Right thinking must lead to action on Burma

31 March 2008

By THAUNG HTUN
Special to Globe and Mail Update
March 27, 2008 at 8:10 PM EDT
[Source - Globe and Mail]

It was Hannah Arendt who wrote that "Under conditions of tyranny, it is easier to act than to think." While none would accuse Burma's Saffron Revolution of being unthinking, the sense of those words hold true. There is a time when thoughts must give way to action.

Yet, just as this notion holds truth, so too does its reverse. That is to say, without the conditions of tyranny, it is easier to think than to act. This appears to be the position of many around the world, who have the privilege of remaining disengaged while seeing images of violence at a distance.

The historic events that continue unfold in Burma today, evolving from peaceful demonstrations late last year, have been detailed in a new report "Bullets in the Alms Bowl," produced by the Human Rights Documentation Unit of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the country's government in exile.

No one can read this report and not feel their very humanity challenged by the presence of the brutality it documents. No one can say, "We were unaware." No one has an excuse not to act.

In asking for peace and dialogue toward a political settlement of the problems confronting this country, members of Burma's Buddhist community, the Sangha, have spoken for all their country and touched the whole world. They have galvanized world opinion and spoken to the very soul of our global community. All must hear them.

All must hear how the Burmese military government suppressed a peaceful movement centred on monks, a movement that carried no weapons but the firmness of convictions and courage.

The HRDU report documents the murders, the tortures, the late-night abductions, the house detentions, the arrest of family members of accused demonstrators, the list of actions designed to break the population, to discredit their agendas and to hold an ever tenuous grip on power.

There are given names, dates and times. Personal experiences are painstakingly unfolded. The gaps left by the dead, the detained, the damaged and the broken are poignantly identified.

The struggle of the Sangha and the Saffron Revolution is imbued with the deepest, resonant significance. Here is an outbreak of peace in the face of so much violence, an embodiment of hope in the face of hopelessness, a surge of spiritual values at a time of the most crushing assault on the human heart.

The world cannot ignore these cries and still maintain its sense of dignity and trust, nor can we as the world family maintain our hold on truth and freedom if Burma's peoples continue to be so ill-treated and oppressed.

In Burma, as in South Africa near the end of the apartheid era, a moment has arrived. It is a moment when the clock stops ticking, when the air stops moving, where sound is muffled, and where the mind stops spinning. This is a moment of clarity, a moment when the uncertainty of daily life disappears and a clear message overwhelms the senses. A moment when history stands still, awaiting the inevitable truth.

It is our duty, and that of the global community, to ensure that this moment is not lost. This is not a time for empty politics or grandiose schemes designed to divert the attention and reverse the momentum.

There are roles here for the United Nations (especially as another visit by its special envoy comes and goes without result), for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for specific countries such as China, India and the United States — for all interested in promoting the rule of law and human rights for all. The NCGUB has detailed these agendas and will continue to articulate them.

The Free Burma movement is not in victim mode, nor are we devoid of intent. Our goal is clear. But we cannot work alone and we call on the global community to read this report and to ensure that what it documents is consigned to Burma's past, not allowed to be a template for the future.

This is a time to realize our hopes and enact our dreams, for an oppressed Burma rests on all our shoulders, challenging and burdening the world. This is the time for a free Burma to be reborn, on the foundation of peace and forgiveness laid by its Sangha.

It is indeed Burma's moment. But it is also one for all peoples.

Dr. Thaung Htun is the representative for United Nations affairs with the Burma UN Service Office, National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

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