Finding Light in Darkness: The Myanmar Tragedy

Darkness, in its many intimidating and frightening modes, is not the final word.

As I walked among the glistening gold-plated stupas of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Burma), it was hard to believe that just miles north, a genocide took place masterminded by the country’s military.

The Rohingyas, a people-name once unknown, is now a common point of our conversations. But even as we assume the worldwide accusations are self-evident behind the genocide of these ethnic Muslims in the heart of a Buddhist country, complexity rules—a fact of which the small Christian community there is well aware.

We wonder at the silence of the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. What are the factors in the social architecture of Myanmar that have contributed to this seemingly unforgiveable tragedy?

To begin, Myanmar is a country of 54 million people, divided into eight major ethnic races grouped by region, more so than language or ethnic affiliation. These regions camouflage its actual 135 distinct ethnic groups!

We too quickly assume that globalization is good, unifying people of all kinds of cultural strands. Democracy and human rights we value so highly are not necessarily embraced. Tribalism often rules, and Myanmar is a prime example. Mistreatment of ethnic or religious minorities is nothing new in what was formerly Burma. Internally, there are some 600,000 displaced persons, not counting the tens of thousands still in camps in Thailand and other surrounding countries.

The Military Rules

Although Myanmar is, nominally speaking, a country with a government of an elected parliament, it is still the military who rules. Myanmar held general elections in 2015; however, 25 percent of the seats in parliament are controlled by the military. …

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