Fear not, oppressed peoples of the world: the UN is on the scene!
The meeting between Mr Gambari and Ms Suu Kyi was regarded by western governments as crucial in urging reform on the junta, which for the time being at least appears to have successfully suppressed weeks of rising demonstrations by monks and ordinary Burmese.
In a crucial move by Western Governments to stop the government’s violence, the UN representative arrives for crucial talks… with the wrong government. (Yes she won an election, but that doesn’t mean she’s the head of government which is sort of why there’s all this trouble to begin with, nitwit. You gotta go over there — ninme points — and talk to the guys with guns shooting at people.)
This is difficult stuff for the western sceptic. All around the world, now and in the past, it seems that violence does indeed prevail, and turning the other cheek is, to say nothing harsher, distinctly quixotic. Tilting at windmills may be admirable, in a way, but it is futile. There is a big gap between Asian and western thought on this. Only yesterday Maung Zarni of the Free Burma Coalition published an article in The Times under the headline “‘Loving kindness’ will beat the generals”, and spoke of a new dawn on the Burmese horizon.
He wrote proudly of his Burmese great-grandmother who told him of a bloody encounter in the 1930s in Mandalay between the forces of the British Raj and some peaceful, unarmed Buddhist monks and nuns who – just as today’s “loving kindness army” of monks and nuns – stood up to them on behalf of Burma’s poor. Just as today they were shot and beaten down in pools of blood, unsung heroes but heroes nonetheless.
My response to that story is that the British Raj did not leave because of this noble protest, but for all kinds of other, unrelated reasons, many economic. One was the loss of the will to power, which had much more to do with necessities in Britain than with protests on the spot. The British wanted and needed out of empire, so voluntarily they left and then freedom didn’t follow anyway. Strictly speaking, I suspect, the brave Buddhists died in vain. The monks weren’t winning then, and I am afraid, despite the hopeful comments of Maung Zarni, and the long sacrifice of Aung San Suu Kyi, they aren’t winning now.
I don’t really believe that peace and love will prevail over the evil generals in Burma. I don’t really believe that the forces of heroism prevailed in South Africa, or in Northern Ireland, though they must have made a mark, where they were not ignored, forgotten and generally unsung. What brings change finally are political and economic forces. No amount of heroism will bring peace and plenty to Darfur, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, and the worst of the African states. The only thing that might is the clout of foreign powers, and even that is doubtful. So with Burma.
Well last night before going to bed I saw a big headline across the front of Fox News that thousands of people had been gunned down in Burma already, just like in 1988. But now it’s gone, and I can’t find it. Minette Marin up there says in her column that she’s run into a lot of young people who have never heard of San Suu Kyi. The only reason I’ve heard of her is because I spent the summer of 1994 in France. With satellite access to Sky News.
New York was hot last week. I don’t just mean that the temperatures were in the eighties. I mean that the world’s capital was the hot ticket.
The opening of the United Nations is traditionally a time of motorcade madness, when smart cross-streets are blocked for hours by triple-parked Lincoln Continentals. But now that the Clinton Global Initiative convenes in the same week, it’s practically impossible to get a decent hotel room. Not being a Hollywood planet-saver or an Irish philanth-rocker, it was all I could do to get a drink at the bar of the Mandarin Oriental.
To get everyone nicely warmed up, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gave a series of loopy speeches…
Then it was off to the CGI to hear Al Gore’s umpteenth speech about the coming “planetary emergency”. (Those of us who have to dream up three new lectures a week at this time of year can only marvel.) If only we could all stop being driven around in limos and flying around in private jets, we might actually do something about reducing those dreadful CO2 emissions! But then how the hell would we get to New York for these A-list boondoggles?
It was all going just fine, with not a cloud in the shimmering September sky, when those nasty generals in Burma decided to rain on our parade. The self-installed rulers of “Myanmar” are fully paid-up members of the Petty and Cruel Dictators Club, gunning down Buddhist monks who have ventured to demonstrate against their corrupt regime. And they seem able to do so with complete impunity because they are in possession of some of Asia’s largest reserves of natural gas, which China will continue to buy no matter how many economic sanctions the United States imposes.
On Wednesday night the US, Britain and France proposed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Burmese government and tightened sanctions. The Chinese blocked it. So much for the UN. So much for the CGI. Whether it’s political freedom you want or a curb on carbon emissions, the New York glitterati can propose, but it’s the Chinese who dispose.
So much of contemporary life is about opportunities for self-congratulation. Risk-free dissent is the default mode of our culture, and extremely seductive. If dissent means refusing to let the Bush administration bully you into wearing a flag lapel pin, why, then Katie Couric (bravely speaking out on this issue just last week) is the new Mandela! If Rumsfeld is a “fascist.” then anyone can fight fascism. It’s no longer about the secret police kicking your door down and clubbing you to a pulp. Well, OK, it is if you’re a Buddhist monk in Burma. But they’re a long way away, and it’s all a bit complicated and foreign, and let’s not “confuse the very dire human rights situation” in Hoogivsastan with an opportunity to celebrate our courage in defending “academic freedom” in America.