So thousands of heavily armed soldiers are patrolling the streets of the Burmese capital, Rangoon, forcing the peaceful protesters off the streets.
Have the hopes and prayers for democracy in Burma been totally crushed? Have the pro-democracy protesters been defeated?
Not by a long shot.
When a government resorts to bullets and clubs to suppress peaceful demonstrators, you know they have lost all moral authority and it is just a matter of time before the regime is dumped into the ash heap of history.
I remember a powerful scene from the movie “Gandhi”, starring Ben Kingsley. The scene is the Dharasana Salt Works, and British and Indian officers commanding a large troop of Indian police personnel are confronting rows of unarmed Indian protesters after Gandhi had been detained the night before. Row by row, the demonstrators bravely step forward, only to be struck down and clubbed by the police armed with lathis.
Flash to the next scene, and a western journalist is reporting the story over the phone to his newsroom: “They walked, with heads up, without music, or cheering, or any hope of escape from injury or death. It went on and on and on. Women carried the wounded bodies from the ditch until they dropped from exhaustion. But still it went on.”
Shuffling his notes in his hand, the journalist concludes emotionally, “Whatever moral ascendance the West held was lost today. India is free for she has taken all that steel and cruelty can give, and she has neither cringed nor retreated.”
Similarly, the Burmese people have taken all that batons, bullets, cruelty and hard labour can give. But it is the Burmese junta that has lost all moral credibility – a long time ago. And thus, it is just a matter of time before these ruthless generals are unceremoniously booted out – with or without Asean’s help.
You see, it is no longer a worldly struggle but also a spiritual battle. That explains why monks have been at the forefront of the struggle, the same way that priests and nuns led the People Power revolution in the Philippines that ousted the US-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
And if India had the indomitable will of Gandhi to count on, the people of Burma draw their inspiration from the steely resolve of the courageous Aung San Suu Kyi.
Meanwhile, Razali Ismail, the former UN special emissary to Burma, says: “The people should be allowed to march on the streets and protest. The economic policies of the junta are wrong. It has not benefited the people,” he said.
I hope he will also defend the right of Malaysians to protest against unjust and wrong socio-economic policies, judicial manipulation and unfair elections.
Maybe that is why Asean has been so quiet – because many of the Asean member nations themselves display little tolerance for peaceful demonstrations in their own countries. And some of these governments have also propped up the military junta in Burma through their “business as usual” dealings with them. Think especially of the involvement of major multinational corporations such as Petronas in the oil and gas sector in Burma.
I couldn’t help noticing something else: while The Star’s Wong Chun Wai has backed the demonstrators in Burma, his own paper has a record of casting peaceful Malaysian demonstrators seeking justice on a variety of issues in a negative light or portraying them as trouble-makers and “rioters”. Double standards, perhaps?