An abrasive commentary about conditions in Burma recently came to my attention. Written by Melody Kemp, who describes herself as “a raging granny who lives in Laos”, it laments international indifference to “Burma’s generals [who] go on killing, raping, torturing and maiming”
Kemp concludes that:
Peace activists and others often feel queasy about supporting an armed struggle, particularly in Burma where women bear arms as a matter of necessity, and in continuity of historical lineage.
Those sitting sipping coffee in Western cities talking theoretically about peace and war, have little concept of what it is like to simply get up and face hell each day. But it’s even more disconcerting to know that really no one gives a toss. The war in Burma rates lower in movie star attraction than Tibet. There are no Branjelina’s flying into Rangoon, no Richard Geres kissing Than Shwe. George Soros is a singular example, funding pro Burmese activities, the flagship of which is Irrawaddy magazine.
It seems that Asia is a good place to visit, but not a good place to really care about.
Kemp’s missive highlights “a list of gruesome horrors” and attacks many around their world for their “nonchalance”. The argument particularly targets peace activists. She writes that:
In Australia the majority of peace activism has been conflated with and focused on, anti nuclear issues, which neatly sidesteps the reality of war and death in most of the poor nations of the world; places like Burma.
Their focus is a statement of Western fears, not an acceptance of the daily reality of our Asian neighbours, who do not have memories for events long ago in another land. Every day, they simply flee death, cloaked in shells, bullets, bayonets, mines, knives, disease and starvation.
Polemic aside – is this criticism fair? What would be an alternative approach?
Or, more importantly, are Burma’s tragedies really more peripheral to “Westerners’ visions” than the many other long, hot wars that fester in so many places around the world? Does Burma deserve special treatment, attention or concern? If so, on what grounds? Is there a way forward for the disparate forces of “Burma activism”? Are there ways to get the world really interested in Burma’s civil wars? What do you think is the best thing to do or is nothing the best option? Does academic scholarship have anything to add?