Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Rangoon experience

I really ought to have written something by now about what's going on in Burma; it's next door, after all. But somehow it seems to fall outside the scope of this blog, or maybe it just forces me to consider what the scope of this blog should or shouldn't be. So, instead, a few thoughts on how the media is dealing with the events unfolding in that benighted land.

First, a note about the terminology. The BBC, and most Anglophone media, refers to the country as 'Burma', and its largest city as 'Rangoon', as distinct from the junta-approved 'Myanmar' and 'Yangon'. The implication is that the junta is in the wrong, and Aung San Suu Kyi and the various pro-democracy organisations are in the right. It's a view that probably ties in with the target audiences of these media organisations, but it remains a view, an opinion, a bias. It's exactly the same problem that arises when dealing with Northern Ireland or the Middle East; any term for a particular geographical entity is going to rile somebody, somewhere, and be perceived as an example of bias. The next time some right-wing wonk demands that the Beeb should be impartial in all things, can we agree that 'impartiality' is a myth; the best we can hope for is some kind of consensus.

Then there's the attention being devoted to Kenji Nagai, the Japanese journalist apparently shot by a goon of the Burmese junta. A horrible event, it's true, but why are we concentrating on him, rather than on the other people who've died so far? Because his death was filmed, possibly. Because he was a foreigner, maybe. Because he was a journalist? Hmmm... This is especially significant because of the unprecedented role being played by brave Burmese citizens, without whom most foreign journalists wouldn't be able to do their jobs. (See RLP's Asia Exile for examples.)

That said, I was ghoulish enough to follow the link in The Guardian to footage of Nagai's death. But when I did so, I got the following message:

"This player requires a faster connection to enable smooth playback of video. The connection speed detected will cause a potentially unviewable experience."

I don't know whether those last three words are a more heinous crime against good taste, or against the English language.


bobby fletcher said...

Aung San Suu Kyi’s connection with the CIA (thru our intelops like DIA officer Col. Robert Helvey) and the Karen insurgency is an open secret:

And is it a big suprise all this ties back to the American Enterprise Institute, the chief architect of the Iraq war:

“Helvey “was an officer of the Defence Intelligence Agency of the Pentagon, who had served in Vietnam and, subsequently, as the US Defence Attache in Yangon, Myanmar (1983 to 85), during which he clandestinely organised the Myanmarese students to work behind Aung San Suu Kyi and in collaboration with Bo Mya’s Karen insurgent group”

Here’s more background on Col Robert Helvey and CIA’s agenda to employ non-violent warfare to destablize other countries (the organge/velvet revolutions being the most recent examples):

Tim F said...

Some fair points, Bobby. But faced with the combination of brutality, venality and sheer bloody incompetence of the junta, surely ASSK is entitled to use any assistance she can.

Or are you implying that, because the CIA is involved, there's some kind of moral equivalence between ASSK and Pinochet, Marcos, Suharto, etc?

You're risking falling into the same trap that Bush and the neocons have suffered - a Manichean world view, good vs evil, you're either with us or against us, my enemy's enemy is my friend, etc. It plays very well with witless fundamentalists in Kansas, but it's hardly a basis for a sound geopolitical overview, is it?

Spinsterella said...

..and when they do say 'Myanmar'on the telly (which is what the people who live there generally call it) they pronounce it wrong.

I spent a month there a few years ago. It was just after Aung Sung Suu Kyi had been released from one of her many periods of house arrest and there was a mood of optimism prevailing across the land - or at least the bits that tourists are allowed to go to.

It's always harder to watch disasters unfold when you recognise the places affected.

Perhaps this is why the twin towers - even if we haven't been there we've all seen it on a thousand films and tv shows - affected many westerners much more than Iraq getting blown to smithereens.

Or tribal Karen villages getting razed off the map in the Burmese highlands.

Tim F said...

Very true, Spin. But what also worries me is that the British media will freak out about something happening several thousand miles away in the States, and pretty much ignore an event of the same magnitude just across the water in Western Europe.

Still, at least people like Bobby have got a global perspective. Even if he only uses Beijing-approved binoculars.

I wonder if he's got a Chairman Mao alarm clock.

Dick Headley said...

It seems to me if you take the BBC out of the equation the protests in Burma would probably never have happened. Just an reflection on the obvious sincerity and courage of the demonstrators.

Rimshot said...

...but the Beeb is in the equation, as are the "witless fundamentalists in Kansas" and the demonstrators are now what will the world do? Continue to allow such murders and atrocities? Condone the locking up of Buddhist Monks in their own Monasteries? Come to the aid of an oppressed people and aid in the development and implementation of a democratic government? Or continue to watch like the vapid, benign voyeurs they are?

Tim F said...

The Beeb is clearly in the equation: even if the junta doesn't care how they come across on the World Service, Beijing does.

As for action, Bush has an interesting conundrum to face. Most of his reasons for going into Iraq are discredited (no WMDs; Saddam had no significant links to AQ). The only thing he can claim is that he went in to save the Iraqis from tyranny. Fair enough. Next stop Rangoon; then Pyongyang and Harare. and it doesn't end there.