Friday, June 03, 2005

Freedom of Speech, Press and Publication and the Closing of "the Burmese Mind"

Quote of the Day:

Closed-mindedness of the generals in powr, perceived or real, cannot be fought and won by equally closed minds.

- from Freedom of Speech, Press and Publication and the Closing of "the Burmese Mind"

Freedom of Speech, Press, and Publication and the Closing of "the Burmese Mind"
Zarni
Free Burma Coalition

Freedom of speech or publication, while admittedly non-existent among our fellow citizens back home under the current system of governance, is a pillar of any democracy, to stress the obvious.

But it exists for those of us privileged enough to check our emails, undeteredand uninterupted. At least, we should develop healthy respect and tolerance ofdiverse views and ideas, using the Internet as a space where we whohave this privilege use it wisely, rather than in ways vicious, nasty and self-destructive.

We air our views, popular or unpopular, controversial or consensual. Some amongst us, including our international friends and supporters, argue, unconvingly, that we must refrain from making public any and all critical self-examination of the pro-democracy efforts and actions against the sole empirical yardstick, specifically concrete improvement of the well-being of our fellow citizens back home in Burma/Myanmar.

After all, all pro-democracy Burmese - from NLD leadership down to us, pro-change foot soldiers around the world - have been waging this up-hill fight in order to bring about change in Burma. And it is being done specifically in the name of ordinary people. Legitimacy of this work, this campaign, the current opposition leadership, is all based solely on the 'people' of Burma. In other words, we stand on their backs. It is legitimate to ask by ourline of advocacy and campaigns, are we breaking their backs, instead of strengthening it?

It is therefore only logical that we measure our work against how ourcheer-leading and campaigning on-line improves the life of our ordinary people. And, conversely how successful are we in pressuring the generals in power to simply sit down and work with the election-winning NLD leadership, as well as non-Burman ethnic peoples?

Measuring whether we have succeeded on either count is no ideological matter; nor is it a matter of who is pro and against change. The evidence is there for those who use their reason and intellect to assess what our collective efforts have accomplished and how our common progress chart or graph would look like -from 1948 on, if you are a Communist or sympathizer; from 1949 on, if you wer eoriginally a Karen secessionist; from 1962, if you are a left-over from July 7 Unrest on Rangoon University campus; from 1970s, if you are a part of PM U Nu's spectacularly failed armed revolution; and the list goes on.

It's not that there are no changes in our country. Change is constant in life and thus in history. It is taking place in Burma/Myanmar. We may not like how, in what direction or under which leadership it is heading.

For instance, the NLD is withering, and the leadership has refused to recognize this and has lashed out against anyone and everyone who wisphers this truth in their ears, let alone people like Aung Zaw or myself who have gone on air to say such unpleasant things as, well, the NLD's policy and leadership failures to deliver.

Major taboos in and about this "movement" are indeed being broken.

Ko Aung Zaw's latest Irrawaddy on-line commentary - "Regrets - the Residue of the 1990Election" - is a case in point where he captured the quiet, but majority sentiment widely shared amongst the Burmese, both within and without Burma: that neither NLD nor SPDC offers any hope and that despite our pride on the fact that our beloved Bogyoke Aung San's daughter won the Nobel Peace prize we have in fact been let down by her inability to lead this fight in any practicable, strategic or pragmatic way.

There are those among us, the Burmese emigres and exiles, as well as well-meaning foreign supporters of democratic change in Burma/Myanmar who find it intolerable that some of us dare break these long-observed taboos about our campaigners or activists many of whom we ourselves supported, followed, recruited, groomed, manufactured or elevated to where they are today.

For these individuals, the unpreparedness to stare at our own camp's unpleasant truths, as the dismal situation demands, is born either out of what they perceive, wrongly, as a strategic need to continue rallying behind the symbolic, notpratical or strategic, leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her octagenarian advisors or the 'Uncles'.

The demand for unconditional loyalty and support is an undemocratic attitude. And many, if not all, of us have become accustomed to it, to the detriment of any efforts to push for change in our country.

I think my-leader-right-or-wrong, my-country-right-or-wrong attitude is completely self-destructive, myopic and short-sighted, uncharacteristic of any people or community that aspires - or more accurately fancy - to self-governance, that is, 'government of, for and by the people'.

This is an attitude born out of ignorance of history, which offers numerous examples of how populous leaders and populous campaigns destroyed themselves and thus eventually ended up undermining the very missions they set out to accomplish. Hitler was democratically elected - however flawed his elections may have been; Japanese militarism had popular roots, and ended with two atomic mushrooms on Hiroshima and Nakasaki. The populous French Revolution of 1789 ended up creating a situation wherein Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as Emperor and went on to restore an extremely powerful monarchy, himself having eventually ended up a prisoner of war on a small St. Helena Island.

Be that as it may, out of this mental calculation or emotional need for unadulterated loyalty develops intolerance toward any and all views that challenge the NLD policy of isolating the country - or any orthodox views. Last year two of my Karen National Union (KNU) colleagues - Naw May Oo and Saw Kapi - got expelled because they have the intellect to see that the KNU old guards have failed spectacularly in their 50-year old revolution and, equally important, because they have the guts and integrity to speak truth to power.

There are those of us who have built on-line and real-time networks internationally, established organizations and helped popularized and galvanized grassroots and media support for our mission for change back home. After 16 years of our involvement, our political views have matured. We no longer believe in seeing Burma in simplistic Orwellian fashion of 'two-legs-bad' and'four-legs-good.'

Burma is a country gone wrong. Now we are a movement thathas gone wrong. And two wrongs don't make one right. As long as orthodoxy and intolerance are two supreme values of leading Burmese dissidents and their sheepish followers and supporters, the road ahead is grim, dark, nasty and vicious.

Irrawaddy Editor Aung Zaw argues that neither SPDC nor NLD is good for Burma.
One may disagree.

But it is his right as a citizen of Burma, a professional journalist, and an accomplished dissident in exile, to express his views and analyses - however unpopular those views may be among the orthodox followers and supporters of theNLD or ethnic resistance groups.

By the same token, we should recognize the freedom of speech and publication which Thant Lwin Htun as Head of Voice of America Burmese Service exercises inbroadcasting, say, his more nuanced understanding of the allegations ofreligious persecutions by the SPDC based on the evidence which he has gathered as a long-time professional journalist.

Both are proven and accomplished Burmese whose political involvement was rootedin the 1988 uprisings. No sinister motives should be assigned. They say what they see, and if anyone disagrees with their views, they should debate or challenge their views, insteading of resorting to despicable below-the-belt invectives.

From inside looking out, this whole thing - the wave of social and political revolt which originated in 1987/88 and which many cling on to as 'freedom movement' - has been turning on itself, shredding its own rank and file on the path of self-destruction.

Many able and strategically placed Burmese, both within and without Burma, stay away from this nasty political business. They would not touch many of the exiles with a long pole who have in fact become fanatics, without a clear strategy, a vision or political competence.

There will always be extremists in any camp. It is a given in any political and social movements. As such, they have closed off their minds.

But that doesn't mean the majority of Burmese within and without Burma are incable of keeping their mind open. Closed-mindedness of the generals in powr, perceived or real, cannot be fought and won by equally closed minds.