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Reply from S. Brookes (r)
At 05:35 AM 5/16/96 -0700, you wrote:
>Received: (from strider) by igc2.igc.apc.org (8.7.5/8.7.3) id FAA08959 for
conf:reg.burma; Thu, 16 May 1996 05:34:03 -0700 (PDT)
>Date: Thu, 16 May 1996 05:34:03 -0700 (PDT)
>>From Yishane@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx May 15 11:31:34 1996
>Date: 14 May 1996 10:43:19 GMT
>From: Yishane Lee <Yishane@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
>Subject: from stephen brookes, asia times
>(To all burmanet readers -- because of technical problems I face in Myanmar,
>this is being e-mailed by an intermediary. If you'd like to respond directly,
>please use my e-mail address: stephen@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx All replies will be kept
>Also -- the editorial that ran in Asia Times simultaneously with my "Open
>Letter" was not authored by me, nor did I have any input into it. Any
>comments on it should be addressed to the editors. Thanks -- SB)
>To the Burmanet Editor:
>I was delighted to hear from you. I spoke with my editor at Asia Times this
>morning, who said he preferred just to run your letter without a reponse from
>us. But he invited me to write my own personal note to Burmanet, so here it
>is. (Let me stress -- these are just my own views, and not necessarily those
>of Asia Times.)
>There were indeed a couple of technical errors in the "open letter" which
>were inserted during the editing process; there was no intent to misrepresent
>Burmanet, which I believe serves as an important disseminator of information
>about Myanmar/Burma, and also as a useful discussion group. And I tried to
>imply that there was a wide range of views on Burmanet, by noting that many
>well-informed readers agreed with my views.
>But what bothered me -- and the reason I wrote that piece-- was the "thought
>police" tone of the Burmanet contributors. You note in your letter that
>"individuals on burmanet-l did post critiques of Brookes' analysis."
>Critiques? What critiques? I was accused of being a SLORC propagandist. My
>analysis wasn't attacked -- I was.
>And despite the more reasoned and articulate tone that you adopt in your
>letter, I still don't see a critique -- just a jibe at "journalists like
>Brookes who apparently are not disturbed by the oppressive policies of the
>But you see, this is exactly the point I've been trying to make -- that by
>thinking only in tired, empty cliches, by standing piously on the moral high
>ground and uttering platitudes, the NLD and its supporters are consigning
>themselves to self-absorbed irrelevance.
>Want the surprising truth? I am a profound supporter of democracy, freedom
>and human rights -- yes, even in Myanmar! I'm a writer, I was a musician in
>my first career, I was even a registered Democrat once (then I grew up). This
>isn't to offer credentials about how hip I am -- only to note that freedom of
>expression has been absolutely central to how I've lived my life.
>For me, it means questioning conventional wisdom, rejecting easy platitudes,
>and paying real close attention to reality. That's what my "Open Letter" was
>all about -- urging the pro-democracy movement to stop playing games, to get
>its head out of the clouds, admit unpleasant truths and figure out how to
>positively impact the changes that are now in full swing in Myanmar.
>Otherwise the whole thing will remain what a friend in Myanmar calls it -- a
>"hobby issue" for people who just want to feel good about themselves without
>needing to actually know anything.
>Before I came over here last July, I went to a party in Washington where
>there were a number of people who'd recently been here on a two-week NGO
>visit. "Oh, you'll love doing journalism in Burma," one woman told me. "It's
>so clear who's wearing the white hats, and who's wearing the black hats.
>There are no shades of gray."
>Well, surprise -- everything here is shades of gray. There are exceptional
>people in the government and buffoons in the NLD --and vice-versa. It's hard
>to even talk about "sides" as if there were only two. There are people
>working to improve the country in every social and political camp, and just
>as many self-interested crooks. And nobody -- even ASSK -- is pure. (Uh-oh --
>heresy. But come on -- she's a politician. When did THEY suddenly become
>But that's reality for you -- messy. Obstinately refusing to fit into easy
>categories. Darn that reality!
>You know what? Mostly, there are just ordinary Myanmars, living in a time of
>amazing change. Sure, life isn't perfect -- but compare it with the total
>standstill of a decade ago. A lot of things are in a muddle, but almost
>everything's improving. Opportunities are opening up. There's an actual
>economy. Are there human rights abuses? You bet -- just like there are almost
>everywhere in the world. And would you rather live in Myanmar, where some
>people are forced to work on road projects against their will for a few
>months? Or would you prefer, say, Liberia, where you're lucky to make it
>through the day? Or Uganda, where you're probably already dead? Or China? Or
>the former Yugoslavia? Or Chechnya? Or...or...or....
>Ok, brace yourselves. Things are much, much better in Myanmar than in dozens
>of other developing countries in the world, and there's a government in place
>which is moving the country rapidly from isolation and poverty toward global
>engagement and growth. Is it America the Beautiful yet? No -- maybe never
>will be. But it is changing dramatically.
>So why is Myanmar -- excuse me, Burma -- such a big issue on American college
>Because it's easy to reduce to sophomoric simplicity (even U.S. Congressmen
>can understand it, sort of). Because Aung San Suu Kyi is gorgeous and female
>and speaks elegant English and is A Lot Like Us Westerners, and the SLORC
>generals are not. Because it's so much fun to protest against anybody wearing
>a uniform. Because democracy is Mom and Apple Pie, and generals, as we all
>know, are Mean and Bad -- unless they're Colin Powell, of course.
>And maybe also because, in the late 20th Century, when "victims" have been
>elevated to "hero" status, here's a victim-hero to form a whole international
>cult around, where the faithful can natter on to themselves about the future
>of Burma while the future is galloping by without them.
>Honestly -- sometimes I just want to take the whole pious, infantile lot of
>you and give you a good spanking.
>I noted in my "Open Letter" that I would ask ASSK for an interview, to pose
>the question of the NLD's self-isolation and apparent inability to form a
>pragmatic plan to effect change in Myanmar. Her response? Theres been a
>comical exchange of phone calls between me and her schedulers, but basically
>the answer has been, "We'd French-kiss SLORC before we'd talk to the likes of
>Which, sadly, only proves the point. She's preaching to the choir, fingers
>firmly stuck in her ears, happily irrelevant.
>Sincerely, Stephen Brookes
>TO BURMA NET SUBSCRIBERS:
FROM DAVE TODD, Media Consultant to Canadian Friends of Burma, Ottawa.
As someone who has considerable experience writing on human rights issues
around the world, including in South and Southeast Asia (I'm also a
contributor to Britain's New Internationalist magazine's June '96 special
issue on Burma) I must say I find Stephen Brookes's exuberant defence of his
reportage a fascinating study in self-satisfaction. Hats off to him in that
The gusto with which he sneers, while in evident admiration of one of the
most morally corrupt regimes of our century, brings nothing so much to mind
as a certain odious ex-patriate - and refugee from democracy - who famously
bet on the wrong side of history half a century ago, in the days when Hitler
was on a roll.
Mr. Brookes is the Lord Haw-Haw of Burma.
It is breathtaking to think that anyone could possibly attempt a credible
defence of a regime whose economic advancement program is rooted in the
advantages to be derived from slave labour, while readily acknowledging this
fact as merely a regrettable necessity.
But maybe that's par for the course in his world, as a disenchanted Democrat
from the U.S. who has found intellectual comfort in a larger darkness. But
what he might like also to explain is his sly, and ad hominem, attack on
Aung San Suu Kyi. Sorry, but it is just not good enough to say - nudge,
nudge, wink, wink - I know something you don't know, namely that she is a
"self-interested crook." Proof, please? Failing any, Brookes is simply a
clever Internet libel artist. A Joseph Goebbels copycat character assassin.
I challenge him to a public debate on the worldwide web. It is one that he
cannot possibly win, because he is so deeply wrong in everything he
professes to believe.