It’s very clear that the Burmese people are no longer afraid of the Burmese military. The violence and killing of Buddhist monks have taken away their fear of confrontation.
(Aung Naing Oo, activist.)
(Photo: AFP/Getty; originated with the Mizzima News website; taken 24 September, 2007. I picked it up from Andrew Sullivan‘s blog.)
Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris see religion as the enemy of freedom. They ought to know better; their position reveals extraordinary shortsightedness.
No institution presents a greater threat to freedom than the modern, technologically sophisticated state. Religion, in its institutionalized form — church, synagogue, monastery — is a crucially important counterweight to the state.
The protests in Burma (Myanmar) began late last month after the government sharply raised fuel prices. Guardian Unlimited reports:
Arrests and intimidation kept the demonstrations small and scattered until the monks entered the fray. On Sunday, around 20,000 people — including thousands of monks — filled the streets of Rangoon. …
Monks have played an important role in protests, first against British colonialism and later against the military junta, taking a big part in the failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion.
From Channel 4 news:
We saw buses crammed with saffron-robed monks spilling out of the doors and windows, heading to Shwedagon pagoda. People cheered them as they went; some bowed admiringly, their hands held out in supplication.
But when we reached the Shwedagon pagoda just as the latest demonstration was gathering, we knew something was up. We saw plain-clothes government thugs threatening the monks. And we knew then that something had changed. One of them was standing above a group of monks, hanging off a railing and screaming at them. He shouted: “Do you want death? If you want death, try walking down this street.”
Just a few metres further along the road that runs in front of the gold-domed pagoda, other thugs wielding chunks of wood had surrounded about eight monks and were threatening them menacingly, almost girding them to take them on. …
When we came back to the pagoda the police and soldiers had sealed it off. Troops in crisp uniforms had taken up positions around the pagoda. There was a strong whiff of impending danger, and when the monks tried to begin their march, the troops moved in. The exuberance of recent days received a sharp reality check.
First came the tear gas, clouds of it hanging in the air as they tried to force the monks to disperse. But many stood their ground, some covering their faces with scarves and shouting defiantly. Then we heard the first crackles of gunfire. Here it was, what people had feared. The riot police and soldiers were moving in, and ready to spill blood.
Later, as the clashes intensified, so did the defiance. … The monks who had made it past the police cordons and seen some of their friends beaten severely, were cheered like conquering heroes by civilians who lined the streets.
For another such example, remember the defeat of communism in Poland. The popular revolution relied heavily on two institutions: labour unions and the Roman Catholic Church.
Hitchens, Dawkins, and their ilk need to sit up and pay attention. Close the churches; open the door to totalitarianism.