by Maggie Walker
Myanmar has a history rife with struggle. Since its independence from British colonial rule in 1948, civil war and violence have plagued the nation, chaining the land in poverty and soaking it in blood.
Dr. Glen Duerr, Professor of International Studies at Cedarville University, said, “Democracy is fragile, especially when it starts.”
Myanmar’s story, however, is not hopeless. At the end of 2015, to the world’s surprise, Myanmar was democratized. The National League for Democracy (NLD), spearheaded by 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy advocate Aung San Su Kyi, won enough seats for Su Kyi’s democracy movement to take power. Since then, Myanmar has made great progress in democracy, despite being heavily influenced by the previously governing military. As 2021 dawned, Myanmar had a long way to go towards robust democracy, but it finally looked like the nation’s future was taking a turn for the better.
On Feb. 1st, 2021, following a landslide election victory for Su Kyi and the NLD, the military junta in Myanmar staged a coup d’état in the capital of Naypyidaw. The military justified this blatant show of force by claiming widespread voter fraud, despite having no evidence.
Arresting Su Kyi and members of Parliament, the military proceeded to declare the nation to be in a state of emergency, seize power, slash internet services, and snatch news channels off the air. A military-owned news channel has since declared General Min Aung Hlaing as in charge of the country.
Duerr notes that Naypyidaw was constructed to be impervious to attack. While citizens can protest, they cannot access the government, creating a difficult problem for the effectiveness of civil protests. The military’s brutal rule did not cease with democratization, as evidenced by the Rohingya genocide.
Civil disobedience is an act of incredible bravery – people risk their lives to protest. Aung San Suu Kyi has a chequered past, but in no way does that justify the coup. Suu Kyi lost much global respect when she failed to condemn the Rohingya genocide when the ethnic cleansing was examined by the International Court of Justice (United Nations). While Suu Kyi was rightly critiqued, there were other factors influencing her decision. A large factor being the need to keep her popularity in Myanmar.
Duerr acknowledged that Suu Kyi has some major flaws but is realistically the best person to lead Myanmar. At the age of 75, the 5-foot-6-inch democracy advocate remains the military’s greatest fear.
Dr. Kyung-Hwa Kim, professor of International Studies at Cedarville University, acknowledged that Suu Kyi is a complicated figure, but compromised. Suu Kyi once wrote that “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
Ironically, Suu Kyi may have fallen prey to the very danger she wrote about. Minorities were oppressed in Myanmar even after democratization. The conflict, however, between minority groups and the majority is not entirely the country’s fault. As is the case in many areas of the world, Western colonizers took matters into their own hands when drawing boundary lines, without consideration for the various ethnic and religious groups living in the area.
Under majority Buddhist rule (Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist), the fear of demographic override has led to the brutal suppression of minority groups in Myanmar. Toxic religious nationalism fuels persecution of Christians and Muslims. Even under democracy, these groups suffered, although their situation was improving. This is one of the reasons why the military coup is so disturbing. The tentative steps away from persecution have been backtracked as the military shouldered its way to power once more.
Kim noted that Christians should be especially concerned for our fellow brothers and sisters. Accurate statistics are difficult to come by, but both Kim and Duerr set the estimation for the Christian population in Myanmar to be 6-8% of the population.
Kim pointed out that Christian persecution in Myanmar has gone unreported and unnoticed. Christians in Myanmar are a forgotten population, cut off from international aid and government support. Often, they are tragically forgotten by believers in other countries as well. Many in Myanmar have had to choose between their family ties and sometimes even their lives and faith.
Kim said that it is not the believer’s role to tie our religion to a certain political leader or party or attempt to dictate the policy of a country we do not have voting power in. However, we can and should be intensely interested in the welfare of our brothers and sisters around the world. We should, therefore, desire democracy so that religious freedom can flourish in Myanmar, for minority groups, Muslims, and Christians.
Maggie Walker is a sophomore Political Science major. She loves both spontaneous and planned adventures with friends, art, dinosaurs, green tea, and indulging in the occasional rant, political or otherwise.