Why the Burmese President-Elect’s ‘Release’ should Concern Everyone

Posted on December 6, 2010

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Flag of the former National League for Democracy

From a guest blogger:

The Nobel laureate Aung Sann Suu Kyi, ‘The Lady’ as she is known in Burma, was released at 5.00pm on 13 November 2010. The numerological significance of the moment cannot be missed by anyone who knows the vital significance of such matters in a country whose rulers are obsessed with them: 5 (from 5.00pm) + 1 + 3 (the two separated numbers of 13, as in 13 November) add up to 9 which is the number regarded as auspicious for the military rulers. This was intended as a signal, both to themselves and to those whom they rule, that they are still very much in charge.

8, on the other hand, is a number regarded as auspicious for those opposed to military rule. After all, it was at 8.00am on 8 August, 1988, that a nation-wide uprising against the military began. Despite the handicap of imposed news blackouts and the then lack of an internal internet, the ‘8888 Uprising‘, as it became known, spread quickly throughout the land until its brutal suppression on 18 September (a date pointing, again, to the figure 9).

No serious Burma-watcher could be unaware of this crucial key to how this south-east Asian nation ticks. The simplest observation brings awareness of numerology’s primacy in Burmese public life, and one does not need an elaborate anthropological analytical tool, such as the US Army’s Human Terrain System, to discover it. Why, then, have external supporters of the anti-military lobby not ‘weaponised’ numerology to free Burma from tyranny?

Aung San Suu Kyi depicted on a banner at a demonstration in Rome, Italy, in May 2009

To say that it would not be ‘Christian’ of the West to employ such a mantic tool is not a very adequate answer. Christianity, in general, and the natural law, in particular, actually seem to inform very little of contemporary political and diplomatic thinking in Western democracies. Moreover, some of the West’s elected leaders, Churchill and Reagan among them, have reportedly had superstitious streaks of their own. In the coming days, WikiLeaks may well add other personalities to this list.

In fact, something else seems to be at work in the failure to target this potential weak point of the regime. Whatever its details, the core element is clear: it actually suits the external powers to have Burma continue along its current path: its drive to become a member of the nuclear club; its clever way of playing off against each other all powers interested in a share of its rich resources (whether this be regional powers India and China, economic alliances like ASEAN and the EU, or the United States and its allies). Its ‘freed-again’, ‘jailed-again’ stance towards a defenceless woman of immense popularity, is in practice tolerated by outsiders.

A related, generalised, question should be asked: if the key to development in Burmese society is so very clear but nothing at all is being done to apply it to good effect, what other keys and inactions might be listed in today’s world at large? How (without resorting to numerology!) might we understand modern Britain, Europe, the Americas, or Africa ? Are we faced in these cases, too, with a ‘powerlessness’ to set about doing the right thing?

If so, The Lady’s ‘release’ is no merely parochial matter, but rather one instance of something that should be of concern to all of us, everywhere.

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Posted in: Burma, World Affairs