Saturday, February 28, 2009

Singing a requiem for the rohingya boat people

"We can also perhaps stop all payments to the United Nations and its numerous agencies, use the money to feed the refugees and send a debit note for that amount as our annual subscription to the world body…
The Nation Multimedia

THIRTY YEARS AGO, I wrote the article that is partly reprinted below. It was published in The Nation on June 27, 1979, against the backdrop of the Vietnamese boat people. Things have not changed much since then. Today's inhumanity still rears its ugly head while our leaders cling to the excuses of "national interest" or "security concerns" to justify the drowning of the Rohingya boat people, instead of taking a moral stand.

A few generations ago, prisoners of war, refugees or economic migrants, as many of our forebears were, having come from Shantou in South China, were welcomed as a positive economic force for the Kingdom. Going back further in history, in the 16th century, my ancestors were Mon refugees from Burma (namely Phya Kien and Phya Ram). I feel that we, refugees or descendants of refugees, made this country - against all odds, against the inhumanity and the animal-like cruelty of modern day nationalists.

This then, was my requiem for the boat people of the world as it would be for today.

"In my student days, I remember marching behind Bertrand Russell and participating in his rallies. Since that time, I assume that the world no longer has a conscience.

"But a few days ago Sartre came out of the oblivion to speak for the Indo-Chinese refugees and, in effect on behalf of what remains of homo sapiens. I felt then that in humanity's four-million-year progression, there may yet be a ray of hope.

"Here, in this part of the world, to entertain views other than towing the desperate refugees back to sea or pushing them back to their war-torn country is to be unpatriotic. This being the case, I want everyone to know that I am the most unpatriotic person around. Whatever the wickedness, passiveness and guilt of other nations in regard to the refugee problem in Southeast Asia, I cannot enlist my soul to repeat after the popular cry to evict those unfortunate people regardless of everything else.

"We can also perhaps stop all payments to the United Nations and its numerous agencies, use the money to feed the refugees and send a debit note for that amount as our annual subscription to the world body…

"I have no idea what people see when they look at pictures of old folk, young people, children and women being towed out to drift in the sea. Certainly at this point in time, I am witnessing the lowest ebb in human evolution.

"What is happening in [a neighbouring country] makes us seem relatively humane. Nevertheless, except for the social workers along the border who toil without saying a word, the lack of compassion or metta amongst our rank and file convinces me that ours is hardly a Buddhist country. Notwithstanding, I believe that karma or the reciprocal law applies whether the country is Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or nothing at all. Whoever tows out those poor souls into the sea will find themselves recompensed accordingly.

"Setting people adrift to die is as cruel as processing Jews in the Nazi solution for Europe. I ask myself whether it would not be easier, and perhaps less cruel, to make the refugees queue up and take the 'showers' in the chambers. At any rate, if I were a refugee I would ask the authorities to issue death pills instead of towing me out in a junk to eventually drown in the middle of nowhere. At least I shall not have to see old folks, women and children going through such an ordeal.

"Actually the entire humanity is in the same boat - Spaceship Earth as R Buckminster Fuller called it - a tiny craft amongst nine others orbiting around a tiny star called the Sun, which in turn is the centre of a minute system amongst 30,000 million such systems in one of the myriad of galaxies.

"In this grand scheme of things - and we can see it clearly if we only look to the sky on a clear night - humans on a tiny spacecraft quarrel over 300 metres of ill-defined borders which cannot even be seen with the most powerful telescope from the nearest spacecraft called Mars, and whether people should be defined as refugees or displaced persons.

"In spite of fantastic tool inventions, I now question whether humans without the capability to understand the universe will survive into the 21st century. It must seem a long time ago since hominids took the road to become human or since life germinated on our spacecraft four billions years ago. Scientists now see a rapid deterioration on the latter's physical condition: man-made pollution in both the stratosphere and atmosphere, the destruction of the natural balance of land and sea, and the burning up of the spacecraft's non-renewable energy.

"As a humanist, I can see that perhaps long before the craft's self-automated mechanism stops functioning completely, the human race may have already raced itself out of existence through incredible selfishness. For humans, the four million years of evolutionary effort might yet be undone in less than a hundred!

"With this article, I take leave of my readers in order to research into the origins of our species. Perhaps something worthwhile did exist then, in which case this column might be reactivated."

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