Form or substance?

Posted by stephanie on Nov 25th, 2008
2008
Nov 25
This opinion piece was in the South China Morning Post newspaper yesterday.  I thought that it related really well to my project, so I have copied it below in its entirety.  Enjoy!     

Form or substance? The economic crisis could reshape Hong Kong’s priorities on its road to democracy    

 

If you are a democracy sceptic, this is a line you will have heard countless times: yes, democracy is a terrible way to govern but everything else is far worse. Count on hearing it many more times as Hong Kong sharpens its focus on what kind of democracy best fits us now that Beijing has said we can have it. But is there still as much appetite to debate democracy when everyone is being spooked by two other d-words - depression and deflation?Some economic doomsayers are now actually uttering the two dreaded words, warning a fearful world that something far worse than a simple recession could trip us all into a deep, dark hole of prolonged joblessness, bankruptcies and food lines. So, while you’re in that hole, will you be thinking about the right to vote or feeding your family? That prompts a chicken-or-egg question. Which should come first, democracy or feeding the people? 

 China’s leaders, of course, already had that worked out long ago. They have a ready answer whenever democracy’s flag-bearers challenge their authoritarian rule. Feed the hungry first, freedom can come later. That’s the mantra that has allowed them to move at glacial speed towards political empowerment of the people. It was a mantra that western leaders mocked as an excuse to thwart democracy until George W. Bush came up with his own “war on terror” mantra which provided the west its own cover to thwart freedoms.

Now, with the world’s economy burning to the ground and everyone looking to China as a fire hose, maybe we should wonder if it could have achieved the lofty role of global firefighter during these troubled times had it put freedom first and feeding the people later.

Let’s also wonder if the combination of greed, deregulation, and ideological clashes that sparked the fire in the United States, which then spread across the world, could have happened in China, which combined authoritarian rule and state-controlled capitalism to achieve the prosperity that democracies are supposed to produce.

Note that no one is arguing Hong Kong could more effectively fight the recession we’re facing if we had full democracy. Anyone who makes such an argument need only be reminded that the economic meltdown began in the western democracies.

Western leaders made a point of repeating, after the September 11 terror attacks, that the world had changed forever. The world did change, but mostly for the west which, for the first time, experienced vast-scale terrorism first-hand. What has changed the world far more, and on a far greater scale, is the current global recession. It is an enemy that is attacking every country, unlike the Islamic terrorism that targeted mostly the west.

A changed world can prompt fresh thinking on old, tried and tested ways. The current economic mess has certainly done that, forcing us all to take stock of what brought us down this path and daring us to take a fork in the road to something new. Should we wonder if we can do that with democracy, too? The old, tried and tested way has worked reasonably well for some of today’s democracies. But will it work for tomorrow’s? Mr Bush’s failure to quickly force Iraq into a western-style democracy is instructive.

So is Hong Kong’s measured move towards democracy. First, it lifted the people out of poverty, including the flood of refugees fleeing mainland communism. The prosperity that followed made the people picky, which in turn made the government more transparent, the judiciary truly independent, civil rights better protected and the media freer.

Building the foundation stones first, as Hong Kong did, and then shaping the final layer of democracy to fit the community, is a different way of getting the same result. It has worked well for Hong Kong when matched against places like the Philippines.

The world is in the mood for change. The old world order is no longer durable. Should we look afresh at how tomorrow’s democracies reach their goal by letting them decide if the chicken or the egg should come first? China’s path towards democracy is not unlike Hong Kong’s model. Who knows, it could even work in Iraq.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster:mickchug@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

A Divided Nation

Posted by stephanie on Nov 25th, 2008
2008
Nov 25

On my last day in Korea I was able to go on a tour of the DMZ, which stands for demilitarized zone, and is a buffer zone between North and South Korea. It is 155 miles long and approximately 2.5 miles wide, and is the most heavily armed border in the world. While this is a tense situation and place, it has also become incredibly touristy and commercialized, which is a little bit funny to me. I went with the USO tour, which had two buses full of people going! We also weren’t the only tour group there, so there were a lot more people. The DMZ area is not far from Seoul and is connected by a highway called “Freedom Road.” When we arrived at the DMZ, we had a briefing at Camp Bonifas and signed a document basically agreeing to partake in the tour despite the dangers of the area. Interestingly, since a peace treaty never followed the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War, the two Koreas are still technically at war. We are able to go to the Joint Security Area, which is called Panmunjeom, and is the only place where North and South Korea connect. We saw the conference room where North and South Korea meet as well as the UN commands. We also went to an observatory where we could look out over the DMZ into North Korea, although taking pictures was highly regulated. As part of this tour we were also able to see one of the incursion tunnels found that had been dug under the DMZ by the North Koreans to get to the South Korean side. The first tunnel was discovered in 1974 and the most recent (the fourth) was discovered in 1990. The world’s tallest flag pole is also visible from the DMZ on the North Korean side, which was constructed to be taller than the flag pole on the South Korean side.

While still a tense area, it wasn’t really what I expected. I guess in my mind I thought soldiers would be nose to nose, with guns pointed at each other and at us. It wasn’t that intense, but talking to some of the people who had visited this area in the 70s and before, it definitely used to be that way. Relations between the two Koreas may not be as bad as they used to be, but there is still a lot of animosity between the two areas, and the possibility of reunification is a distant, but maybe not impossible, goal.

DMZ

What are we fighting for?

Posted by stephanie on Nov 25th, 2008
2008
Nov 25

During my stay in Korea, I was put in contact with a Korean documentary filmmaker named Gary Kam who took me out for a Korean BBQ and an interesting discussion.  Gary is currently working on a documentary about palaces in Korea, but is hoping to begin a documentary on minority groups in Korea, for example, the homosexual population in Korea.  This is an interesting area to explore, especially in Korea given its reputation for being such a homogeneous culture, and even today homosexuality is a really taboo subject (basically, like Iran, there is no homosexuality in Korea).  I will be very interested in seeing Gary’s finished project and what he uncovers about this issue in Korea.  Gary was really interested in my project, and I think we related well because I see our missions as similar in a lot of ways.  I think that we are both trying to tell people’s stories, find interesting avenues to explore, and introduce new perspectives to people without necessarily providing any sort of answer.  It was nice to talk to someone who understood what I was trying to do with this project.  I hear so many times that what I’m doing is “broad” and “unstructured.”  Yes, this is true, but it is also the point for me.  Because this project isn’t a purely academic and scholarly exercise, I don’t see the need to limit which avenue of freedom I look at.  What really interests me is people’s first reaction to my project and to the idea of freedom, and what their first impulse or response is to freedom and who they think I should be put in touch with to talk too (which I think says a lot about how they see freedom).  I have been trying to find certain issues in each country to focus on, but I don’t want to do this at the expense of discovering different avenues I would never have thought of on my own.  I also think that I can learn something about freedom from everyone I talk to, although some people don’t see how they can contribute to my furthered understanding of freedom, but I think this has a lot to do with freedom being too quickly associated only with political issues.   Gary’s own perspective into freedom was very much tied to the idea of culture.  Gary feels that the world is losing freedom as individual cultures are lost to the homogenizing force of globalization.  He even deemed this process of the loss of culture as a type of violence.

Gary also recommended a couple of documentaries for me to watch, which were “Why We Fight” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”  I was able to watch “Why We Fight,” which is a documentary about the United States’ relationship with war as a business.  The film describes the rise and endurance of the U.S. military-industrial complex and its 50-year involvement with wars led by the U.S.  I highly recommend that people watch this documentary as it raises interesting questions about U.S. foreign policy and how the rhetoric of freedom is used to sell wars to the American people.  In interviews, both children and adults were asked what we are fighting for in Iraq, and the answer most often given was simply “freedom.”  This is probably because the rhetoric from the government is filled with the idea of freedom, for as George Bush said, “No matter how long it takes, we will defeat the enemies of freedom.”  Also, how many times are we told that freedom and democracy (usually used interchangeably) are under attack?  This movie raised questions about what the truth really is and what we are told in order for wars to be fought because they have such a huge economic component and it has become more about business than defense.

What I have found really interesting about this exploration of freedom is how often freedom is used to sell things, from wars to cell phones.  Even around Asia, many brands are called freedom and somehow use the term freedom in their marketing.  I think this is because freedom is a hard idea to be against, but the way it is enacted and conceived of can be different.  I think the danger lies when the options are such that you are either “for freedom” or “against freedom,” and questioning what this freedom is we are for suddenly makes you against it.

Korea has been my most challenging country thus far in terms of getting in touch with people willing to help me out with my project, and a lot of my initial plans and ideas for Korea didn’t turn out as expected. Due to this, I have had to become more creative in the different avenues I am pursuing to developing different ideas of freedom, which I’ve really enjoyed because Korea has also been a country of unique firsts for me—first Couchsurfing stay with hosts, first public bath, and first WWOOFing experience. WWOOFing stands for “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and is an international organization bringing together farmers looking for extra help and travelers willing to help out on the farms in exchange for food and accommodation. Despite growing up in Kansas, I have never really spent too much time on a farm, and my week spent working on a rural farm in Korea definitely left no doubt that I grew up in the city. As I’ve mentioned in my last post, Koreans works incredibly hard, and farmers work hard as well, so you can only imagine the amount of work done by Korean farmers. I was so tired and sore after my first day! In addition to the physical challenges of WWOOFing, participating in this program in Korea also had additional obstacles because of some language and cultural barriers. After the two-hour bus ride to from Seoul to Gangwah (which is actually an island just outside of Seoul), my host family picked me up and we drove to their house where we had lunch (I was in over my head in kimchi for a week) and immediately got to work. My first task was to help the husband move a machine to the bean field that was going to help with the sorting process. He was instructing me on what to do to attach it to the fork -lift, but receiving directions without speaking the same language is a challenge, and I didn’t want to be responsible for the expensive piece of machinery falling! We finally managed to get it figured out and went to work in the field where we spent several hours picking beans and putting them in this machine that removed the outer-covering of the bean. When we finished this task, it was dinnertime, which was a relief! My other tasks throughout the week included cleaning the guest house and adjoining facilities several times, picking more beans, picking radishes (these radishes were bigger than my head!), doing laundry by stomping on it in tubs (kind of like how Lucy made wine in that episode of “I Love Lucy”), peeling pounds upon pounds of ginger and onions, as well as helping the children with their English.

I think the most enriching times of my trip thus far have been the opportunities I have had in each country to stay with a family from that country, and I’m really happy that I found a way to do it in Korea. It was also nice to get out of the big city for a while, and I’m finding one of the most interesting avenues to exploring different conceptions of freedom comes from the rural/urban divide. There is something really rewarding, refreshing, and liberating about working outside, getting your hands dirty, and assisting in the production of something vital for survival—food. One day I spent three to four hours picking up black beans that had fallen out of the bag and were on the ground, my task to find all of them so nothing would be wasted. This project frustrated me at first because I could only initially see the beans as beans, but after spending awhile doing this I began to see the beans as more. They became a representation of the livelihood of the farmers, both the food they eat and the money they earn, and when I began to see the importance of gathering the beans, I found a lot of joy in the task. Also, at the end of the day there was a huge sense of accomplishment after finishing so many projects and just being exhausted from working so hard away from the computer and the constant bombardment of outside stimulus. Working in rural environments leaves so much more time for internal reflection, and I think my greatest insights into freedom in Korea were on a personal level for me, discovering ways that I have been living before that in many ways were limiting my freedom to live the way that I want to live.

Gangwah

Goodbye to-do lists, hello life!

Posted by stephanie on Nov 19th, 2008
2008
Nov 19

Koreans work hard. There is absolutely no doubt about that, and in fact, the average employee in Korea works 2423 hours per year, the highest level among 30 OECD countries. Students also work incredibly hard, and for Korean high school students, their time in school is a marathon test of endurance for the all important university entrance exam, which happened to be last week. From the people I’ve talked to, it’s not uncommon for a typical Korean teenager to get up at 6 am and not get home until 1 or 2 am, their days filled with school, and additional schooling at various academic academies and English language schools. All of this is to ensure they get into one of the top three universities in Korea, which in essence will guarantee them a good job in the future.

This Korean mentality of always working for the pursuit of money or further education to be more competitive in the Korean system is in stark contrast to my life right now, and for me, I am seeing the absolute freedom in having time to observe, muse, think, wonder, read, stroll, and greet each day with an anticipation of the surprises and opporutunities that will arise. Until now, I think I have had more of a “Korean” mentality towards life that kept me constantly busy with school, clubs, sports, various musical lessons, and other ways to keep from being idle. For me, though, I am discovering a renewed wonder for simply living and exploring without a syllabus or firm agenda. While this might sound pretty easy, for a “to-do” lister like myself, it has been a shift in mentality for me to not look at each day as a series of activities to cross off a list, with the fulfillment at the end of the day coming from the number of activities accomplished. Now, my sense of accopmlishment comes from the nuggets of insight I obtain each day about the different cultures I am in, human nature, myself, and of course, my ever present pursuit of the idea of freedom. While I will be re-entering the world of schedules, syllabi, and assignments next year when I begin graduate school in the fall, I will be taking with me this new mentality of finding time to be idle, taking each day as it comes and learning from it. I think we can lose sight of how the activities of our day-to-day life affect our freedom, and that maybe, by choosing to not be too busy every once in awhile to just experience life without a schedule or to-do list, we may just find in that moment we are a little bit freer.

The Naked Truth about Korea

Posted by stephanie on Nov 18th, 2008
2008
Nov 18

My first full day in Seoul, I decided to undertake the quintessential Korean experience–I went to a public bath.  For those of you unfamiliar with Korean public baths (also called spas and saunas), they are something akin to the lodge that Frank Barone goes to in Everybody Loves Raymond.  The public baths are social events where people go with family and friends and stay for hours.  For a pretty small fee, you can go to the public bathhouse and stay all day.  Men and women separate into different facilities where you undress completely and everybody walks around naked, with absolutely no shame or trying to cover anything up.  Koreans let it all hang out.  After locking up your belongings, you head to the sauna area and take a shower before entering into the communal tubes.  The key to the Korean bath experience is to alternate between hot and cold pools.  There are basically several hot tubes of varying degrees in the room, as well as a cold-water pool and saunas of different temperatures.  You rotate from different pools as long as you like, which produces a tingling sensation and sense of euphoria.  Koreans also like to scrub themselves completely clean, and many times you will see friends and family members scrubbing each other.  I spent about an hour in this area before donning the uniform that they give you to walk around in the shared facilities for men and women.  The spas with the extra facilities are called jjimjilbangs.  In this area I spent some time in the massage chair and then went to a room and took a nap on the floor with a group of Korean men and women while watching the Mummy Returns.  I honestly can’t really imagine something like this in the United States!

For me, this experience of a public bath was really liberating and gave me a new sense of freedom.  I did get a few curious glances as I was the only foreigner there, but there was no self-consciousness from anybody.  People were really comfortable in their own skin, and young and old alike were gathered together for this shared experience.  The public baths are as integral to Korean culture as kimchi, and I’m definitely a fan of both.

Freedom for a Korean ESL class

Posted by stephanie on Nov 6th, 2008
2008
Nov 6

For my first three nights in Seoul, I am being hosted by an American couple named Rachel and Nathan (another Couchsurfing connection).  Both have been teaching English here for the past 4 years.  After telling them about my project, Nathan offered to help me out by asking his adult class of Korean students to write what they feel freedom means to them.  Here are the responses.  Thanks for the help, Nathan!  (*Note-I typed the responses as they were written, so keep in mind they are all in the process of learning English.  Expressing an idea like freedom in a non-native language is really impressive!)

“Freedom, it is the way to find out person’s own ego and be the person who can express their own real personality that shows their ego.  Be your self, that is freedom.”—Bomme

“You can find out your freedom inside you.  Even if you walk around all over the world, if your mind’s closed to outside, it’s not true freedom.  You need to realize your own freedom in your mind.  Listen to your own voice.”

“I think freedom is the right to do anything I want unless it bothers others.  Our behavior has to and need to be limited by social rules and expensive inevitability.  However, within that limitation we can dream and practice anything.  That’s the freedom!”—Sunny Cheon

“For me, traveling everywhere doesn’t mean freedom.  In my case, being with my family, studying what I want, and etc. (such as daily life) mean freedom.  I feel free when I do what I get used to.  There can be a contradiction.”—Jiwon Choi

“That I can think, speak, and act on my own.”

“I think freedom is self-control.  If not, it is just unreliability.”—Anthony

“To act one’s own way how one’s feel like.”—Choi Jong-Wan

“Freedom doesn’t mean that I can make someone uncomfortable and unreliable when I pursue my way I want to go.  Just look around and take everything into your consideration.”—Seon Jeong Yoon

“Freedom is having a cup of coffee with friends and favorite people.”

“Freedom means responsibility to me.  I have a freedom and I can do everything what I want.  But those actions need responsibility.  Because of this, freedom is good and sacred.”—Juyeon (Judy)

“If I don’t have to worry about money, my family, and my future, that will be freedom to me.  I mean, that if there is no stress in my mind, that could be freedom of my life.”—Si-eun

“I can say my opinion to everyone.  I think that is the “freedom.”—Gilbert Lee

“Freedom is that nobody doesn’t touch and interfere my life.  I just enjoy my routine without any concern or other people’s insight.”—Eunkyung Park

“Freedom is start of creative thinking.  The biggest difference between human and animal is ability to think, so without freedom we are not humans anymore.”—Brian

“Freedom means that I have the right to think what I’d like to do and what I should do in my life.”

“Freedom is enjoying my life but not bothering other guys, whatever I want to do.  I can do it but I don’t have to bother anyone.  If there is something you like, but it can be bothering someone, don’t do that.  Find another thing.”—Patrick

“I can do everything whatever I want within protection to freedom of others.”

“Freedom is air.  It’s dispensable.  Everyone who was in military serve knows how valuable it is.”

“To me, freedom is…think, talk, and act without any inhibition.  I can be a queen in my imagination because I can think freely.”—Hyojin Choi

“Freedom, it is getting away from anything human beings have created.”—Steve Kim

“Sometimes I feel the freedom when I enjoy any moment.  If I want to go, I do.  If I want to do something, I do for that.  I have to have health body, enough time, and some money.  But the best important is my willing to want something.”—Eunice

“The mean to me is the state I was not related to anyone or anything and feel free and I can do almost everything.”

“Freedom is living follow what I think right and love.”

“Freedom isn’t have a block.  It can be all.  I want to free.”—Woody

“Freedom means to me, it’s simple.  I think journey is only one.”–Hailie

What you can do for Burma!

Posted by stephanie on Nov 4th, 2008
2008
Nov 4

I was a Communication Studies major at Vanderbilt, and one of the key things I learned from my classes was that when presenting a problem to people, you also have to present solutions.  I think that it is beyond clear that there is a problem in Burma, one that is costing millions of people their lives.  And while the situation in Burma can seem so overwhelming, and that attempts to help are futile, if everyone were to contribute in some small way to the situation, these amazing organizations doing such important work would have more resources in which to operate.  I hope that everyone who reads my blog learned something new about the situation in Burma, whether you have known about this for a long time or are new to it like I am.  I think that educating ourselves is an important part in contributing to the situation in Burma.  We need to talk about it and not forget those who are suffering and dying each day.  Read books and articles about the situation in Burma.  The Perfect Hostage: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Justin Wintle is a place to start.  Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule by Christina Fink is another good place to start.

All of these organizations also need more financial support.  Here are the websites for some of the organizations that I met with and have been told about during my trip.


http://www.burmainstitute.org/aboutUs.html

http://www.partnersworld.org/
www.bget.org
www.maetaoclinic.org
http://www.freeburmarangers.org/
www.aappb.org
www.ncub.org
www.ftub.org
www.khrg.org
www.nldla.org
www.freeburma.org
www.uscampaignforburma.org

You can also boycott companies that choose to do business in Burma, which only further supports the military government financially.  Here is a list of organizations with known to do business with Burma.
http://www.global-unions.org/spip.php?page=burma

There is also a great need for volunteers at the Thai-Burma border, and there are opportunities for doctors, teachers, engineers, students, anyone who wants to help!  There are a lot of opportunities you can find online if you’re interested!  There are also volunteer opportunities and internships for organizations working to change the situation in Burma that are located internationally.

Humanitarian work for Burma in Mae Sot

Posted by stephanie on Nov 4th, 2008
2008
Nov 4

My final day in Mae Sot I was able to visit a variety of organizations based on humanitarian aid to those in Burma and those living in refugee camps in Thailand.  One of the organizations that I thought was so incredible was called Border Green Energy Team (www.bget.org).  BGET uses sustainable technology to bring about change in the ethnic minority areas inside and outside of Burma.  Some of the projects that BGET works on are bringing electricity to clinics in Burma.  One of the problems with providing health care to those living as displaced populations in Burma is being able to transport medicines and vaccines that need to be refrigerated.  BGET creates solar energy systems that allow for refrigeration in areas without electricity.  They go in and install these systems, and then give the people who will be living and working there the knowledge of how to maintain and operate the systems so that they can continue using them (the systems are also easily dismantled if the army comes).  Another project of BGET is to provide solar cookers to the displaced populations in Burma.  I had never thought about it before, but if these groups use fire to cook their foods, it creates smoke, which jeopardizes their hiding positions.  But using solar cookers, which are light and easy to transport, there is no smoke.  How cool!  BGET also has projects utilizing hydropower and biogas systems in these areas for projects such as providing electricity to schools in the areas.  I was blown away by the work and ingenuity of this group, and encourage you to visit their website for more information about it!

Another place we visited was the Mae Tao clinic (www.maetaoclinic.org), which is internationally known and renowned clinic, and was even visited by Laura Bush in August.  This clinic, started by Dr. Cynthia Maung, provides free health care for refugees, migrants, and other people who cross the border from Burma to Thailand.  The clinic, which has been in operation since 1989, is now a large complex providing all sorts of medical treatments to the Burmese populations.  I had a chance to meet Dr. Cynthia while I was there, and was struck by her humbleness despite the incredible accomplishments she has had in her life.  She has even been dubbed the “Mother Teresa of Burma.”  Her eyes, though, were twinged with a sadness of a woman who has witness more suffering than any one person should, but this is because she invites it to her so that she may heal it.  The story of Dr. Cynthia and the Mae Tao clinic is fascinating, and I encourage you to read more about it at (www.maetaoclinic.org/aboutus.html).  Meeting people like Dr. Cynthia gives me complete confidence that the situation in Burma will eventually improve and that the military junta will be replaced, and the compassion of the people of Burma will replace the brutality of the military junta.  For as Aung San Suu Kyi has said, “There will be change because all the military have are guns.”

The final organization we visited was the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (www.aappb.org).  This group works to monitor the situation of political prisoners in Burma (there are currently 2,120 according to their website),  provide food and medicine to prisoners, publicize their reports to international bodies, and much more to improve the condition of the prisoners in their country whose only crime was expressing their belief in a different way for Burma to be governed.  We had the opportunity to ask questions to three former political prisoners who now work for this organization in order to help their colleagues.  The imprisonment time for those we talked to ranged from 5 to 14 years.  Some of them spent a third of their lives in prison for simply voicing an opinion different from the military junta.  In a video that the organization showed us, Aung San Suu Kyi, a political prisoner herself, said that if there are political prisoners in a country, then there can be no democracy.  So the release of the political prisoners in Burma is vitally important if Burma is to ever become a democratic country.  In a quote from the movie by Aung San Suu Kyi, she said that “If you cannot say what you wish, then you are not free as an individual or society.”  Even for those in Burma who are not in jail, they are in many ways prisoners in their own countries, stripped away of their freedoms and rights.

Armed resistance in Burma

Posted by stephanie on Nov 4th, 2008
2008
Nov 4

All of the organizations I have talked to who are trying to bring change to Burma have so far wanted to do so through peaceful means and use of the international system. However, there are also armed resistance movements happening in Burma, and for nearly 60 years there has been a civil war waging in Burma—60 years, can you even imagine that? For part of my trip to Mae Sot, I was able to connect with a group of exchange students from the US who are studying abroad in Thailand at Payap University through the Thai and Southeast Asian studies program (http://thaistudies.payap.ac.th) who happened to be on a trip to Mae Sot at the same time as me, so I was able to tag along with them on one day of their trip to Mae Sot. At a dinner one evening with the group, the vice-president of the Karen National Union spoke to us about his experiences. The KNU began an armed struggle against the Burmese government in 1948 through its armed wing called the Karen National Liberation Army (www.karen.org/knu/knu.htm). The KNU and KNLA fight the Burmese military through guerilla warfare. The Karen state is located at the Thai-Burma border (here is a map: http://www.khrg.org/maps/2006maps/Burma2006.jpg). David Takapaw, the man who spoke to us, became a child solider at the age of 14 (child soldiers are a huge problem in the struggle in Burma). In 1978 he joined the Karen resistance. David believes that the Burmese military is a fascist regime, exercising extreme racism and nationalism combined with militarization for the eradication of the Karen people. Many governments classify the actions of the KNLA as terrorist activities, including the USA, largely because of its broad definition of terrorism because of the Homeland Security Act. However, many refugees from the Karen state have problems resettling in the US because of their former memberships with the KNU. What David highlighted in his discussion with us is that the actions of the KNU and KNLA are purely self-defense. How many of us could just sit back while our friends and family members were murdered, raped, and tortured? I think that the struggle of the KNU and KNLA is important to highlight in conjunction with the work of the other organization working for change in Burma. While there might not be agreement on the best way to change the situation in Burma, many people and groups, both inside and outside of Burma, are working tirelessly to do so.

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