Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is facing mounting criticism about her silence, regarding the Muslim Rohingya, who remain one of the most persecuted communities in the world. In light of the communal strife that started in 2012 and now with world attention focused upon the stranded boat people, some of whom are Rohingya, fleeing from persecution in Burma, she is feeling great pressure, as a symbol of human rights, to speak out about the Rohingya. Unfortunately, this also clashes with her other persona as a politician.
She finds herself in a deeply unenviable position, where she is trapped between how the Burmese see her and how the rest of the world sees her. For non-Burmese, she is (was) a bastion of human rights, so her silence is disappointing. For the Burmese, she is a politician, who they hope will be able to lead them out of decades of military rule towards real democracy. If she shows any sympathies for the plight of the Rohingya, she will instantly lose her base of supporters, because a vast number of Burmese are unwilling to show any compromise regarding the issue of Rohingya citizenship.
If DASSK becomes no longer a viable opposition leader, as a result of speaking out about the Rohingya, there will form a vacuum that no one can at this time fill, resulting in a further strengthening of the regime’s grip. What can she do? Either lose the respect of the international community or lose the respect of the Burmese? It would seem that her priorities remain at home, even if it means tarnishing her global image.
It is deeply regrettable that she finds herself in this position. It appears as if she has been out-maneuvered by the regime and blocked in.
Ideally, in keeping with her global image, it would have been preferable for her to have taken the human rights path, because there are too few such leaders of her status leading in this field, and the world desperately needs such lights. But, alas, idealism has very little currency in a country like Burma, where brutality and repression have dominated for decades.
Recently, a Burmese man informed me that the reason Aung San Suu Kyi has not spoken out about the plight of the Rohingya is because she shares the same opinion as the majority of Burmese. He was as certain of this, as are the human rights activists, who like to believe the opposite is true. In actual fact, none of us are privy to what her real opinion is on the matter. Either way, a lot of people are going to be disappointed, no more so than Aung San Suu Kyi herself.
I spent a wonderful day with my Zen Master and other monks, including three hours of Zazen meditation.
I am a Buddhist and I take my practice very seriously, albeit with a chuckle at the absurdity of the world. I spent many years studying Tibetan Buddhism, and now I have a Zen Master in my adopted home of Japan, where I have lived for 18 years. I count many Burmese monks as friends and teachers.
Frankly, I feel extremely saddened by some of the choices that SOME of our Burmese Sangha have made. I realise the complexities and frustrations that exist in Burma, and that inevitably they have a way of boiling to the surface, when given a chance. But, we Buddhists, especially the Sangha, must adhere as closely as possible to the Buddha’s teachings, demonstrating Metta (loving-kindness) to ALL. If we don’t do so, and we engage in activities which result in suffering and violence, in what way can this be considered correct Buddhist practice? We must be better than that.
I have always viewed my work as a human rights and Free Burma activist, to be very much entwined with my practice as a Buddhist. All my efforts are done with an intention of compassion. Often, I am asked why I am involved in Burma, and I explain that it is simply that I want the children of a very dear Burmese friend, to have the opportunities that he didn’t have. Of course, I could just walk away, and certainly, my life would be much easier, but that is not the Buddhist thing to do.
I dream of a day when all the peoples of Burma are free of the suffering that this hideous regime has inflicted. We may disagree from time to time, but I encourage calm and free dialogue, so that we can build a road together which leads to a Burma we all wish to see.
On December 7th, I was fortunate enough to attend a symposium in Tokyo, organised by the Burma community here. The guests of honour were 88 Generation student leaders, Min Ko Naing and Ko Jimmy. Both these men have been instrumental players in the pro-democracy movement in Burma, and as a result, they have both suffered extremely lengthy periods in prison.
Their role in Burma’s future will be very important. Min Ko Naing is considered the most influential opposition leader in the country, after Aung San Suu Kyi.
A Burmese friend of mine arranged for me to chat with Ko Jimmy privately for a brief five minutes. Unsurprisingly, he informed me that the reforms had produced little change for the majority of the people in Burma, and that it was vital that amendments are made to the 2008 Constitution. He also reiterated his continued commitment to non-violent protest.
Photography by El-Branden Brazil