Religion in Retreat: Burma

From the Daily Mail:

Thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle, a former intelligence officer for Burma’s ruling junta has revealed.

The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: “Many more people have been killed in recent days than you’ve heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand.”

Mr Win, who spoke out as a Swedish diplomat predicted that the revolt has failed, said he fled when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men. He has now reached the border with Thailand. …

… Reports from exiles along the frontier confirmed that hundreds of monks had simply “disappeared” as 20,000 troops swarmed around Rangoon yesterday to prevent further demonstrations by religious groups and civilians.

Word reaching dissidents hiding out on the border suggested that as well as executions, some 2,000 monks are being held in the notorious Insein Prison or in university rooms which have been turned into cells.

There were reports that many were savagely beaten at a sports ground on the outskirts of Rangoon, where they were heard crying for help.

This is what we had feared.

Rosalind Russell writes for The Independent:

“We cannot turn back now. Whether it takes a month, a year or more, we will not stop.” With his russet-red robes pulled around his knees, rocking back and forth on a low, wooden stool, the senior monk spoke quietly but determinedly.

Over the past few days, the monk has seen many of his fellow Buddhists rounded up and carted away as Burma’s military regime brutally cracked down on anti-government protests, trying to suck any oxygen away from the flame of revolt. Pools of blood stain monastery doorways, memories linger of monks as young as 15 being clobbered over the head with truncheons and rifle butts.

But in the now-tranquil, tree-filled courtyard in central Rangoon, it is not of these atrocities that the monk, in his early sixties and wishing to remain anonymous, wants to speak. It is the atrocities which the Burmese people have suffered. The people are living under rulers busy enriching themselves with natural gas, timber, diamonds and rubies while spending less on health care per head than nearly any other country on earth. They are living in poverty more akin to sub-Saharan Africa than Asia.

“As monks, we see everything in society. We go everywhere, to ask for our food and we see how people live,” he says. “We know that they give to us when they themselves do not have enough to eat, because there is no work and the costs of living are so high. We also see how the wealthy live. We see how everything is getting worse and worse.” And that is why he is adamant that the fight must continue. “We have already lost too much and the people cannot continue to suffer as they do,” he explained. “We knew well the risks before we started. It is up to us. We have to see this through to the end, whatever the end will be.”

At the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt has a moment of clarity:

Tell China that, as far as the United States is concerned, it can have its Olympic Games or it can have its regime in Burma. It can’t have both.

Here, too, I understand the arguments against: China’s rulers are gradually becoming more responsible in the world; to threaten their Games would only get their backs up. The Games themselves offer a chance to enhance international understanding; if we let world affairs interfere, there will always — every two years — be some cause. The athletes have trained for years; they deserve their chance.

And yet: Hundreds of thousands of Burmese have risked everything — their homes, their families, their lives — to be free. They have done so with nothing on their side but courage, faith and the hope that the world might stand with them. And they still have a chance to succeed.

Whether they do depends mostly on decisions made inside Burma. But people and countries outside can have some effect. Burma’s neighbors in Southeast Asia could do more. The world’s largest democracy, India, could do far more. China could do most of all.

China’s Communist rulers have reasons not to help Burma’s democrats. They enjoy privileged access to Burma’s timber and other resources, for one. Even more fundamentally, dictators will shudder when they see another illegitimate regime threatened by people power.

What could push them the other way? Their desire to be seen as responsible players, maybe. Their desire to have their one-party rule recognized as more sophisticated and legitimate than the paranoid generals of Burma, maybe. And, maybe, their deep desire to host a successful Olympics next summer.

If a threat to those Games — delivered privately, if that would be most effective, with no loss of face — could help tip the balance, then let the Games not begin. Some things matter more.

A UN envoy has arrived in Burma and may or may not meet with junta leaders on Tuesday.

9 thoughts on “Religion in Retreat: Burma

  1. You don’t suppose the Bush regime would do anything to help a democratic movement or injure the bottomline of Wal-Mart, do you?

  2. It would take a boycott staged either by the IOC or a BIG chunk of nations. I wonder who might be able to host the anti-olymics at the same time, with the TV coveage that was reserved for the’real’ Olympics. Discussions of this sort need to begin very soon & very publicly.

  3. Not trying to be naive, but why do the Chinese hate Buddhism so? Damn that we are so indebted to them now, because we have no leverage really.

  4. Not trying to be naive, but why do the Chinese hate Buddhism so?

    It’s not religion that bothers them as much as the authority of religion. It’s a challenge to their authority.

  5. Maha, why do you call this “religion in retreat”?
    what is happening in Burma with the young monks leadership is maybe the most shining and positive thing done by a religious group in decades.

  6. Pingback: Troubling News from Burma | Democratic Policy and Party Talk

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