News from the negotiated transition in Burma/Myanmar

I’ve recently been devouring Evan Osnos’s brilliant piece of reporting in The New Yorker, on the exciting, now-underway, negotiated transition to much greater democracy in Myanmar/Burma.
Huge kudos to Osnos for doing this great research and reporting, and to The New Yorker for, presumably, funding his lengthy reporting trip to the country, and then publishing the lengthy article. (Sadly, only an abstract is available free at the link above. I hope you can find the whole, long paper version in your local library.)
Osnos’s report is full of fascinating details– about the calculations that Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies in the NLD were making as they decided to give the democratic opening process a chance; and about the deliberations and discussions that occurred deep inside the ruling junta that led to its participation. U.S. diplomacy, in the person of Secretary Clinton and some of her key aides, also played a role.
This is a major story of our time! It affects the future of all of the country’s 60 million people– and, of course, their neighbors. So why do the U.S. and ‘western’ media in general give it so little play and so little prominence, compared with the story of the tragic and violent continuing events in (much smaller) Syria?
It is, sadly, the violent aspects of the events in Syria that have been garnering by far the most attention in the western MSM over recent months. That is, both the violence of the regime, and its tragic effects– which are often waved in front of the western public like a bloody shirt, with the intention being to whip up western opinion against the regime– and the violence of the opposition, which is far too often romanticized and condoned, with the inevitable effects of opposition violence almost never being shown.
I believe there are two factors which explain the difference between the coverage of Syria and the coverage (or lack thereof) of Burma. Firstly, the sometimes almost pornographic fascination with violence and its representations in the western media, in general– as opposed to the much more visually ‘boring’ events that make up the day-to-day grind of diplomacy in a place like Burma/Myanmar; and secondly, the fact that there is huge buy-in from the vast majority of corporate owners and journos in the western MSM to the goal of violent regime change in Syria– but almost complete indifference to the fate of the 60 million people in Burma.
Not all is roses and honey in Burma yet, I know. But I find the story of the democratic opening there really engaging. I wrote a whole chapter about Aung San Suu Kyi in my 2000 book ‘The Moral Architecture of World Peace’. She is an amazing woman, and by all accounts the NLD, that she heads, is a sturdy, resilient, and visionary organization.
In addition, the careful, nonviolent, and negotiated way the transition there is being pursued by the local participants, and supported by external actors, like the United States, is an exemplary way for transitions from authoritarian and/or minority rule to democracy to be undertaken. As in South Africa, 1990-1994. This is exactly what we should be advocating for regarding Syria! If Sec. Clinton can be pursuing these policies of careful diplomacy with respect to the junta in Myanmar that has committed atrocities on a truly massive scale– some of which, truth be told, continue to this day– then why on earth has the Obama administration and so much of the rest of the U.S. political elite adopted such a belligerent and escalatory policy toward the regime in Damascus?
By far the best explanation for this contrast is, I think, the role played by the unremitting campaign of anti-Damascus agitation undertaken by pro-Israeli forces in American and other western societies for several decades now. There has been nothing like that agitation maintained against the junta in Burma. And this year is, remember, an election year in America…
It is not too late for the Obama administration to turn away from the path of escalation regarding Syria. Up until now– and especially with Sec. Clinton’s most recent visit to Turkey– there is no sign that they are doing so. But if they continue along this path, the fallout from any large-scale explosion of hostilities in Syria could well be massive.
Lessons from South Africa and Burma, please!

5 thoughts on “News from the negotiated transition in Burma/Myanmar

  1. KDJ

    A very insightful post, Helena. Comparative analysis is your thing, if I may. What do you recommend in terms of citizen-driven policy advocacy aimed at effecting a shift in current US direction toward Syria, particularly at this precarious stage? What concrete steps might you suggest we lobby our lawmakers to adopt – steps lawmakers might grasp and take action on? We need you as our FCNL Friend in Washington once more!

  2. rosemerry

    I hope you are right, Helena. I just find it hard to believe that Sec Clinton, against all precedent, is actually concerned with negotiations an nonviolent action. There must be some ulterior motive for the USA, similar to the effusively positive behaviour shown towards the small state of Georgia.

  3. Jifry

    Your assertion that Burma’s transition from authoritarianism is somehow ‘exemplary’ is laughable.
    That the Burmese regime is presiding over an ethnic cleansing of Muslims is not surprising, nor is ASSK’s silence in the face of this pogrom surprising as she transparently wants to become the country’s president.
    What is surprising – nay, appalling – is that a writer and researcher of significant expertise in Muslim-majority countries such as yourself would ignore or make excuses for such an absence of moral courage while the Nobel Prize is warm in ASSK’s hands.
    For the sake of your own credibility I encourage you to withdraw this post; read something besides the NYer; and rewrite your post to reflect reality.

  4. Carlos

    Are you aware that there is a war in Kachin state, where the Burmese army is commiting all kinds of atrocities and there was a terrible outburst of sectarian violence in Arakan state two months ago (which Evan Osmos’ awful article blames on the end of military rule, when there is compelling evidence that the army actually participated in the violence)? Are you aware that the Burmese government has been oppressed the Rohingya Muslim minority in Arakan state for decades and Aung San Suu Kyi has remained shamefully silent on the issue? Honestly Helena, you know a lot about the Middle East, but you don’t have a clue when it comes to Burma.

  5. C.

    Not everything is so rosy as Evan Osno’s crappy piece of reporting tries to convey. Read this:
    http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/310399/fear-loathing-and-lies-in-rakhine-state
    This sentence in Osno’s article is one of the worst pieces of racism and mendacity I have ever read:
    “The risk that withdrawing the military from Burma‚Äôs politics could lead to flashes of unres
    t became vivid in June, when sectarian clashes exploded near the border with Bangladesh, between a Muslim ethnic group, the Rohingya, and local Buddhists.”
    Shameful.

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