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Thread: Nic Dunlop: ĎIt is no longer useful to view Burma through the prism of Suu Kyií

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    Nic Dunlop: ĎIt is no longer useful to view Burma through the prism of Suu Kyií

    Nic Dunlop: ?It is no longer useful to view Burma through the prism of Suu Kyi? | Democratic Voice of Burma

    Nic Dunlop: ĎIt is no longer useful to view Burma through the prism of Suu Kyií

    Following the publication of his newest book Brave New Burma, Jack Goodman spoke with Bangkok-based photographer and journalist Nic Dunlop about ongoing reforms in the country, Aung San Suu Kyi and his experiences documenting Burma for the past 20 years.

    Your new book, ĎBrave New Burmaí, is a 20-year photographic portrait of the dictatorship. Why was it important for you to produce something of such depth?

    I felt Burma was simplified by the media and activists to such an extent that it didnít foster a degree of understanding as to how a military regime that is universally despised can hold onto power for so long. So I set off and I thought: Iíll bide my time to really make sense of all of this. I wanted people to see what a military dictatorship really is. When people talked of oppression I wanted to show people what it looked like.

    How would you characterise the dictatorship?

    Iíve got a chapter in the book called the invisible dictatorship and in a sense the dictatorship was invisible. It was almost as though it occupied a place in the mind with paranoia and fear. With the visual medium you have to translate it somehow. It presented me with a unique challenge.

    Was there anything that you felt was problematic about the way that the media traditionally portrayed Burma?

    We want everything to be simplified into polar opposites of great moral simplicity. I think Burma was a classic case of that. It wasnít that that was necessarily wrong because that is where I started from too. I feel that the more I learnt the less I knew. You have Aung San Suu Kyi representing the ordinary Burmese pitted against the vile and brutal regime and that was it.

    Where does the civil war fit in? How is it that the military was so big if they were hated? These questions were never answered by the media. Itís just the same idea of evil and good over and over again and thatís so unhelpful and actually so simplistic to be divisive.

    Since the military government Ďstepped downí in 2010, what has been the most significant change for the Burmese people?

    Itís the fact that people are no longer afraid to talk and express their opinions openly Ė that has to be the major thing because before it was fraught and people really were afraid. The lifting of that fear so they can actually take control of their own opinions. Thatís a massive step and very different to put back in the bottle if thatís what the powers that be wanted to do.

    Why did the military step down?

    We havenít actually heard why the military decided that they would step aside. Why has this military reform programme been tolerated? What were the pressures that they were facing? Yes, you have to look at self-interest Ė thatís the first thing you start from isnít it? Questioning why this happened. The generals didnít just wake up one morning and think youíve got it right we were wrong all along, we must do something! Everyone has just accepted that change happens and that the sanctions worked, well did it? Iím not saying it didnít Iím just asking the question. It seems like a question that no longer seems relevant.

    Have you been surprised by the recent spates of sectarian violence?

    I think the degree of the violence is surprising, but I donít think it is surprising that it has happened. But what I think is indicative and what hasnít been said enough and hasnít been said by people who should be speaking out, like the Western governments and Aung San Suu Kyi, is the fact that this is orchestrated. This is organised and itís playing on racism that was already there.

    What are your views on how the police and security forces have dealt with the recent outbreaks of violence?

    From what I have read, at best the police have been watching the violence taking place, at worst they were actually participating. And this whole idea that they couldnít control it is complete nonsense. It begs the question, what is really behind all of this? We have heard about Wirathu the Monk projecting a virulent strain of nationalist Buddhism, but remember this is an identity that has been cultivated ever since Ne Win took over in 1962. There has always been that feeling of resentment of the Indian/Muslim communities coming in with the British to run the country as a colony.

    Is the criticism of Aung San Suu Kyiís failure to speak out against the violence justified?

    Everyone wants to believe in her and, in a messy world, everyone wants to hear a voice of moral clarity and everyone believed in that. She remains steadfast and she is incredibly courageous and admirable. But she has made a transition from being an icon to being a political figure so therefore she should be treated as one and she will come under attack and be criticised.

    She has failed, but then we have also built her up into something that she was never in the first place. The expectations of her ability are impossibly high; she can only fall. I have to say I think she has fallen far further than I thought she would. Not coming to condemn violence as a pacifist and a Buddhist is striking. But itís also wrong to place so much on her, it is no longer useful to view Burma through the prism of Suu Kyi as your starting rod.

    How do foresee the impact of the 2015 elections?

    My only feeling is that elections are a hook, to make a country democratic takes much more than an election. I view elections anywhere in the world with deep cynicism because they grab headlines and thatís it. I expect the civil war will continue if not get worse, there will probably be more sectarian violence.

    What do you perceive to be the most important aspect of the reform process?

    The great question in all of this is the military. Before there was no room for understanding, only shrill condemnation, which is unhelpful and doesnít help us in our understanding of the situation. Remember the Burmese military is the single biggest employer in Burma Ė when you know that you tend to think away from a monolithic organization that is hated by the vast majority of the population suddenly becomes a bit more complicated.

    They are the one institution in the country that is yet to be touched by the reform programme and there is no sign that it will change at all and already the Americans are talking about direct contact for training. This is the military that was being universally condemned by the Americans over and over again and in the loudest possible voice. Thatís all fallen away and nobody has thought now hang on a minute what about the military? You put people in civilian clothing and instantly theyíre a complete democrat?

    Nic Dunlop will be appearing at the Front Line Club on 15 May as part of the Asia House Festival of Asian Literature

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    Senior Member nelsonone's Avatar
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    no doubt the place is in a time of flux....and hopefully for the much better...there are times when i feel great hope and others where I feel we have all been hoodwinked by the regime...that really does depend on what network or article you are paying attention to at the time

    my heart goes out to those poor Rohingyan refugees though...especially right at this time with a cyclone and ensuing floods on the horizon

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    Good article and echo's my own feelings on Suu Kyi - never forget her (illustrious) heritage and while the western media have fawned over her for decades, her actions now she is an elected memeber of the gorvenment come as no surprise to me and on a personal level I dont feel she has anything to answer for.

    As I wrote in my trip reports and subsequent reading - Myanmar is far to complicated for the media to report on meaningfully. Even most governments I would wager know little or have not taken the trouble of building an understanding for Myanmar's long and complex history. Again I state Thant Myint-U's (ex UK secretary general) The River of Lost Footsteps is by far the best writing I have come accross with respect to the situation Myanamr has arrived at today.

    The ruling military's move out of Yangon to the new lavish capital of Napyitaw I think was the pivotal decision that freed the population in Yangon to not be surrounded by the constant presence of the junta and a hope and mood shift emerged - along with vast capital inflows from China, Singapore, Thailand and India - which the gnenerals finally saw the need foe the country to develop and keep pace with its powerful neighbours.

    The military replaced the vacuum left by the British removing the Burmese monachy and while Thailand and Cambodia (as well as Sri Lanka and Laos) have strongly Buddhist societies - Myanmar's Buddhism is far deeper rooted and meaningful - and the anti-Muslim flare-ups come as no surprise to me either. While I was at Ngapoli beach - the Buddhist locals hated (and I really felt the venom) the Muslims. Even in Kachin with its Christionised tribal clans - the ruling structures there were Buddhist which made it uneasy on both side - the ruling military/police/administration Buddhist seemed alienated by being surrounded by all the indegionous Christian majority.

    Radical Buddhism I dont think we have seen the last of - and more freedom od expression takes hold, I can if anything seeing the anti-Muslim feeling become even more pronounced - I would never expect Suu Kyi to come out in support of the Rohingya - its would be domestic potitical suicide, and further I never expect any Myanmar government in the future to allow the Rohingya to become part of Myanmar proper.

    My feelings for Myanmar's future are not good - commercialisation has begun in earnest and how long it will be before Yangon is another Bangkok? - 10 years? - maybe less. Some parts (Mergui Islands/Kachin) are just so unique I hope I never see them develop - the world does need to keep some truely unspoilt places.
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    I hope the Buddhists win and bannish the Christians and Muslims...

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