Birma, Religion, and Social Movements


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The role of religion in social movements, taking the case study of Burma (Myanmar).

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Birma, Religion, and Social Movements

  1. 1. RELIGION & SOCIALMOVEMENTSBurmese Uprising
  2. 2. • “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”• - Karl Marx (1844)• But is that really so?
  3. 3. Structure of Presentation• Introduction• Buddhism• In Quest of Democracy• Historical Context• Monk-led 2007 Protest• Religion in social movements• Discussion
  4. 4. Crash Course in Buddhism4 Noble Truths Eightfold Path  Right View• Suffering• Knowledge of Suffering  Right Intention• Abolishment of Suffering  Right Speech• Way to Abolishment of  Right Action Suffering  Right Livelihood  Right Effort  Right Mindfullness  Right Concentration
  5. 5. Crash Course Buddhism IITheravada Buddhism• Monks have a high social status• 90% is Buddhist• Laypeople gain positive karma by donations  economy of merit (elaborated later)
  6. 6. In Quest for DemocracySangha the sacred, the institution of BuddhismMahasmmata ruler by unanimous content of peopleKhattiya ruler of agricultural landRaja winning affection of people through observance of theDhamma virtue, justice & the law• Manifesto• by Aung San Suu Kyi• Buddhist
  7. 7. In Quest for Democracy• Integrates Buddhist values with democracy & human rights• Ten Duties of Kings • Elected King or Government should adhere to this ten duties; • constitutes the legitimacy of power; • i.e. Liberality, morality, self- sacrifice, integrity, kindness, austerity, non-anger, non- violence, forbearance & non-opposition to the will of the people“Traditional values serve both to justify and todecipher popular expectations of democraticgovernment”
  8. 8. Historical ContextBurma was united as a monarchy in the 11th century, ruledby devoted Buddhists• Colonial History • Anglo-Burmese wars (1824, 1852, 1885) • Policy of „divide and rule‟ } Introducing divers language systems } Favor certain (Christian) minorities Leading to long-lasting ethnic conflict – preventing a Burmese nationality
  9. 9. Historical Context II• National Independence Movement • From student strikes (1935) to a revolutionary movement • Burmese Independence Army during WOII • Aung San and Independence of Burma (1948) • Underrepresentation of minorities• Military Junta (1962) • One party-system • Burmese Way to Socialism – nationalization means of production, centralization economy and no freedom of expression
  10. 10. Historical Context III• 8888 Uprising • Discontent reaches crisis proportions • Democracy Summer 8/8/1988 • Alliances resistance movements • National League for Democracy (NLD)• State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)
  11. 11. Historical Context IV• Multi-party elections (1990) • House arrest Aung San Suu Kyi • SLORC refuses to acknowledge victory of the NLD • Roadmap to democracy
  12. 12. 2007 Protests – causes, goals and events • Spring 2007 – boycott against the oppressive regime • Protesting the economic hardship • September 2007 – protesting violence against monks
  13. 13. 2007 Protests – causes, goals and events• 17-27 September 2007 • Big protests in Yangon and Mandalay to end military regime and economic policy• 26 & 27 September 2007 • Breaking the hope  crackdown by the military regime
  14. 14. 2007 Protest – Why the Monks?• Moral Authority• Economy of merit
  15. 15. 2007 Protest – Strategy & Tactics• Boycotting Donations • From members of military government and their families • “Pattan nikkujana kamma” • Is considered as a big disgrace• Infrastructural Advantage • Usage of religious sites as safe-houses and rally points • Established organizational resources• Religious Practice • Use of established Buddhist chants/practice to protest • Religious practice as alternative public sphere
  16. 16. 2007 Protest – The Aftermath• Short-term • Battle lost  hopes crushed • Raised consciousness of alternatives• Long-term • Making progress • Elections
  17. 17. Religion – Oppressive or Disruptive• Often sided with oppressive regimes • Marx saying it is opium might be true, but is very limited• Paul said: Abide the government as it is God sent • But then it can be argued Jesus was an activist all his life • More universal for other religious traditions• Multiple examples • Iranian Revolution, PXUSA, Liberation Theology, Nepal, Civil Rights, Burma
  18. 18. Religion – Assets• Transcedental motivation • Morals from the absolute • Rituals and icons bind & give perserverence • Self-discipline• Organizational resources • Trained leaders in organization • Existing communication• Shared Identity • Group forming • On several levels
  19. 19. Religion - Assets• Social and Geographical composition • Cuts through more traditional social class demarcation lines • Geographically dispersed• Privileged Legitimacy • Often gained special status through history and beliefs • Repsected as open space  sanctuary• Strategy • More involved in non-violent direct action than secular groups!
  20. 20. Discussion – no.1• Do the Buddhists values promote actions or inaction? Disruption or Apathy? • What about other religions?
  21. 21. Discussion – no.2• Do religions promote critical thinking & questioning of authority?
  22. 22. Discussion – no.3• What motivates you to be an activist or to care about others/state of the world? • Are small victories needed to keep us going or is intrinsic moral righteousness more important? • “People say of us we do not win, but we stand strong” -PXUSA
  23. 23. Discussion – no.4• What would have happened in 2007 if the robes would have been blue? And what if it were more lila?
  24. 24. Discussion no.5• Is there a lack of moral lessons in our education system? • Or do we still get these lessons even though the church attendance is in decline? Or where to get/are we supposed to get this moral framework? • Buddhists values instilled through education system?