September 28, 2007

"SPIRITUAL HARDBALL":


Myanmar intensifies efforts to break up protests
: Soldiers club and drag away activists, occupy Buddhist monasteries and cut the Internet. (Associated Press, September 28, 2007)

Soldiers clubbed and dragged away activists while firing tear gas and warning shots to break up demonstrations Friday before they could grow, and the government cut Internet access, raising fears that a deadly crackdown was set to intensify.

Troops also occupied Buddhist monasteries in a bid to clear the streets of Myanmar's revered monks, who have spearheaded the demonstrations.

The government said 10 people have been killed since the violence began earlier this week, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he believed the loss of life in Myanmar was "far greater" than is being reported. Dissident groups have put the number as high as 200, although that number could not be verified.

Witnesses said security forces aggressively broke up a rally of about 2,000 people near the Sule Pagoda in the largest city, Yangon. About 20 trucks packed with soldiers arrived and announced over loudspeakers, "We give you 10 minutes to move out from the road. Otherwise we will fire."

A group of about 10 people broke away from the main crowd and rushed toward a line of soldiers, who were dressed in green uniforms with red bandanas around their necks, holding shields and automatic weapons. The people were beaten up, and five were seen being hauled away in a truck.

Soldiers dispersed the other protesters, beating them with clubs and firing shots in the air.

"People in this country are gentle and calm. (But) people are very angry now and they dare to do anything," said a shopkeeper, who witnessed the clash and did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.

MORE:
Burma's Revolt of The Spirit (Michael Gerson, September 28, 2007, Washington Post)

The great virtue of Buddhism is serene courage in the face of inevitable affliction. That courage is on display now in Burma -- a nation caught upon the wheel of suffering.

The sight of young, barefoot monks in cinnamon robes quietly marching for democracy, amid crowds carrying banners reading "love and kindness," is already a symbol of conscience for a young century. On closer examination, these protests have also shown that nonviolence need not be tame or toothless. The upside-down bowls carried by some of the monks signal that they will not accept alms from the leaders of the regime, denying them the ability to atone for bad deeds or to honor their ancestors. These chanting monks are playing spiritual hardball.

Once again -- as in the American civil rights struggle and the end of communism in Eastern Europe -- religion is proving to be an uncontrollable force in an oppressive society. Religious dissidents have the ability not only to organize opposition to tyrants but also to shame them. Political revolutions often begin as revolutions of the spirit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 28, 2007 8:00 AM
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