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Burma's failed orange revolution - What needs to be done?
by Dr. Habib Siddiqui
2007-10-07 10:17:26
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On September 25, 2007 President Bush announced “new” sanctions against the military government of Burma, symbolically joining hands with tens of thousands of protesters in the streets of Yangon and challenging the United Nations to join him in a broader "mission of liberation."

However, as I see it, the older sanctions imposed by the USA and some western countries did not really bite deep into the skin of the SPDC regime that is ruling Burma. There is also crass hypocrisy in how the sanctions have thus far been imposed by the Bush Administration. A multi-national oil company like Chevron was apparently exempted from adhering to the sanction rule book and is allowed to do business as usual in the oil and gas exploration sector with the SPDC.

Why this selective application for an oil company? Well, we don’t have to be reminded that oil is important to the trio - Bush, Cheney & Rice – all linked with the oil industry before joining the Administration. As is also obvious now, it was not the WMD but the control of the oil fields in Iraq that was the primary motivation for why they invaded Iraq. [And of course, there are other reasons too, namely, making the region ‘secure’ for the rogue state - Israel.] I doubt that the Bush Administration is unaware that the Chevron-money goes directly to the pockets of the SPDC regime, providing the necessary blood infusion that it needs to function. [But then again, we are continuously reminded by our Wall Street pundits that if Chevron does not do business, there are many other non-American companies willing to close the deal with the Myanmar regime! They argue: why should a U.S. company suffer the brunt of unfair trading or business practices?] So, if the Bush Administration wants it to be taken seriously, it must go beyond the hollow rhetoric to imposing biting sanctions to isolate the hated regime.

As we also know, in spite of unrest and demonstrations inside Burma, two major trading partners - China and India – continue to doing business with the SPDC regime (i). Thailand, Russia and Japan are also doing business as usual with the regime, as are many other countries including India, Sri Lanka and Singapore. So, unless the sanctions are universally imposed and fully embraced, stopping all sorts of trade, explorations, and flow of goods and currency to and from Burma by land, sea and air with all other countries, something that were done for Saddam Hossein's Iraq under the tutelage of the U.N., I see little chance in disciplining the brutal regime. The clearest case for a win-win strategy, without requiring a devastating war from outside, is that of mimicking the measures taken two decades earlier against the Apartheid regime of South Africa that forced it to collapse under massive pressure of sanctions.

In those days, the USA and Israel were the biggest trading partners of the hated regime in South Africa. But with world-wide condemnation from outside, and struggle for freedom and equality within under the able and time-tested leadership of the ANC and people like Bishop Desmond Tutu, all the big foreign companies and institutions (including my own alma mater – the University of Southern California. Los Angeles) were forced to withdraw their massive investment money and stop all dealings, thus nailing the beast of Botha’s Apartheid rule and dawning the age of democracy, liberty and equality in Mandela’s South Africa.

But I don't see anything remotely similar happening for Burma. The oppressive SPDC regime has two veto-wielding backers inside the UNSC - China and Russia. Unless they change their attitude, I doubt anything positive would emerge from the UNSC. Mind that: neither of these two countries has what we call a functioning democracy. They are oligarchies with a centralized power structure. No opposition party or candidate can win any important election there. From their records of monumental crimes against the Muslims in Chechnya, Russia and Xinjiang, China, and Buddhists in Tibet, China, it is obvious that human rights are not a moral compass in these two countries. As much it is true for most countries in this age of moral bankruptcy, cheap trade with Burma is more important to these two countries. That is why, we are not surprised either to see how Gandhi’s India has no moral qualms to emerge as the second largest trading partner of the SPDC regime.

All these ground realities do sound really hopeless and depressing. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel in Myanmar? I believe: there is. The clue to toppling the SPDC regime probably lies in mimicking the South African experiment of disengagement. In the 1980s, the Apartheid regime also had its powerful backers in the U.N. They were the United States of America and Israel (and Marcos’s Philippines). When the entire U.N. voted in one way, recommending sanctions against and condemning the Apartheid regime, the USA and Israel continued to cast their votes in the opposite way, even wielding the Veto power (by the USA) in the UNSC. [The two countries had remarkable similarities with South Africa in that the more powerful settlers from Europe had dispossessed the less powerful indigenous, native communities.]

It was truly an uphill battle in the U.N. to pass any punitive measure or incriminating Resolution against the racist regime. However, in the mid-1980s, even the die-hard supporters had to say that the days of Apartheid rule in South Africa were over. Yes, with nation-wide demonstrations inside the USA and some European countries that had heavily engaged in business with the Apartheid regime, the governments and powerful corporations in these countries caved in. They stopped all future business dealings with the regime, and pulled out money. The ‘Old Crocodile’ President Botha relented to intense domestic and external pressure and implemented a series of gradual race reforms, telling his white Afrikaners that they must "adapt or die." Botha was ousted as National Party leader by F.W. de Klerk in September 1989, who released Mandela the next year.

So, for a desired change in Burma, all the conscientious human beings must demand that their respective governments stop all forms of business dealings with the SPDC regime. The UNSC must steer head the global demand for an end to tyranny in Burma. If the regime’s ethnic cleansing against the minority Rohingyas and Karens, and overbearing repression against its citizens are not appropriate subjects for the UNSC, what is? Why should this organization even exist if it cannot redress people’s legitimate grievances against a despised, unelected, usurping power that had dishonored people’s verdict and tyrannized everyone – from the Muslim and Christian minorities to majority Buddhists for more than four decades? Should the UNSC Resolution be only reserved for a (now hanged) brute like Saddam Hossein, and launching unjust and immoral wars against civilians in the Middle East, let alone conspiring to attack Iran under false pretext at the behest of powerful ‘Amen Corner’?

The UNSC must do the right thing. It has more proofs than it requires to isolating the SPDC regime 100 per cent. Through its biting resolutions, it can let every government within the U.N. know that if it were to conduct any business deal with the regime, it will lose its membership in the world body, and will feel the pinch from losing bilateral ‘favored nation’ trading status with other developed nations. The UNSC must also stop all multi-national companies from doing any business with the regime. Let “real” sanctions hurt the regime! Let it find out that it has no friend to lean on to.

The most important factor for a change in Burma is, however, its own people. It is they who must desire change wholeheartedly and should be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice necessary to bring about a positive change in their lives. If they are afraid to sacrifice for a noble cause, nothing will happen for them. No outside intervention or goodwill will help. So far, I have not seen that kind of sacrifice made inside Burma. There has not been a repeat of the 8-8-88 event. The Junta-defying demonstrations in September were neither big enough nor well organized to shake the SPDC boat.

Leadership is very crucial for the success or failure of any movement. The events of the past weeks have demonstrated that the Burmese people are radar-less without an effective leadership that gravitates everyone for a common, noble cause. The people of Burma must develop genuine leadership the same way the Black South Africans had done when their charismatic leaders Mandela and Mbeki were serving long prison times. Most of the opposition leaders in Burma are grossly incompetent and selfish. They live in their feudal past. They look at things from their chauvinistic, foggy, ethnic prism that is not wide enough to understand other communities. Their inherent xenophobia, racism and feudalistic behavior do not encourage other groups to take them seriously as better alternatives to the current regime. They often talk about democracy, but have no clue about what it takes to make a democratic society. They talk about liberty but approve the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law that effectively denies basic citizenship rights to millions of minority Muslims and Christians. They talk of human rights, but to them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a non-binding leaflet from a distant planet that they can be oblivious about or show selective amnesia. They display no understanding about pluralism and integration, and respect for others.

These are, in my analysis, the sad realities of today’s Burma. And yet the march for democracy, freedom and human rights must go on – both inside and outside Burma. In the absence of imprisoned political leaders, Burma must find its genuine leadership that integrates and empowers people of various races, ethnicities and religious persuasions for a common, higher goal so that she can develop true democratic spirits under a Federal framework. As for those of us who are outside, we must do our part to pressure our respective governments and the world bodies to bring about measures that force the repressive junta towards a democratic transition with minority rights protected.

[About the author: Dr. Siddiqui is Director of the Arakan-Burma Research Institute, USA.]

October 6, 2007

(i) See the list of companies doing business with the SPDC regime here and for a list of companies that pulled out, see here .

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Emanuel Paparella2007-10-07 14:00:09
Intriguing article which however hardly mentions that the Saffron Revolution's main driving force were the monks of the so called "feudal system" (Voltaire's Gothic?)not the intellegentia that conducted another more conspicuously failed failed revolution in 1989.

Here is slightly different view by Ian Burma in the Los Angeles Times who writes that this is a story about “religion as a force for good” in the world:

"It has become fashionable in certain smart circles to regard atheism as a sign of superior education, of highly evolved civilization, of enlightenment. Recent bestsellers by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others suggest that religious faith is a sign of backwardness, the mark of primitives stuck in the Dark Ages who have not caught up with scientific reason. Religion, we are told, is responsible for violence, oppression, poverty and many other ills.It is not difficult to find examples to back up this assertion. But what about the opposite? Can religion also be a force for good? Are there cases in which religious faith comes to the rescue even of those who don’t have it? I have never personally had either the benefits nor misfortunes of adhering to any religion, but watching Burmese monks on television defying the security forces of one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, it is hard not to see some merit in religious belief. Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a deeply religious country, where most men spend some time as Buddhist monks. Even the thuggish Burmese junta hesitated before unleashing lethal force on men dressed in the maroon and saffron robes of their faith."

Matt Williamson2007-10-12 19:40:40
Dr. Siddiqui - I put up a post with many links and ideas, please see if you would like to reference it:



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