I was interested to read Dr Richard Cockett’s article on Buddhism and democracy in the April issue of Asian Affairs (‘Do unity plus discipline equal democracy?’), in particular the comments centred around NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who seems to have changed beyond recognition since her rise to political power.
Do other Asian Affairs readers remember how Daw Aung San Suu Kyi once spoke about the importance of the Five Precepts of Buddhism, saying that she believed ahimsa (non-violence) was at the root of all of them? In The Voice of Hope, a book that records her 1995/6 conversations with Alan Clements, the first American to be ordained as a Buddhist monk, she refers to a kind of engaged Buddhism which ‘is active compassion or active metta. It’s not just sitting there passively saying, “I feel sorry for them”.’ And in that same dialogue she claimed no one ‘has the right to look down on anyone’s religion’, and that the people of Burma were so hemmed in by regulations that it was difficult for them to organise a social movement, meaning a spiritual revolution was their only choice.
Yet now she maintains an ominous silence over violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma and, according to Dr Crockett, ‘uses the lexicon of “unity” and “discipline” as key components of democracy’ in the country. One can only wonder if Daw Suu Kyi’s conscience ever troubles her, and what kind of karma she is making.
Living with terror
Timely piece on the London attacks (April issue) and the difficulty of preventing such acts in the future. High-level surveillance is the only way – including dispensing with encryption in some cases – even if rights groups rail against it. Without giving in to fear, we have to calmly accept that international terrorism is a fact of our modern lives and will probably be for a generation or more. Secrecy and mass surveillance are not tools the security services need or want for their own sake; they are for ours, to keep us safe, therefore public consent for what our security services do is necessary. It is all well and good to shout about civil liberties, but they have to be balanced against our very real need to preserve democracy and defend lives.
Not the fisherman’s friends
The tale of fisherman Jurrick Oson, as related in ‘China’s 3000-year-old strategy’ (Asian Affairs, April issue), is touching and deeply frustrating. Not only are hardworking fisherfolk like Jurrick subjected to the power of China, but their own government appears not to be on their side. Rather, it is giving priority to infrastructure investment with China, as well as exports and loans, putting these ahead of what should be very real concerns over China’s encroachment into the Philippines’ waters. It is understandable that Duterte might take some advantage of Beijing’s ‘rewards’ system but he seems completely in thrall to its economic might, to the degree that China must think there is no limit to what the Philippines will put up with. Closer ties are one thing, being tied is quite another.