Nov 19, 2012

Myanmar – Will Obama feel the pain and hear the prayers?

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Whether anyone likes it or not, Obama’s visit just two weeks after the historic presidential re-election is the most powerful statement ver made over contemporary Burma. After winning the re-election with minority, female, youth, and urban votes, will Obama be able to convince Burma that it will also have a much better future by helping all its people instead of only the chosen ones?

It is only fitting that President Obama begins his journey at the Rangoon University where generations of leaders from different races all across the continent and Burma, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, were educated long ago.

The decline of Rangoon University paralleled the decline of Burma. After the military took over power in 1962, the army swiftly commandeered the wealth of all private entrepreneurs, especially from non-Burman people whom the military generals called foreigners.

Subsequently, the military went further and blocked all those foreigners and foreign students who were Indians, Chinese, other Asians, and Europeans from securing jobs, attending universities, traveling or owning their own homes.

As witnessed in Rakhine State today, the Rohingyas continue to be denied legal identity. The foreign identity cards given to them make them foreigners in their own homeland. And their statelessness prevents them from escaping to other countries as well.

The government-enacted racial discrimination in Burma is worse than the Apartheid of South Africa or the American slavery of the south because no one even dares talk about the racial hatred it engenders.

After the 1988 uprising and the 2007 Saffron Revolution, mainland political oppositions and the armed ethnic rebels who could no longer safely use their citizenship identity became new victims of statelessness. Since then, not only the so-called foreigners, but also political activists, ethnic hill tribes and countless civilians running from government’s assault became stateless people without legal identity.

Burma cannot move forward, until it faces this demon with candor and courage. Burma must abolish all discriminatory and inhumane laws from their books. All people in Burma should be allowed human rights as defined by the United Nations. They and the natives retuning from abroad should be given residential rights and legal identity. They should be allowed to work and educate themselves. They should be given opportunity to emigrate from Burma legally if other countries are willing to accept them.

As President Obama has demonstrated in his election victory, a culture of inclusion is a winning ticket for the future. Burma must be encouraged to choose a constructive path instead of hatred and violence.

Buddhism is not an enemy of Islam, and the authorities in Arakan and Burma should not be allowed to change Burma into a war zone against the Rohingyas.

U Gambira, aka Nyi Nyi Lwin, the famous 2007 Saffron Revolution leader, said that the spiritual realm of Simasambheda endeavors to transcend the boundary of self and non-self. The spirit of loving kindness at the heart of Burmese Buddhism transcends race, religion, and physical identity, and liberates mankind from rage, hatred, and fury.

U Gambira said that Burma must abandon the era of dark ages and embrace a peaceful future according to Gandhi’s (Ahimsa Satyagaraha) a non-violent path illuminated by true conviction.

Interestingly, the Arakan conflict is only a smokescreen to cover up the real crimes inside Burma; the wholesale robbery of Burma’s natural resources, and the uprooting of native farmers to confiscate farmlands on a scale never seen in history; and most important, the fundamental flaw of the constitution that permanently installs the military as the power behind the scene.

Obama’s presidential victory speaks volumes for a campaign that embraces the future and leaves behind outdated bias and bigotry. Obama is the only one who can convince the military in Burma that to avoid a scenario such as in Libya or Syria, the Burmese army must embrace the future of inclusiveness and respect for the will of the people.

After the Saffron Revolution, the government imprisoned, tortured, and left U Gambira for dead in a remote prison of Burma. And after his release last January, the authorities confiscated U Gambira’s national identity card to make his life unbearable.

If U Gambira can still speak up against the destructive campaigns in Arakan and Kachin State while suffering enormous pain from his injuries, President Obama alongside President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi can certainly begin speaking up for the voiceless in Burma.

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