David Mathieson – regular book reviewer over at The Irrawaddy, ANU doctoral candidate and newly appointed Burma consultant for Human Rights Watch – has read Myanmar’s Long Road to National Reconciliation edited by former Australian Ambassador to Burma, Trevor Wilson. And he’s not impressed. The book comes out of the papers presented at the 2004 Burma Update held in the Coombs Theatre at the ANU. I was at this two-day talk-fest, and remember listening to many of the papers that Mathieson ridicules.
Having read the book, and listened to the papers live, I can’t help but agree with the cut and thrust of his criticism. Mathieson reminds us that scholarly rigour needs to be the priority in scholarly forums. Convenient white-washing and apologetic engagement are an unworthy substitute for genuine analysis and critique.
In his review, Mathieson clarifies the inadequacies of Wilson’s edited product in some detail. He concludes by noting that:
This book should largely please Than Shwe and his henchman, the hermit kings of Naypyidaw, and one can imagine it being peddled in the foyer of the National Convention as a carelessly crafted endorsement of authoritarian prevarication. Following the spirit of Wilson’s positive editorial tone, I can summarize this volume as a patchy but nice try, although just like the SPDC, it has willfully waddled down a cul-de-sac of despotic delusion.
The full review is obviously well worth a read. As always, New Mandala reader comments are encouraged and I have no doubt that everybody involved would welcome new voices in this conversation. This is the kind of book, and the kind of review, that I think should really lead to a much wider ranging debate.