Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Stoking the Fears of Foreign Influence

The Irrawaddy News

A court of law is supposed to establish the truth, develop facts and deliver prompt justice. The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, however, has only produced speculation—while also bringing the feared spectre of a foreign enemy into the courtroom.

Information being what it is in modern Burma, we are left with very few incontrovertible facts. One of these is the fact that Burma’s last democratically elected leader was less than three weeks away from a supposed release date.

Hope being as flimsy as information, however, Suu Kyi would most probably not have been released. Her destiny seems to have been choreographed with history in mind.

The reason why Suu Kyi is still battling, as exuberant and inspiring as ever, is because she challenges power in a dangerous, “alien” manner—through non-violence.

The presence in the same courtroom of the American intruder John William Yettaw adds to the “foreign” front facing the junta leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe. For the top general, the ideas of the democracy movement are seemingly foreign—the funding, the language and much of the support. He sees it as a veritable network of foreign treachery.

The fact that the ideas are not all that foreign is lost to most. It can be argued that Suu Kyi follows in a long line of thinkers and activists whose thoughts could be seen to have been born in that distillery of philosophy and ideas to Burma’s immediate west, India. They follow in the footsteps of Gautama Buddha and, of course, Mahatma Ghandi.

Their ideas took root in Burma possibly over 1,000 years ago, and subsequently found acceptance in the West, where Suu Kyi’s image and struggle have also captivated many. This fact is now used against her with a convoluted narrative born somewhere between Cuba and Rambo’s last action epic.

Three incidents or stories that are seemingly of little importance to the case are in fact hugely significant.

The first was the junta claim that Yettaw was sent to Rangoon by exiles on the border. The junta apparently accused the Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB) of being behind the venture.

The FDB, a group that embodies Suu Kyi’s ethos, is partly funded by foreign governments through proxy organizations, like many exiled groups.

A visit Yettaw reportedly made to the Thai-Burmese border area was not lost on the junta, which supposedly knew about it and suspected that he made contact with exiled groups.

The second incident that should be examined is the reported bomb blast late last month at Pyinmana railway station. The source of the news was the state-run daily The New Light of Myanmar, which blamed “terrorists”—specifically the All Burma Students Democratic Front, (ABSDF).

This group of former students has links with the FDB and shares its ideals and aims—chiefly the replacement of military rule by democratic government.

The facts suggest, although nothing can ever be verified in this environment, that the bomb incident, if it happened at all, was probably what is known as a “false flag.” This is a term describing a tactic used by US intelligence, most famously against Cuba with “Operation Northwoods.”

Declassified documents show how the US intended to commit terrorist acts as a pretext for invasion.

In Burma’s case, the unverifiable explosion of a bomb at Pyinmana railway station could have been used by the Burmese regime to accuse the democracy movement of causing chaos and disturbing the peace. The Pyinmana bomb doesn’t even need to have existed.

The US history of “false flag” operations and its involvement in Burma as a donor adds fuel to conspiracy theories.

The apolitical, broad interest in Burma in the West has also been a contributing factor. While many Western politicians have reservations about criticizing Israel or Saudi Arabia, Burma is a cause on which everybody will speak. Burma has proved to be the quintessential modern “soft” crusade.

A third element of the Burma saga, which barely featured in the media, perhaps because of its absurdity, was the statement by the junta’s “racist-in-chief,” the Burmese consul-general in Hong Kong, Myint Aung, suggesting that Yettaw might be Suu Kyi’s “boyfriend.”

Although absurd, the smear was a deliberate attempt to tarnish Suu Kyi’s image by making her appear a corrupt, decadent woman.

Spreading a false consciousness amongst the population is a classic tactic. Promoting fear is another, particularly fear of anything foreign.

It blinds and obscures in a calculated manner and plays on the natural xenophobia of a reactionary conservative elite. The emphasis on associations with the West is a paranoid yet expedient reading of events, designed to stifle hope during the long winter of authoritarianism.

Joseph A. Allchin is a free lance writer based in the Thai-Burmese border.

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