All day today I’ve been meaning to sit down and right something meaningful about the escalating situation in Burma which seems ripe for change or extensive repression. Turns out someone with far more experience has done a great job of laying out the history of the situation there and a useful perspective on what’s happening:
Excerpt from Burma on the March by Gene Stoltzfus (founder of Christian Peacemaker Teams):
Buddhist teachings and values are deeply ingrained in Burmese society and when monks lead, an unwritten message is sent to the nation. The arrest of monks creates a shocking dissonance in the minds of the Buddhist population. In the practice of Buddhism in Burma, people frequently leave the routine of their lives for a few weeks to become monks. With saffron robes, shaved heads and begging bowls they examine their lives, perhaps in the hope of gaining merit, more spiritually centered living, or to move along in their own personal cycle of karma. Some of the monks walking in the demonstrations now are almost certainly people who have only recently joined the monastery for a brief break.
The flow of popular participation in monastic life is an opportunity for military intelligence agencies to infiltrate in times like this. According to reports from Thailand, the Burmese military has ordered monks clothing from a factory. At least one role of military intelligence people will be to collect information about plans. An even more dangerous role, familiar to peacemakers around the world, is the placement of agent provocateurs who turn peaceful demonstrations into violent confrontations which are then blamed on Buddhists, who by implication have deserted their nonviolent disciplines.
I’d never heard of this practice of becoming a monk for a few weeks. It seems like a spiritually healthy practice for the Buddhist community. What would happen if we took time to shave our heads and beg for money for a few weeks once or twice in our lives?
All the more tragic then that this practice is being exploited by the military dictatorship. For more information on this strategy see Burma regime planning to infiltrate demonstrations to spark violence on the website of the Burmha Campaign UK.
Update: Avaaz.org has a petition you can sign to the UN Security Council and Chinese President Hu Jinta. Somehow seems more effective to me then Amnesty’s action page to send a letter to President Bush.