Saturday, December 03, 2005

Do these things happen in Burma?

Back at the hotel, seated in a comfortable lounge, I shared some tea with Nan. We got onto the subject of life in Bandung, where Nan had her home.

"I imagine Bandung’s more peaceful than Jakarta," I said.

"Normally. Last week a church was burnt down."

"A church?" I said, startled. "It wasn’t in the papers."

"These things get hushed up," said Nan. "Government orders."

"Who’d want to burn it down?"

"Three groups. In Europe you get your hooligans; some of them might enjoy burning down a building and it’s the same here; young toughs with no decent family life or job or education. Next you have the Moslems who sell things in the street or traditional market; they feel threatened by the supermarkets, malls and fast food outlets; some of them want to attack the owners of the modern businesses who’re often Chinese Christians. Finally you have the fundamentalist Moslems; some of them see the Christians as part of a corrupt regime."

"My impression is that the overwhelming majority of Moslems are moderate, hospitable, peaceful people," I said.

"I agree," said Nan. "The people who’d burn down a church are a tiny minority. Like in Britain, hardly anyone would start a riot."

"But there are a few skinheads who cause trouble?"

"I’ve a friend in the police who was telling me they’re worried about extremists who might try to stir things up. First you burn a mosque, then a church, then a mosque. Soon the moderates get so angry, they become extremists. Like Yugoslavia. Who gains? The masterminds who end up in power. It could be an ambitious businessman or general or religious extremist."

"Do these things happen in Burma, or Myanmar?" I asked.

"Oh yes," said Nan. "Aung San, the country’s leader, was shot by gunmen hired by a right-wing politician. Soon there was warfare between the various ethnic groups and eventually a military dictatorship. When there’s a riot, there’s a suspicion it’s been planned by part of the elite so democracy can’t get a hold. So the army will stay in power. Not all of the Burmese are good Buddhists."

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