God's Politics

God's Politics

Upheaval in Burma (by Richard Deats)

Suddenly the media was reporting that thousands of protesters were marching in Rangoon, Burma (or Yangon, Myanmar, as it is officially called since the governing military junta renamed it in 1990). And the front ranks were led by Buddhist monks in brown robes holding banners that said, “Love and kindness must win over everything.” Nuns in their pink robes were also present in growing numbers.

The protests were sparked by a 500 percent price rise in fuel costs put in place on Aug. 19 (without announcement or explanation, not thought necessary by the dictatorial rulers). For a country mired in poverty and harsh repression, the resulting rise in prices of necessities caused mounting anger. Despite the fear of speaking out against the government, protests began to spread across the country. In the town of Bago, about 50 persons marched, though without signs or chants. They were arrested and jailed. As word spread, 2000 people turned out, linked arms around the jail, and refused to leave until the 50 persons were released. In another town, Cheuk, about 100 marched four abreast and keeping several meters apart (to circumvent the law of no gatherings of more than five). After a brutal Sept. 5 crackdown on monks demonstrating in central Burma, the armed forces refused to apologize as demanded by the monks.

Protests grew, and by the third week of September, thousands, then tens of thousands of monks marched, most dramatically in the two major cities of Yangon and Mandalay, with up to 100,000 monks and increasing numbers of civilians. The military even allowed hundreds of monks to march to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years. A revered leader in the tradition of Gandhian nonviolence, she has long called for a “revolution of the Spirit.” Her phone lines cut, her writings banned, photos and even the speaking of her name forbidden, she nonetheless has a mystical hold on the people. When she came out of her house, the monks chanted the Metta Sutta, the Buddha’s words on loving kindness, and others called out, “be free very soon.”

To date, the government has responded with increasing brute force, even invading monasteries and dragging monks off to prison. Worldwide condemnation has come to the country except from its chief economic partners—mainly China, but also India and Russia.

I was in Yangon just before the largest marches began, having been invited there by Burmese activists to do a workshop on Gandhian nonviolence. We met in homes and out-of-the-way restaurants, hoping to be faithful to Suu Kyi’s admonition “to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.”

Richard Deats, is editor emeritus of Fellowship magazine, the International FOR governing committee, and author of Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Liberator. You can sign an emergency petition to China’s president Hu Jintao and the UN Security Council at Follow this story at Irrawaddy News, covering Burma and Southeast Asia.

Comments read comments(12)
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Mark P (the Yank)

posted October 1, 2007 at 6:50 pm

God bless you and your work, Richard, though I fear that it is not enough. Rest in His Sovereignty.

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posted October 1, 2007 at 9:33 pm

Nice to see that you and the others are feeling good thanks to your belief in Gandhi and nonviolent resistance. Meanwhile, the people you are supposedly are trying to help are being slaughtered by the thousands.And you all criticize Bush for being a poor tactician.

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Rick Nowlin

posted October 1, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Meanwhile, the people you are supposedly are trying to help are being slaughtered by the thousands.
And what would you do? Send in troops and risk political calamity a la Iraq?

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Free Burma!

posted October 2, 2007 at 7:51 am

Free Burma!
International Bloggers’ Day for Burma on the 4th of October
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!“.

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posted October 2, 2007 at 10:54 am

So MadHatter, you prefer Bush’s slaughter by the hundreds of thousands?
The Idea of nonviolent warfare is not to kill your enemy by being a better killer, and promoting the best killer to leadership , but to change your enemies, to move them toward justice. To compel them to behave humanely.
It is just as dangerous as warfare.
Until now , Bush republicans and multinational capitalists have been very comfortable with Burma because of the cheap labor and lack of eco and safety standards. This hypocrisy in our national policy remained even after the junta leaders killed upwards of 3000 people in 1988. It is a policy of both parties.
These non-violent tactics are not being imposed from without. They have their roots in Nonviolent Buddhism, Non Violent Hinduism , Nonviolent Christianity, and are particularly intrinsic to Buddhism .
One of the great leaders of nonviolent peacework in this country is Thich Nhat Hanh a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. ML King was inspired by Mahatma Ghandi , who was profoundly inspired by the Christian writings of Leo Tolstoy. Christian communities with strong pacifist committments include the Quakers, Mennonites, Hutterites, Church of the Brethren, Shakers, Franciscans, and several others.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. As you sow so shall you reap.

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posted October 2, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Bush’s tactics have resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis; there are millions of refugees and a growing civil war. The idea of nonviolent resistance is to change the conscience of the oppressors so that their tactics become morally indefensible, and they willingly release their unjust grip on power. Violence only empowers the best killers.
Gandhi was far from the first to use this tactic though he was one of history’s most effective. Much of Ghandi’si ideas were developed by reading the Christian writings of Tolstoy , though he also drew from Buddhism and a vonviolent version of Hinduism. The non-violent tactics of the monks and citizens of Burma are inherently Buddhist and have been followed for decades. One of the leading Non violent peace workers and theoreticians in the world is Tich Nat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk.
The last time there was a massacre in Burma of those calling for democracy was in 1988. Neither democratic nor republican presidents put strong sanctions or actions to isolate and shame Burma because Burma is a favored area of investment by multinationals because of cheap labor and lack of eco and safety controls. Chevron is a huge investor there and Israel sold fighter jets and artillery to the murderous tyrants of Burma. The US has an unsavory bi-partisan history of supporting tyrants for economic or geopolitical reasons. We are also in a position, through our faith in globalism of being increasingly dependent on China, who is Myanmar/Burma’s strongest ally. So we are unable to criticise China when they kill and jail pro democracy workers and have a very weak position to influence Burma.
Nonviolence is deeply Christian, but it is dangerous as early Christian martyrs know; it calls for a transcendent faith in justice and the power of truth and love to truly change the heart.

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posted October 2, 2007 at 3:30 pm

Sorry for the 2nd edition. the 1st didn’t seem to have gone through.

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