From the January-February 2018 issue of News & Letters
by Htun Lin
More than a decade ago, at a pro-democracy event on Burma, I reconnected with people from where my family had escaped as stateless refugees. I met a democracy activist abbot from a Rangoon monastery who recounted the attacks by the military targeting these courageous monk activists and the youth who turned to the monastery for refuge.
At the conference I expressed my solidarity with the movement, explaining to the abbot that my family too, as ethnic Chinese declared non-citizens, escaped Burma to find refuge. I asked the abbot, “What plans does Aung San Suu Kyi have to resolve the plight of ethnic minorities, once democracy is won?” His reply was non-committal: “We need to focus on winning democracy first and foremost.” I left that meeting with a vague sense of foreboding, recalling that Lenin had to fight fellow Bolsheviks who attacked ethnic minorities’ movements for self-determination.
DEMOCRACY FOR ALL BUT ROHINGYA
Now, with the continuing slaughter and expulsion of Rohingya, a courageous movement for democracy has transformed into a neo-fascist movement rooted in cultural xenophobia and religious chauvinism. One might ask how a people who have lived in Rakhine state for generations could be considered non-citizens, if only for the color of their skin and the origins of their faith.
Burma’s sad tale of a movement’s transformation into opposite is not unique. Such a tale is replicated in so many movements around the world that we are obligated as global citizens of conscience to confront the philosophic precipice the whole world currently finds itself stampeding towards, with nuclear war looming on the horizon.
I am neither Muslim nor Buddhist, but as a child I easily mingled with both in the center of a Muslim-Hindu district, within earshot of a mosque. I remember being lulled by the mystique of the daily call to prayer into peaceful slumber at night. I remember playing hopscotch with childish abandon on the sacred grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda, the biggest in Asia, and my mother presenting alms to the Buddhist monks who made their daily rounds through our streets.
The vision I had of my homeland is a fond one—a rich mélange of cultures and flavors, beautifully mingling with each other, like atoms colliding, shedding bright colors and rich vibrations in unpredictable communion.
I describe my childhood to convey a deep sense of sorrow and loss, and perseverance in the face of tragedy. It is not unique to my situation, but shared by so many others around the globe.
PLAYING THE ‘TERRORIST’ CARD
The tragedy taking place around the globe can be seen in microcosm by the plight of the Rohingya—a people without a home, a nation without a country.
What they face was encapsulated by Nobel laureate San Suu Kyi, when she intoned: “I don’t know why the Rohingya are fleeing. We shall investigate why it is so”—followed by a defense of fighting “terrorists.” Millions around the globe are made to wander, uprooted and displaced by capital, its production, its wars, its competitive spirit, its political economy, its chauvinism, its religion.
We see in Burma, right before our eyes, the horror and abomination of a popular democratic movement transforming into its opposite—the philosophic monstrosity of fascism disguised as democracy.