Is Myanmar edging towards democracy?

June 8, 2013

There have been acclaimed signs of movement towards democracy in Myanmar. But racial tensions will present familiar challenges for any new non-military leadership

According to the BBC The head of the UK’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards, is visiting Burma [June 2013] to try to build ties with the country’s powerful military. He also met President Thein Sein (a former General) and leaders of the opposition including Aung San Suu Kyi for ‘serious talks’ on support short of lifting UN sanctions.

Steps to democracy

The release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and her swearing into Parliament [2012] were given global significance as steps in Myanmar towards democracy.

Under Imperial rule, Burma was treated as an outpost of the British Empire. Regional rule was operated from India, which still shows considerable interest in its Commonwealth partner.

Racial tensions

However, the country still faces the challenges of racial tensions as complex and arguably as intractable as those in The Middle East. The Indian Express outlines the tensions that have bubbled over in Malaysia.

Malaysian police said today they had detained more than 900 Myanmar nationals in a security sweep after at least two were killed last week in clashes believed to be linked to sectarian violence back home.
The two dead were likely to have been Myanmar Buddhists.. and the attacks were [reported as] believed to be the result of violence in Myanmar.
Deadly sectarian strife pitting Myanmar’s majority Buddhists against the Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority has flared since last year, in the country’s western state of Rakhine.
Myanmar called on Malaysia to take action against those responsible for the attacks and protect Myanmar citizens. U Maung Hla, who heads the Burma Refugee Organisation in Malaysia, said violence between exiled Myanmar communities here was not uncommon and was “sometimes due to religion.” The Rohingya have been described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. About 800,000 are estimated to live in Myanmar, which denies them citizenship, rendering them stateless.

The long walk

The democratic vision is that Aung San Suu Kyi will lead her country in the fashion of a 21st century Mandela or Gandhi (the two leaders she most publically admires). It is likely to be a long walk to freedom.


Have you ever been accused of being a spy?

March 27, 2013

John KeaneJohn Keane

Have you ever been accused of being a spy working for MI6? I know someone who has. Even more disturbing, he has the same name as myself

I became aware of the story originally when I looked up my name on the web. My namesake is [or was at the time] a professor at The University of Westminster in London. He recently blogged about the disturbing news he received though a telephone call from a friend. He tells his story in his blog in a post entitled Laughter and Tears on being accused of spying for MI-6:

[Dateline London, Saturday 1st August, 2009]

One of those weird moments when glum silence is the most sensible reaction. A colleague telephoned to spill the bad news. ‘This morning, in a preliminary statement before the highest court of the Islamic Republic of Iran’, he began, ‘you were named by the Deputy State Prosecutor as a co-conspirator in an organised attempt to overturn the present regime by means of a velvet coup d’état.’ Surely a prank call, I thought. ‘ You’re accused [with the distinguished Western intellectuals Jürgen Habermas and Richard Rorty] of acting as CIA and MI6 agents. I’ll e-mail more details this afternoon.’

Professor Keane denies all allegations

In 2004, during one such visit to Tehran, I indeed taught an officially approved short course based on research for [my book] The Life and Death of Democracy (which has just been published).

It is not true that I participated in ‘operations geared to the collapse of the governments of Eastern Europe’. I did not spend ‘the years 1973 and 1975 in Czechoslovakia’ (I lived in Canada during this period) and at no time have I ‘often travelled to Poland’ or worked for the ‘Polandising of Iran’.

When my colleague hung up, animal laughter morphed into a cloud of pensiveness, riveted by the thought that words can ruin lives, or torture and kill. It is no laughing matter for scholars to be lumped in with plotters, mercenaries and secret agents of ‘Western’ and ‘Zionist’ reaction.

From a scholarly point of view, the most worrying development, recently confirmed by the Supreme Leader, is the link that has been drawn between the human sciences, the universities and the so-called ‘velvet counter-revolution’.

Detention without trial – which is prohibited by the constitution – and death in custody have nothing to do with reason or justice, or with the Prophet’s call for listening to people and treating them with kindness and respect. Friends: that is why you know that whatever you say or do in weakness will be used against you – and why you have resolved to be strong, cling to your integrity with all your might, and to find courage and consolation in the assurance that your loved ones, and millions of people around the world, will not forget you, or accept your ghastly predicament as fate.

Reflection

I have found it strange reporting about someone with the same name as myself. An additional layer of ambiguity to a fascinating story which itself seems to challenge our sense of reality. Professor Keane captures what we can imagine to be the Kafkaesque sense of panic and disorientation through being falsely accused by a powerful court of Justice.

Background

John Keane [Image above from the University of Sidney website] is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney. His scholarly contributions include the concept of monetary democracy. He certainly exists, and his blog makes fascinating reading for students of politics and leadership.

The author of this post describes himself as ‘another John Keane’ interested in the processes of leadership in politics, public affairs and business organizations. He holds a position within a research institute in the United Kingdom, where he studies leadership from the perspective of social constructivism. He is also interested in how modes of learning are becoming mediated through social media.


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