Five hundred years before Jesus, Taoists taught passive resistance, a crucial element of world-changing modern spiritual activists such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. The ancient masters revealed how to be steadfast and supple, like water—flowing rather than fixed, rigid, or static—which is of great benefit, for water is stronger than even stone: water’s constant flow will eventually wear anything down and carry everything away. Like the underlying continuum of reality, the great Tao is groundless and boundless; it is flowing, dynamic, yet unmoved amidst infinite change. “Yield and overcome, and you cannot be broken,” they taught.
It was Adul, the stateless descendant of a Wa ethnic tribal branch once known for headhunting, who played a critical role in the rescue, acting as interpreter for the British divers.
.. Proficient in English, Thai, Burmese, Mandarin and Wa, Adul politely communicated to the British divers his squad’s greatest needs: food and clarity on just how long they had stayed alive.
.. the Wild Boars’ 18-day ordeal came to an end. In a three-day rescue mission, Adul and 12 others were safely extracted from the cave by a team of dozens of divers, doctors and support staff.
.. Located not far from where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet in the Golden Triangle
.. The Golden Triangle is a smuggling center, and a sanctuary for members of various ethnic militias that have spent decades pushing for autonomy from a government in Myanmar that routinely represses them.
.. Three of the trapped soccer players, as well as their coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, are stateless ethnic minorities, accustomed to slipping across the border to Myanmar one day and returning for a soccer game in Thailand the next.
.. Their presence undercuts a Thai sense of nationhood that is girded by a triumvirate of institutions: the military, the monarchy and the Buddhist monastery.
.. With the English he used to communicate with the British divers on July 2, Adul was crucial in ensuring the safety of the Wild Boars. He is the top student in his class at the Ban Wiang Phan School in Mae Sai. His academic record and sporting prowess have earned him free tuition and daily lunch.
.. “Stateless children have a fighting spirit that makes them want to excel,” he said. “Adul is the best of the best.”
.. At least 440,000 stateless people live in Thailand, many of whom are victims of Myanmar’s long years of ethnic strife, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Human rights groups say the true number could be as high as 3 million — in a nation of nearly 70 million — even though the Thai government has refused to ratify the United Nations convention guaranteeing rights for refugees.
.. A stateless member of the ethnic Shan minority, Mr. Ekkapol has long experience caring for children. After his parents died in Myanmar when he was a young boy, he entered the Buddhist monkhood in Thailand for nearly a decade, a common option for orphans untethered from financial support.
.. Her reticence is a tactical decision, according to people in her inner circle. Ms. Suu Kyi worries that speaking more forcefully would antagonize the military, which once ran the country and still wields considerable authority, and jeopardize her goal of achieving a full democracy after years of struggle... When a visiting diplomat raised the issue of the Rohingya with Ms. Suu Kyi in 2013, she admonished: “Please don’t call them Rohingya. They are Bengali. They are foreigners,” according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. The term “Bengali” is often used in Myanmar to describe illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The person also recalled that Ms. Suu Kyi complained the international community underestimated the threat Buddhists faced from Muslims in Rakhine State... She has repeatedly stopped short of criticizing soldiers for setting fire to Rohingya settlements... Antipathy to the Rohingya, who live in Myanmar without citizenship or the right to vote, goes back decades. Some Rohingya say they were the original inhabitants of the coastal strip along western Myanmar, before Buddhist ethnic-Rakhines settled there... During World War II, Rohingya sided with retreating British forces while many local Buddhists took up arms with the Japanese in hopes of gaining independence, inflaming tensions between the two communities that have lingered to this day... what Myanmar military strategists call the “Four Cuts.” Developed in the 1970s against the country’s rebel armies, it involves sweeping through civilian areas to deny insurgents food, funds, recruits and information. The general later described the operations as “unfinished business” dating back to World War II... The crisis is raising questions about whether the push among Western nations to restore ties with Myanmar, a resource-rich nation in a strategically important region bordering China, was justified... The constitution which Myanmar’s army drafted in 2008 grants it control of the defense and interior ministries, the administrative backbone of the country. Soldiers are guaranteed a quarter of the seats in the parliament, enough to veto constitutional changes... Ms. Suu Kyi is barred from being president because she has foreign-born children... Many human rights activists and some diplomats now believe Ms. Suu Kyi may have been better suited as an icon of the opposition than a mainstream politician.
.. “What was described as strength and steadfastness is now being called inflexibility. But it’s really the same person if you look at her closely over years,” said one diplomat who knows Ms. Suu Kyi well... “A parody of democracy is infinitely worse than dictatorship,” she told one diplomat, according to a person familiar with the discussion... She has struggled to build trust with the insurgent armies, many of which regard the Myanmar military as the real power... Ms. Suu Kyi seized on an analogy used by an audience member comparing the government to a parent, with ethnic armed groups as its children. A person with knowledge of the exchange said she urged camp-dwellers to tell the armed groups: “Listen to your parents.”.. Ms. Suu Kyi has also expressed reluctance to provide the Rohingya with citizenship, saying it would only encourage more Muslims to come from Bangladesh... “She is binding herself to the military because both sides understand they have to hang together,” he said. “For all her rhetoric past and present, her leverage on the military is nil.”
Francis Wade, author of “Myanmar’s Enemy Within” explains the deep roots of the violence, and the long-term persecution of the Rohingya people.
This devastating violence follows several waves of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence to have hit Myanmar since its democratic transition began in 2011.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for her refusal to condemn the military’s campaign, which has emptied more than 170 Rohingya villages of their inhabitants.
.. Myanmar had always been depicted by observers in quite binary terms—
- of an oppressive military junta ruling over a
- stoic, peaceful, largely Buddhist population.
In the decade or so prior to the start of the democratic transition in 2011 the country only really made international headlines when journalists reported on the monk-led protests, or embedded with ethnic armies fighting wars of resistance against the military in the borderlands. So it was set up as “bad junta” versus “good society”, and the frictions within each camp, particularly the latter, hadn’t had much of a nuanced reading.
.. violence, largely communal in its expression, broke out in the west of the country in June 2012. Over four days Buddhist and Muslim mobs attacked one another in fits of frenzied violence.
.. Much of the violence was being perpetrated by Buddhists, goaded on by monks, and this greatly confounded observers.
.. The denial of citizenship to Rohingya means they lack state protections
.. Soldiers are seemingly free to execute civilians and raze entire villages without fear of legal recrimination. Once you’re legally cast as a pariah group it feeds local perceptions of you as an alien entity, of threatening intent—
- you must have been made stateless because to allow you to be a citizen would imperil our security.
- You cannot have the rights that would grant you greater political power, because that would be used to pursue whatever cause your group has set out to achieve—in the case of the Rohingya, the theft of resources, the Islamisation of Myanmar, and so on.
.. It is primarily fear, aided hugely by dehumanising propaganda and policies—tight restrictions on movement and access to healthcare; checkpoints at which Rohingya must show ID cards, and which reinforce this perception of them being a threat. That fear helps to justify the violence towards this community, and construe that violence as defensive. That’s how you sell a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
.. Hence a situation has arisen whereby those who criticise the military’s actions are rounded upon by the same people who for so long opposed the military. Now that it has ostensibly stepped back from power, a newer, even more menacing threat has emerged in the form of a Muslim group with apparently Islamising intentions.
.. Much of the present-day crisis has been stoked by the self-serving interests of nationalist leaders who dredge up historical conflicts in order to justify the exclusionary policies they support.
.. During British rule of Myanmar between 1824 and 1948 it imported vast numbers of Indian workers, as it did in colonies
This caused a sudden demographic change
But this demographic shake-up gave further wind to a budding anti-colonial movement spearheaded predominantly by Bamar Buddhists (Bamar is the majority ethnic group, and Buddhism the dominant religion)
those two identities became the pivot around which a national identity was forged against British rule. Indians came to be seen as stooges of British rule, given they’d often been privileged in professional hierarchies.
Nationalist groups accused them of diluting the “bloodline” by forcing Buddhist women to convert when they married.
.. after the military took power in 1962 it vigorously promoted Buddhism as the national religion (although that was never enshrined in law), and Bamar as effectively the master race. Later it decided, with no evidence provided, that precisely 135 ethnic groups existed in the country. British censuses don’t record any mention of a Rohingya ethnic group, although Rohingya claim a presence in the country going back several centuries and were recognised by the government after independence. Not being considered among the 135 indigenous groups, they gradually became a pariah community, denied citizenship and stripped of political rights.
. It goes way back to when the British took Myanmar in the early 19
century and imported its obsession with racial science. Colonial administrators set about carving up and codifying communities into distinct groups, and pinning attributes to them: some ethnic groups were gentle, others were wild, and so on.
It did this in its colonies across the world, and the results, as we know, have been toxic. What were fluid cultural differences between groups become sharp divides, and in Myanmar as elsewhere they have spawned competition and conflict—exacerbated greatly by a military that wanted control of every corner of the country—that seems intractable. This has become a permanent fixture in many post-colonial societies.
You’d be hard pressed to find any justification for violence in the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism, which is what the majority in Myanmar practice. But what’s always forgotten in these analyses of how certain religions are supposed to “be” is that people act primarily as human beings, with human fears and anxieties.
I was told that while Buddhism doesn’t support violence, those Buddhists who have perpetrated violence acted with the conviction that if Buddhism ceased to exist in Myanmar, the country would descend into anarchy. “If the Buddhist cultures vanish … there wouldn’t be the influence of peace and truth. There will be more discrimination and violence,” one person told me.
These may be Buddhists committing violence, but they’re also humans. I think its key to look beyond the religious element—it appears to me more an expression of nationalist-based anxieties, of which the fear of Buddhism’s demise is but one aspect.
.. they’ve been able to turn floating existential anxieties felt by many Buddhists into something more concrete by pointing to other former bastions of Buddhism—India, Malaysia and so on—where Islam is now predominant. Second, because a number of Buddhist nationalist movements have also functioned as providers of welfare to a population that has known only neglect. Monks carry huge social capital in Myanmar—for centuries and more they have served as the moral glue of society. Because they’re so venerated it’s difficult for those who don’t agree with their more recent expressions of xenophobia to challenge them.
.. There have been numbers of prominent figureheads of the pro-democracy movement who have issued inflammatory anti-Rohingya rhetoric. Again though, it shows a certain naivety on our part. We knew that they stood against military rule, and had used “democracy” as a powerful sign around which to mobilise a movement, but what exactly they stood for was less clear.
.. The Myanmar of today—and numbers of its pro-democracy luminaries-cum-chauvinists—proves how wrong it is to equate the concept of democracy with the principle of tolerance for all.
.. She seems to think it more constructive to keep the military onside than to leverage the moral influence she has to stop the cleansing.