Myanmar is in the news today because of a huge problem with hundreds of thousands of refugees in the border area of western Rakhine state (Arakan) and neighbouring Bangladesh. Hardly anyone knows about the far more reaching process of Reconciliation the country is in, after fifty years of military regime. This is an attempt to change the course of history comparable to South Africa after the Apartheid regime.
News reporting is fully dominated by mainstream media like Reuter, CNN, New York Times, BBC and Al Jazeera, and the English newspaper The Guardian. Opinions of United Nations (update June 2019: UN made huge mistakes in dealing with Myanmar, plus inaccuracies in this report by Derek Tonkin), European Union and human rights (‘the new religion of the West‘) NGO’s like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights and MSF are generally being reproduced totally uncritically. I’m also totally not impressed by Western ‘Dhamma magazines’ – such as Tricycle and Lion’s Roar – about this case. I might call it typically lazy thinking.
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks of an iceberg of disinformation. Mainstram media at most look at the top of the iceberg, and totally forget that the most important part of an iceberg is the unseen part. This is called delusion or stupidity by the Buddha.
In Myanmar itself there is a totally different vision on the issue, which goes back until about two hundred years. British colonial era until 1948 and fifty years of isolation during military regime from 1962 have not been conductive for the facts to become common knowledge in the West. Problems did not start since the people of Myanmar do have smartphones and did show up on Facebook.
Aung San Suu Kyi in her speech of September 19 2017 on ‘National Reconciliation and Peace’ makes an appeal to the rest of the world to broaden their knowledge about it. Remarkably enough she explicitly mentions the need of generosity and courage to do so. As a practising buddhist she will most probably refer to attachment to opinions in this respect.
Do not denounce too easily. A recent example (October 2019): theatre group members in jail because of satire (The Irrawaddy).
I am pretty sure someone like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands when in Myanmar would have been long time imprisoned (as was the case with ‘ultra nationalist’ – actually fugitive – monk U Wirathu), instead of being demonised as right wing, populist or you name it, and being forced to live in strong custody. So in today’s Western Europe opinions that are not mainstream tend to be judged in a so to speak more subtle way. But is that a higher sense of civilization? Mind you: in today’s Western Europe there are terrorist attacks because of satire (cartoons for instance).
I have a clear impression in Myanmar it is the relationship between law and morality that is different from that in the West. In other words: morality is much more integrated in the law system. Is that good? Is that bad? Or shall we let it be a fact. As Harold Fielding did remark in 1898:
“Their laws and their methods of enforcing the law were those of a very young people. But, notwithstanding this, there was a spirit in their laws different from and superior to ours.” (Harold Fielding Hall, The Soul of a People. 1898 p. 104 – see also here)
Below one finds information gathered by me since August 2017. I will conclude with some general remarks.
Of Myanmar’s (or Burma’s) 53 million inhabitants 89% do consider themselves buddhist. The teaching (Dhamma) of the Buddha has settled down itself within the minds of its people during more than 2000 years. They are harbouring the Dhamma as a precious treasure. The meaning of that can only be understood when someone did at least make a beginning with practicing it. (Otherwise one thinks too easily that all religions amount to the same thing.) Nowadays, in the 21th century, in Myanmar one is well aware of a certain decay, also in morality, as Sayadaw U Pandita remarked clearly. Fear will definitely not be helpful in that, but rather an energetic revival from within.
Apart from that there is a fear for islamization of the country which is incomprehensible for outsiders, (who just compare 89% Buddhists to 4% Muslims). However, buddhists all over the world do know very well that pre-eminently they are those who are considered by muslims as ‘infidels’ and ‘idol worshippers’. And that – to put it mildly – this is not something of which muslims tend to think lightly as something which they consider the buddhists’ own responsibility. Islam has a dramatic track record in how in the course of centuries it spread itself throughout Asia (e.g. Nalanda), and also in how it does not even stop short in mutual battling
Documentary (2019) by Danish Karen Stokkendal Poulsen about Myanmar in its process of Reconciliation.
This is the title of a book written in 1898 by Harold Fielding Hall, who during his service in the British occupying forces got very impressed by the Burmese people.
In 1934 George Orwell published Burmese Days, about a British colonial.
In 2002, 2012 and 2019 German Jan-Philipp Sendker writes three books about the people of Myanmar.
Rakhine or Arakan is the part of Myanmar where the ‘Rohingya’ conflict takes place. The situation is even more complicated because of animosity between Arakan and Myanmar.
Nobel Peace Prize winner 1991 has been strongly criticized, but it seems to leave her cold wisely.
Sayadaw U Pandita’s (1921 – 2016) last advise to his country for reconciliation.
Some non (or less) prejudiced journalists, diplomats and academics do speak out.