than Henry Chu in New Delhi. While other newspaper Web sites have devoted tremendous space to Burmese developments, Burma has often not even been on page one of the LAT Web site, and it wasn't this morning. The editors of the Times badly need to become more supportive of democracy, both in Burma and the Middle East.

To get back to the title of this blog, let's examine who has behaved honorably and dishonorably thus far in the Saffron Revolution.

Honor certainly must go primarily to the thousands of Buddhist monks who have marched throughout the country demanding democratization. The Christian Science Monitor this week had a poignant editorial about these monks.

"Revered for self-sacrifice," the editorial began, "Buddhist monks in Burma are standing up to the guns of a selfish regime. But these holy men in saffron robes are serving more than a people's desire for freedom. The protests also serve as a reminder of religion's historic role in shaping the kind of moral concern for others that is the root of democracy."

The editorial went on to contrast the Buddhist role in Burma with the bloody terrorism of Islamic fundamentalists who represent the worst side of religion. And it concluded, "Burma's monks probably know they can't rule. Their power lies in being living examples of compassion. Ultimately, as history has shown, these individual expressions of such higher values win the day over tyranny. How else to explain the spread of democracy?"

A picture is circulating in the media today of a small boy holding a sign saying, "Stop Killing Buddhist Monks." And certainly worldwide revulsion against the beating of hundreds of monks and the barricading of their sanctuaries may ultimately influence events for the better in Burma.

And what about the thousands of Burmese civilians who marched with the monks, and held hands in lines to protect them. Honor certainly goes to them.

Honor also to San Suu Kyi. She was married in England and still has two sons living there. At any time in the last 18 years, she could have abandoned her crusade for democracy and returned to England. The junta offered her this many times. The daughter of the founder of a democratic Burma, Aung Kyi, however, has never surrendered, and she greeted the Buddhist marchers at the gateway to her home this week, wearing a yellow dress and tearfully expressing her good wishes. An NBC Nightly News clip showed her urging the Burmese people to stand up against fear. San Suu Kyi is reminiscent of the long struggle of Nelson Mandela against apartheid in South Africa. Let us hope that ultimately, she will be just as successful, and will be able to stand in the halls of the U.S. Congress as Prime Minister of a free Burma and receive the ovation she has so gloriously earned as a person, like Mandela and Abraham Lincoln, who has supreme moral authority and stands for the right.

Honor certainly must go also to the courageous reporters and ordinary people who have used the Internet and other means to inform the world of what has been happening. The Japanese photo journalist Kenji Nagai gave his life in the streets of Rangoon, gunned down by a Burmese soldier while photographing fleeing demonstrators. Certainly, his sacrifice can never be forgotten.

Dishonor to the cruel junta, which has enslaved Burma for 45 years, mismanaged its economy, massacred and imprisoned thousands, and now this week has behaved with fresh disgrace. The junta commander's chief distinction has been the diamonds which he coated his daughter with at her wedding, while most of Burma's 47 million people barely scrape by. What is wrong with this greedy scoundrel?

If the Scotsman report is right, and there are now rifts opening in the junta, that would truly be good news, and consistent with the process of most successful revolutions, the last step of which often comes when the army begins siding with the people.

Dishonor also to the countries that could help put pressure on the junta, especially China, Russia and India, but have not done so. India, a democracy itself, has provided a particularly disheartening example of insouciance. Russia's Vladimir Putin is a big disappointment. The American president, George W. Bush, has tried to put on pressure, but he is not in as strong a position to do so as the great Asian powers, if only they would.

This has been a dramatic week, and despite the crackdown, I believe the Saffron Revolution is by no means over. We can all hope and pray it will ultimately succeed. Those who bring it about will truly be inscribed on a roll of honor.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a worldwide blog support campaign planned for next week, October 4.

Please visit to see details / banners:

9/29/2007 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a short summary of what's planned:

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

9/29/2007 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Tim McGarry said...

This is a wonderful post, Ken. Thanks.

9/29/2007 10:07 AM  

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