Over recent weeks, the blogosphere, and media around the world, have carried reports on the persecution of Christians in Burma. Sparked by Benedict Rogers‘ recent monograph, and the global speaking tour that he organised for Chin and Kachin Christian activists, the whole episode has drawn a great deal of useful attention to issues on Burma’s ethnic fringes. Rogers writes and works under the umbrella of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, but this doesn’t mean that his insights or his agenda are only relevant to Christians.
The breadth of his work became clear to me at an event late last month.
On the evening of 25 January 2007, I attended a large Burma-themed seminar at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. Set to the north of central Oxford, a trip to St. Hugh’s always makes for a nice outing. Among Oxford Colleges it has a reputation for being big, diverse and progressive, with a strong, activist Junior Common Room. As an aside, it also won the Cherwell newspaper’s “Fit College of the Year” in 2006.
It is famous as the College where Aung San Suu Kyi studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics back in the 1960s.
The event I attended – which was co-hosted by the Oxford Aegis Society and the Oxford University Burma Society – was held in the St. Hugh’s Junior Common Room. This has been renamed the “Aung San Suu Kyi Room“. The first order of business back in January was the unveiling of a painting of the woman who, in the words of Andrew Dilnot, the principal of St. Hugh’s, “means a great deal to [St. Hugh’s] College”. For Dilnot, she represents “freedom” and challenges to oppression.
After the painting was unveiled, Benedict Rogers, and his delegation of Chin and Kachin activists, gave their presentations on conditions inside Burma. The substance of their talks will not surprise New Mandala readers and focused on the litany of human rights violations perpetrated against ethnic minorities. It was the same old sad story marked, of course, by the special concerns of Christians in Burma.
This current effort to focus on Christians in Burma is part of a broader activist agenda pursued by Ben Rogers. Rogers is a Conservative Party political aspirant and human rights campaigner. His website carries an endorsement from James Mawdsley who you may remember was locked up in Burma in 2000 and 2001 for distributing pro-democracy material. Rogers is not short of other supporters. His recent report, “Carrying the Cross; The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma” carries a foreword by The Baroness Cox. She writes:
This report tells the truth of the brutal denial of freedom of religion in Burma today. I wholeheartedly congratulate Benedict Rogers for documenting this truth and making it available for us; I strongly commend his authoritative work and I urge you to read – and to act.
In less than 50 pages, Rogers assembles a battery of evidence about human rights abuses against Christians in Burma. It is a solid activist contribution to the ever-expanding literature on the Burmese government’s brutality.
To continue the conversation, New Mandala reader experiences of Christian areas in Burma are certainly welcome, as are any further thoughts on the politics of religion under Southeast Asia’s most enduring dictatorship.