Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Standing with the People of Burma (Myanmar)

There are thousands of struggles for justice and peace around the world.  One cannot focus on all of them, all of the time.  But I have always had a strong sense of connection to the struggles of the people of Burma.  Maybe it’s because I am Baptist.  Baptists have been in Burma since pioneer missionaries Adonirom and Ann Judson arrived in 1814.  Because of this history, the hill peoples of Burma, the Karins and Kachins, are mostly Christian whereas the Burmese of the lowlands are mostly Buddhist–except for a Muslim minority near the border with Bangladesh. 

That Baptist-Burma connection is evident currently in the efforts of the American Baptist Churches, USA to resettle Burmese refugees.  To learn more or even participate, click here.

The current military junta, with the Orwellian name of SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Committee), has been in control since 1988 when it cancelled the results of a democratic election and proceeded to kill and jail thousands.  The symbol of the struggle, Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong Sawn Sue Chee), has not been killed because she is the daughter of Burma’s equivalent of George Washington, the national hero Aung San who led the revolution for Burma’s independence after WWII. Educated in Britain and once having worked with the U.N., Suu Kyi’s character has been shaped by her father’s fierce belief in a free, democratic Burma, and by the nonviolence of Gandhi. (She got to know Gandhi’s story intimately when her mother was Burmese ambassador to India.)

The current crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations demands solidarity.  It will be difficult for governments to put pressure on the military unless China can be persuaded to threaten to cut off their lucrative natural gas contracts with Burma. (Since it was the military government which renamed the country, Myanmar, I continue to use the older name.) One way they could do that would be if the U.S. and the E.U. both threatened to pull out of the Olympic Games–which would cost China billions–unless China pressured Burma to stop the killings and jailings.

But what can we do as ordinary people do to help the Burmese?  The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (the OTHER BPF, not the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America) has a list of vigils one can attend here.  Or you can organize your own.  Find the embassy of Myanmar in your country and organize vigils or protests there.

Sign the petition of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.  Pray for the Burmese people.  Urge your government officials to pressure Burma with diplomatic and economic tools.  Especially encourage your government to make it illegal for any company operating in your nation to sell weapons or ammunitions to Burma.  Create citizens’ boycotts of Burmese goods.  Let the military government of Burma know in every way that the whole world is watching. They cannot repress democracy forever and we will not treat their actions as “purely an internal matter.”

September 28, 2007 - Posted by | nonviolence


  1. Unfortunately for the people, Myanmar has no oil. Darfur has no oil. Zimbabwe has no oil. So the US government is satisfied to let them suffer. If they had oil, Bush would “liberate” them quickly.

    Comment by Tauratinzwe | September 28, 2007

  2. Michael,

    I really appreciated this post.

    The naming of Burma/Myanmar poses a real problem to me. On the one hand, the name “Burma” was imposed by the British empire. On the other hand, as you noted, the name “Myanmar” was imposed by the current military junta, trying to bolster their internal nationalist credibility by publicly shaking off the chains of the imposed imperialist name.

    Because Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy refuses to recognize the name change, I agree with you, and use Burma. However, the name Burma is equally problematic, because of its connection to British colonization.

    In short, my heart goes out to the people of Burma, so long the subjects of systematic oppression that they don’t even have control over their own name.

    Comment by Sandalstraps | September 29, 2007

  3. Hi, Chris:
    As long as the pro-democracy movement continues to call the country Burma, so will I–even though the Burmese are really only the lowland peoples, as opposed to the Karins or Kachins. When a free and democratic Burma decides on some other name, I’ll use that.
    But as for your last comment–many, many peoples have little control over their name and many names have colonial histories–just ask Ivory Coast/Cote d’Ivoire. Or ask the indigenous peoples of the U.S.–even the term “Native Americans” links them with the Spanish explorer/colonizer Amerigo Vespucci.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 29, 2007

  4. To comment #1: Pure drivel….

    “Many see China, Myanmar’s biggest trading partner, as the most likely outside catalyst. But China, India and Russia, who have been competing for Myanmar’s bountiful oil and gas resources, do not seem prepared to go beyond words in dealing with the junta.”

    Iraq was about WMD’s not oil. Iran is about WMD’s not oil. North Korea is about WMD’s not rice. Get a grip.

    Involving ourselves in Darfur, Burma, Zimbabwe would be throwing us in the middle of a civil war or creating one. We are dealing with that unfortunate situation in Iraq now. We don’t need another until we can stabilize the situation there.

    But unlike Michael, I would support a limited military strike (assassination) against any of these leaders and arming their opponents if the cases warrant it. Many of the Burmese, I have heard, are calling for such help. Of course all they will get is editorials, online petitions, sanctions, and more dictators.

    This is why I abandoned pacifism. It is toothless when it matters and only the comfortable generally proclaim it. I sat at Duke and watched many at the largely pacifist Divinity School advocate taking no military action against Milosevic while the Kosovars were nearly annihilated. Few of the students could read Yoder with a straight face with the war on TV and genocide looming yet again. The bloodbath was fine by many pacifists as long as their principles were upheld. Instead the resolution required very limited warfare.

    Oh…the “occupation” continues there too….

    “Pentagon officials do not believe Kosovo is still a combat zone, despite rising tensions in the Balkans over Kosovo’s ongoing bid for independence and frequent U.S. missions that involve dangerous interdictions of smuggling rings, raids on armed extremist groups and encounters with improvised bombs.”

    Sounds just like Iraq, but the Left supports our involvement in Kosovo apparently because Americans love a winner. Most Americans will support Iraq too when it turns less bloody like Kosovo has. It appears to be doing so now if one looks at the morgue reports. We are morphing into a peacekeeping operation in Iraq as well.


    Comment by slim | September 30, 2007

  5. Gee, slim, I disagree greatly.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 30, 2007

  6. Gas (and Oil) does seem to be an issue. Perhaps the ARF forum of ASEAN can do more?

    Comment by Jason Kemp | October 5, 2007

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