Humanity challenged in junta-ruled Myanmar

Humanity challenged in junta-ruled Myanmar – Opinion – October 23, 2007

by Anand Krishna, Jakarta


Conflicts, battles and wars have been an inseparable part of our history. But in the past, the division between those who were good and those who were bad was clear.

At times, the bad won, and they tried to manipulate history. But such ventures could never go far. Corrections were made and history was rewritten. There were times when justice was delayed, but it was never denied.

In spite of such delays, the good would always remain by the side of the good, while the bad flocked together. Whenever there was a change of sides, it was more often the bad changing sides to stand with the good.

We now find ourselves in a different phase of human history — one in which a strange phenomenon can be witnessed.

The division between the good and the bad is no longer clear. There is no more black and white, just many shades of gray.

The recent events in Myanmar prove this.

While the innocent people of Myanmar were ruthlessly beaten and killed in cold blood by the country's police and military, other governments around the world did little to stop these acts of cruelty.

Even a resolution drafted by the United Nations condemning the killings was vetoed by two powerful members of the Security Council — China and Russia.

But their choice was understandable if one looks back to their histories.

China's former president Mao rewrote the history of China in blood. Socialist Russia had Stalin and Lenin. One cannot expect much from these two countries.

What escapes us all, however, is the reaction of Gandhi's India. Or has India disowned Gandhi? India got her freedom through peaceful means — peaceful demonstrations led by the Mahatma himself. These very same means were adopted by the Myanmarese Monks. But India seems to have forgotten her history. She keeps quite. Her whispers are meaningless.

Diplomacy is great.

But when human lives are at stake, when innocent people are being killed, diplomacy and politics should give way to human empathy.

It seems India has decided to side with diplomacy and politics and not with human empathy.

Mao's Communist China and Stalin's Socialist Russia can make their economic agendas their priorities. We can understand that. But we can neither understand or appreciate the same stance being taken by Gandhi's India.

Nehru, one of India's founding fathers and her first prime minister, once spoke of Gandhi's dream and ambition and India's responsibility to realize it.

"The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over."

India's shift in loyalty is alarming. Very alarming, as India has big names such as Gandhi, the Great Soul, and Nehru, the Statesman, attached to her. This India, which has never been aggressive and never colonized another nation, could be moving down a different path altogether.

The same could be said for Indonesia — my country, your country, our country.

Our rich soil and deep-rooted belief in co-existence had the capacity to make us a great economy in the past. Sriwijaya's success as an exporter of spices, minerals and precious metals stands witness to our glorious past. Later, for almost half a millennia, Singasari and Majapahit added to the luster of this grand past. It was Gajah Mada, the ambitious minister of Majapahit, who destroyed it all with his military expeditions.

The question is, what is my own country, my own government, doing to end the suffering of the Myanmarese people?

What would Sukarno or Hatta have done at this time our conscience is on trial?

Unarmed monks, peacefully demonstrating with placards quoting Buddha's messages of peace, compassion and freedom, were ruthlessly beaten and were compelled to strike back in self-defense. Their reaction gave the police and military justification to start shooting blindly.

Even then, the events that invited this blind shooting could well have been staged. Go back to footage shown by Al Jazeera and you can see at least one tall monk crossing the military line arrogantly, safely, unarmed and unharmed. Who was he? He could have been one of the provocateurs in monks' attire.

It seems humanity is under attack.

The suffering of the Myanmarese people, and for that matter the suffering of anyone, is an attack on humanity.

The question is, how much humanity, feeling and empathy do we still have within us?

And the most important question is, what are we doing to defend humanity? What are we doing to save the human empathy within us? What are we doing to guard our humanness?

If I am hit and I hit back, you may not come to rescue me. But, when I am hit and I do not hit back, such as the unarmed monks of Myanmar, I must be rescued and defended.

According to the inhuman regime of Myanmar, the country is now at peace. All is well. Business is continuing as usual.

But what kind of peace? What business are they referring to?

But that is not important. Non-humans are not expected to act like humans. Beasts may act like beasts. Animalistic instincts are, after all, animalistic.

What is important is our response to inhuman, beastly, animalistic acts by humans.