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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How can a pacifist organization be useful to the Burmese people in a struggle against a violent & armed dictatorship? BBC article explains

Full disclosure: one of my relatives is a Buddhist monk, belonging to the same school of Buddhism - Therevada - that the Burmese monks belong to, and having been raised Buddhist (although I am no longer one; happily agnostic now) in Sri Lanka, and being aware of the activist nature of the Buddhism taught in Therevada Buddhist countries (initially as a revolt against Hinduism, and in more recent times as an anti-colonial & anti-despotic force - which has in Sri Lankan history also sadly led to, at times, being an anti-minority (Tamil/Hindu/Christian, etc.) voice; very un-Buddhist IMO, anyway, a different subject for a different day there), the monks led protest in Burma is of great interest to me. This event in Burma is probably the first time in my life that I've seen the social engagement & activism potential (and, as I can see, activism mandate) in Buddhism being wielded as a weapon (a non-violent weapon) at such a large scale (a recent monk led march was estimated to have 100,000 or more participants) against an oppressive regime. So, even though the protests in Burma have very little to do with indie film, I am blogging about them here (since this is an important event in the world, and who knows, maybe some of us filmmakers will work it into a project) .

Anyway, on to the subject matter mentioned at the top; how can a pacifist organization be useful to Burmese people in their struggle against a military dictatorship that is not shy about using violence? This BBC article offers some clues & background. Here is a segment:

" Burmese monks not only play a spiritual role, but also have a history of political activism. They have been at the forefront of protest against unpopular authorities, from British colonial power in the 1930s to the last pro-democracy campaign in 1988.

Their political role stems from the days of the Burmese monarchy, which operated until the late 19th century, under which monks worked as intermediaries between the monarch and the public, and lobbied the king over unpopular moves such as heavy taxation, said Mr Aung Kin.
They became more confrontational during colonial times, in protest at the failure of foreigners to remove their shoes in pagodas, he said.

But the historian stressed that only about 10% of Burma's monks are politicised, and many of the monasteries may be unaware of the scale of the agitation currently under way in the country.

If fully mobilised, however, the monks would pose a major challenge to the military, and their moral position in society could embolden many more people to join the protests."

Read the first part of that article here.

So, Buddhism is a thread that runs through much of Burmese life, culture & nation; relevant to soldiers as well as other citizens (same situation in Sri Lanka, from what I observed while living there & from what many relatives tell me). Thus, monks are able to use this leverage to try to help people achieve their goals re: the government.

I believe the days of the Burmese military junta are now numbered. The monks' display of courage & the sight of them paying the price for it/the outrage will no doubt motivate many other Burmese & people elsewhere to start working against the junta.

- Sujewa

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