Why “Amyothar Naing Ngan Yay” (nationalist politics) can be misleading

These days, there is a popular term among  Myanmar’s military generals/ex-generals and their supporters. That is “Amyothar Naing Ngan Yay” in Burmese. Or if to be translated into English, its closet meaning will be equivalent of nationalist politics or patriotic politics.

Arguments for this popular term centers around the very belief that everything “I” or “we” do with good intention in the interests of our country is always good and nobler than what you might typically call as partisan politics in a healthy democracy. However, when looking back into history,  the verdict in real-world events tells a different story of subtle reality that indicates good intentions alone for a country are not necessarily meant to have good outcomes for its people.

Real-world examples range from political and economic events from other countries to Myanmar’s its own history. For example, in one extreme example of nationalist politics, Nazi under Hitler in Germany did horrible crimes and brought self-destruction of their own country in the name of doing everything good for their fatherland and their people. Or we can look at the history of our neighbor China. The chairman Mao Zedong, while having a great credit for unifying their country, terribly brought counter-productive results of famine and economic mess when his policy of “Great Leap Forward” were carried out with good intentions in the interest of China.Also in Myanmar, after coming into power General Ne Win started confiscating businesses of Chinese and Indians SMEs and private industries, vowing to rebuild the nation away from capitalists based on “Burmese Ways of Socialism”. After three decades of such terrible policies under General Ne Win, Myanmar, once one of the most prosperous nations in the region, went down to bottom list of poorest countries in Southeast Asia.

On the other hand, Hong Kong had thrived significantly under the “imperialist” Britain. Or China under Deng Xiaoping who also had good intentions for his country but more importantly with good economic policies, was brought back to to economic prosperity, lifting millions of people out of poverty. Similar stories can be found in many nations around the globe. Even capitalism where individuals acts on their “selfish” interests achieved far greater results in improving people lives than any other systems such as socialism or communism which claims to work interest of all community members.

So the verdict is basically saying that at the end of the day it is not enough with how good your intentions may be but how good or bad your policy is in consequential results, under the constraints and laws of the underlying nature of how things work in real-world. Therefore, the same is true with “partisan politics”. While “partisan politics” may have associations with negative connotations, it indeed can bring the good results if a party has good policies and abilities to carry out with open hand for collaboration with others. On the other hand, being nationalist politics does not necessarily mean good results for the country and thus not necessarily being nobler than “partisan politics”.  It does not matter what you wish for. What matters is what and how you do it. Real-world does not care your wishes or intentions alone especially in running a country or a complex system. What breaks it breaks! What works it works!

Thus, in the end, one of my favorite quotes from the famous economist Milton Friedman resoundingly reminds us:

“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

Russia needs a new leader, ultimately a New Vision

What is unfolding right now on in Ukraine and actions taken by Russia are very astounding in a bad way.  Definitely, what Russia is doing is definitely against its own interest in long-term. While immediate causes for current crisis in Ukraine are lamentable on both sides, in overall Russian excessive response fits into the overview picture of Russia trying to remerge or reclaim itself as a world power once again.

What happened or events occurred in past few years in geopolitical vicinity of Russia seems to make President Putin and old hard-core Cold War vintage group feel the heat of encroachment by expansion of NATO and Western influence on its neighbors. Thus, stroking the fear or reemergence of Cold War mentality on Russian side. This is partly has to be discussed and let NATO and Russian negotiate and engage to address each other concerns. Mainly, Western nations need to tell Russia NATO is on peaceful mission, not like what Russian think and even want to help Russia to reach its security concern. However, as such necessity to take place though important but it pales in comparison to overall picture of what is happening or where Russia is leading to.

From the beginning, Mr Putin’s career rising from former KGB agent to President of Russia Federation is remarkable career growth. However, such rise is also dragged down by President Putin’s his own past experience or grievance as a former KGB officer or Russian patriot grown up in once “golden era” of Russia as a global superpower in parallel to American superpower. He or liked-minded Russian hard core yearn for those old golden days in their perception though they may not explicitly expressed in words. I might be wrong but in my perception, Russia or at least President Putin seems to think fall of Soviet Union due to a single or few critical mistakes in course of its history. He seems determined to learn from those mistakes and re-erect Russia itself as once again the world’s super power. After all, the rise of Soviet Union or those golden days as believed by Mr. Putin or alike is not because of some few mistakes but because of bad foundation built on top of false hope and ideology.

By saying such that above, do not take me wrong Russia is still relevant and it is still a big regional power, still can contribute a lot to world peace and order. Russia is the largest country on earth by area and its houses one of the largest military and nuclear arsenals. Be respectful, very respectful to them, I would say instead of be afraid, very be afraid.  Mr. Putin is also incredibly a smart guy seasoned in world politic and a lot of experience in understanding of the world affairs very well. But there is only one thing wrong, which is Russia’s twisted understanding or learning from its own history and ultimately the wrong vision of resurrecting Russia’s world superpower from old days.

What I mean by false hope and ideology that led to fall of Soviet Union instead of some few critical tactical mistakes is as follow. For example, by now the world knows capitalism is probably the most efficient and innovative economic growth engine of the world so far although it also its own few issues. By comparison to any ideology the world has know so far, it is the best in its class. And rule of law, being free from corruption and good governance may have started in the West but those ideas or values are universal and relevant to any nations inspiring for prosperity and peacefulness. Creativity, technology innovation in conjunction with academic freedom not influenced by authoritarian state are still crucial and universally applicable.  These ideas may sound like Western thing or Western ideas but in fact it does not matter where they originated as long as it is applicable to you and when you can make it better by improving those ideas or foundations. A patient in other side of the world will need to take a medicine if that works to alleviate or cure his disease even if it was invented by country or region of bloc that he/she regards as hostile. Good ideas are neither copyrighted nor bear significance of where originated or who coined in long-term. But the history is remembered by who use them and make them better.

Russia needs a new vision i.e instead of resurrecting old Soviet power, it should instead be inspired to lead the world or at least its region by setting example, leadership, economic growth and generosity towards its neighbors and friends. Russia can learn a lot from its peer China as well how it still remain focused on economic prosperity instead of confrontation with the West while downloading the ideas from the West that work and are applicable. It can also learn a lot from Germany as well on how Germany rose up from ashes of World War II defeat and leading the Europe again by inspiration and setting examples to other European countries starting with foundation of EU, instead refusing to be led again by false hope and narrow-minded nationalism as guided once under Nazi Hitler.

Russia has a great potential to lead the world again in a peaceful and prosperous way. Many of Russian innovations and contribution to science and technology are remarkable and sometimes coming out of the box thinking unlike any other. For example, Russian solution of simple and effective approach in designing Soyuz space shuttle or creation of a simple and blazing fast webserver Nginx in the field of software technology are quite remarkable to show sometimes how Russian can think well outsmarting others. It only needs to download and implement universal good ideas such as rule of law, anti-corruption, freedom of its citizens to information to resurrect itself as regional or world power again by leading others by inspiration and examples but not by coercion.

When I was a kid before barely knowledgable about the world politic, I wondered why there is a Cold War and there is animosity between the West or United States in particular and Russia or Soviet Union at the time. Then, I asked myself “let’s me take a look what Russians look like or American look like” from photo. From a child’s perceptive, I didn’t see the difference, you both visually look the same. Unless somebody say or put a label underneath their photo. I wonder still now if some aliens from outside worlds and planets look at us and they may be wondering why these guys are fighting and to us they look very similar to each other.

Yes, anyway Russia needs a new vision that is bold and heralding to a new future of peacefulness and prosperity for their country. Russian people deserve such better new vision and ultimately the world deserves positive contributions and leadership by Russia once again toward global peace and prosperity.

 

 

 

 

 

Rohingya Issue requires sustainable solution

Recently I have read New York Times articles by Nicholas Kristof on plights of “Rohingya” people in Rakhine State of Myanmar. I feel very sorry for them and how they are suffering with hardships in their life. 

While I still believe “Rohingya” issue is a complex problem with immigration and national security issue to Myanmar, I do not believe anybody has to go through hardships “Rohingya” people are suffering now, especially with humanitarian crisis. In short term, Myanmar government should allow or increase more humanitarian assistance and medical care to deeply affected “Rohingya” community in Rakhine state.

For the long run, it will require a sustainable solution  to this crisis by both Myanmar and internal community. To have emergence of sustainable solution, it will require addressing two key concerns shared by stakeholders including Myanmar and international community.

Immigration & National security concern 

For Myanmar and its people, Rohingya issue is a national security and immigration issue. We never heard “Rohingya” or at least will not accept the term as one of the native ethnic groups of Myanmar. The term “Rohingya” did  not even have any prior valid reference even under British colonial time. For Myanmar people, “Rohngya” people are same as other India origin immigrants who migrated to Myanmar during British colonial time and some may include recent immigrants across the porous border.

In Myanmar, citizenship is more of based on blood line and it might be in odds with how Western nations defines its citizenship liberally. Partly, that is because of we have different history and background in our nations’ history. For example, United States is a nation founded by immigrants and thus have more liberal policy with its citizenship and immigration. Whereas, Myanmar is a small nation geopolitically sandwiched between the world’s most populous nations such as India, China, and Bangladesh and as a results, citizenship and immigration policy tends to be more stringent to maintain national identity and harmony before it can become a modern and prosperous society. 

Although citizenship rules in Myanmar are strict, the immigration law does allow immigrants such as people of Indian and Chinese origins to become citizens given that if one of their parents is Myanmar citizen. And also, Myanmar must welcome immigrants and diversity in order to build a prosperous nation. However, as a sovereign nation it has or should have a pragmatic right to selective immigration that reflects talent of immigrants, their contribution, their values to social cohesion and national interests. 

When it comes to Rohingya case, the people who now claim themselves as “Rohingya” are in fact speaking same language as of people in Bangladesh though may be of different dialect, and culturally and ethnically more descendants of Bangladesh. On the other hand, Bangladesh has one of the highest population density (with more than twice the population of Myanmar while only a fifth of land area) and it lies just above the sea level. With rising sea level due to global warming, many neighboring nations can expect increasing number of migrants from Bangladesh in the future. Therefore, forcing Myanmar to accept “Rohingya” as native people will tantamount to automatic citizenship handout to future immigrants and thus against its national security interest. 

Therefore, as long as international community forcing Myanmar against its national interest to accept relatively new term “Rohingya” to identify immigrant people of Bangladesh origin, it will not help in solving or finding a sustainable solution to this crisis. 

 

Human Rights concern 

One of the legit reasons for international community to be concerned with Rohingya issue is deteriorating human rights and humanitarian crisis experienced by Muslim community in Rakine state, especially since communal violence two years ago. Most recent problems arise from tension between Muslim and local Buddhist communities, such as losing home during the riots and later being placed in temporary camps with little or no infrastructure to support socioeconomic and medical needs of the people. While I sincerely believe both side including Buddhist community suffers as well from communal riots, minority Rohingya are likely to bear the burden much more for negative consequences of riots and tension. 

On top of that, creating tension based on religious fault line by some of the religious Buddhist zealots make the matter more complicated and misleading to outside world when in fact Rohingya issue is purely and should be treated as immigration issue in accordance with law. And also, currently interfaith marriage law proposal pushed by President Thein Sein’s government at this sensitive time is nothing more than securing high political score ahead of 2015 general election when the ruling party has no other leverage to increase its popularity among some naive Myanmar voters.

Instead, Myanmar government first should increase or allow more humanitarian and health care assistance to both communities suffered since communal violence two years ago. Then, for sustainable solution, it must verify and conduct legal process to Rohingya people in accordance with prevailing immigration laws, and granting all the rights as prescribed by laws and their immigration status to all of those who are eligible. For those who are not eligible after verification, they must be arranged for deportation or resettlement through negotiation with respective governments and international community, or placed in refugee camps that provide access to food, sanitation and medical care. International community can help Myanmar along this process especially with resettlement process and providing humanitarian aids.

Later, Myanmar lawmakers and public can debate and push for immigration reform that can provide greater access to legal immigration status in align with selective immigration that ensures meritocracy, cohesion to social norms and values and national interests.

 

Conclusion

Ongoing Rohingya issue requires a sustainable solution, striking a balance between national security and humanitarian concerns held by stakeholders including Myanmar and International community. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Military intervention: not a solution to Syrian conflict

As US and its allies rally for striking Syria for claimed chemical weapons used by Assad’s regime, I have doubt over how military intervention can help resolve this conflict. Instead, decision to go forward with military solution can be counter-productive. Why?

  1. Still no clear evidence on who did the “chemical weapon” attacks. Let the UN team do its job and confirm it.
  2. Always choosing unilateral military intervention, by-passing UN security council, will break international norms and set examples for future abuse by international powers for arbitrary judgement.
  3. Conflict in Syria is not dead simple like where 99% of people oppose and fighting against one dictator. Remember, if not half of the population supports Assad, at least a considerable minority like at least 15% or more does. There are long-standing division lines across ethnicity and religion such as Shia vs Sunni.  As the conflict drags on, on opposition side there are high involvement by jihadists and Al Quaeda terrorists. With lack of moderate and educated mass throughout the history and under dictatorship for a long time, transition will not be easy and can be as chaos as Iraq, even if Assad is gone. Then, ultimately Syrian people will suffer most, and not to mention how much headache and aids will need to flow into rebuilding Syria. Unlike Libya or other resource-rich countries in region, Syria will not be economically strong and thus it can provide seed of anger and dissatisfaction among public for further instability in the country with no end in sight such as in Egypt.
  4. There is no clear objective on what US can achieve by striking either limited military strike, which wont change equation on the ground, OR full-blown military engagement, which can drag US into another open-ended civil war or Iraq 2.0.
  5. Think of ramifications for further instability in the region with linked interests by each regional players such as Iran, Israel, Russia, Hizbollah and so on.
  6. Moral argument against use of chemical weapons is indiscriminate killing of children and civilians. I don’t know how such argument can be different when drone and aerial bombing strikes against Syria can result in huge collateral damage to many more civilians and their lives.

While others might say if we dont strike, then the remaining approach is “do nothing”? Well, no! The viable alternative is to bring both sides in Syria to discussion table and regime change should NOT be a priority in doing so. First and foremost important thing is ceasefire and stopping civilian causality. Both sides need to be convinced for compromise for each party’s needs. International community can engage in Syria by providing humanitarian access further and negotiation.

Given how complicated ethnicity and religious background and rule under long dictatorship, the best we can hope is gradual change toward more democratic society over time through not just political changes, but also equally important socio-economic changes.

Myanmar, stay focused and move forward!

When I saw the Time’s cover photo with words of  “Buddhism + Terror” shared by Myanmar people on facebook, I was quite shocked and initially I got sensitive with the way how Time’s editor  or media in general portrayed the story  about Buddhist Muslim riots without approaching from both sides. But then, I tried to calm down and tried to see through the fog. Then, that led me to write this blog post.

Usually I do not want to participate in talking about riots happening in Myanmar as a rebuttal to a religious debate. Because you do not want to be embroiled in never-ending, useless tit and tat religious debate or fight. That’s why I stayed away. However, now I think it is time to speak up or at least share what I think, before things getting worse or Myanmar sliding into wrong directions, not to take side or join in back-and-forth debate.

First and foremost important thing for Myanmar that is in transition and young in its path to democracy, is stability, stability, stability . Because stability is for growth that is in dire need for this generation of the country. These days, there are a lot of noises in Myanmar, main headlines have been about Rohingya and Buddhist-Muslim riots and then push for constitutional changes, peace talks between government and rebels among frequent but small clashes,  labor protests, protests against Chinese mining projects and so on.  Among them, the most prominent thing has been about religious riots. So let’s break down the problem and finding ways out.

Religious Riots

It all started with the event in Rakhine state, where two “Rohingya” Muslim men raped a local Buddhist woman and killed her brutally. Then, this news spread among Buddhist people in the state and some angry Buddhist mob took a revenge by killing muslim travelers on the bus. Before that event, there was a fierce debate among Myanmar people about how western media such as BBC promoting “Rohingya” as indigenous people in Rakhine state, which most of us know most of them are recent immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh illegally or left over from colonial era when under British rule like many other Indian or Chinese decedents in other parts of the country. I used to participate in online debate about “Rohingya” issue because initially it was an immigration issue and it should be the way how the issue should be treated and handled, not to make it as a religious conflict. Later, this turning into religious riots is regrettable because focus on real problem is lost and it makes international community to think of it as religious one. Therefore, to prevent this from further sliding Myanmar into chaos and lost decades we need to stop the on-going religious conflicts and turn our discussion back to immigration policy or the real problem.

Stopping the religious riots requires efforts by all sides. By which, I mean as follow:

Government –  Myanmar government needs to crack down the religious riots as an example to people on how rule of law works and how reliably they can resort to it instead of violent reaction when faced with provocation. Then, prevent riots before it happens through intelligence units to crack down violent mobs, preventing inflammatory speech and movements, monitoring the media coverage including by foreign corespondents not to incite further riots, educate the people about available judiciary resources for resolving conflicts.

People – Myanmar people especially Buddhists need to respond to any provocation for riots through use of rule and judiciary system. After many years of living under ineffective judiciary system, people tend to resort to violent reactions in their own ways to take justice. To some Buddhist enthusiasts, it is not protecting Buddhism or this is not how you protect your religion by participating in violent reaction whenever there is perceived provocations by the other side. Buddhism will be best protected from rise of any extremist religions through education, open society but through sound immigration policy, and economic growth.

To the Muslim community, they need to stop any actions that could be provocative and conducive to further riots and most importantly they need to examine themselves why their specific community has religious problem with local Buddhist majority when Christians, Hindus and others get along well at people to people level.

Monks – First of all, I respect you as member of Sangha Order who help in perpetuating the teachings of Buddha. In the times of religious conflicts, it is best to advice Buddhist followers for restraints and show of compassion. Instead, pushing for laws on inter-faith marriage is not at right time, and it is something to be discussed and debated by laymen people. Even then, this should be brought into debate after heated religious conflicts are over.

Media – When I read the news from local media I can see images of Buddhists people being injured or killed in these riots. When I go to international media it is the pictures of crying muslims or their properties being burned. The point I want to make is media needs to present the problem fairly from both sides.

These days, international media such as Time or New York Times when they write about on-going religious conflicts in Myanmar, they only mention about plight of Muslim minority without ever mentioning the fact that every single riot case is started by some  kind of provocations by some irresponsible Muslims. For example, in Meikhtila riot case the small fight at jewelry shop turned into a religious riot after a Muslim mob grabbed an innocent monk from a motorbike who is traveling for a visit from his village to the town, and got  killed by beheading in a very inhumane and cruel way. Here I am not arguing as an apologist for Buddhist mobs or joining the meaningless religious debate. But because unfair media coverage have a serious consequences for further increasing religious conflict. When media renders religious conflict in Myanmar as one-sided bully by majority Buddhists and often as “genocide”, of course Muslim people in other part of the world or in the region will be enraged. Just look at the recent example of events in Malaysia where several innocent Myanmar migrant workers are attacked and killed by local Muslim people and in Indonesia where some Indonesian extremists are planning a terrorist attack on Myanmar embassy and threatening jihad. When you asked who killed Myanmar migrants in Malaysia, I think it is right to say partly killed by some irresponsible foreign media.  

So, media please stop further escalating religious conflicts! You have right to present news but do it with purpose of reconciliation and solutions, without only finger pointing to one side or another.

International Community – Here referring to foreign governments and international agencies, please have patience and support the Myanmar government and civil society with capacity building and education for rule of law and resurrection of judiciary system. Most importantly, they need to drop sanctions and encourage speedy push for Myanmar from a stagnant economy to a functioning economy because many people in Myanmar without jobs they will be easily persuaded into religious conflicts, instead of being busy at work for their family or learning in classroom for new skills and jobs.

After all, every country or every individuals like ourselves face tumulus events at some point or another in history. The difference between those who succeeded and those who get caught is how you respond to crisis whether in a focused and moving forward manner or easily emotional and embroiled in never-ending fight.

It reminds me of recent Will Smith’s movie: The danger is real but fear is your choice. Here, the crisis is real but how we respond is our choice. So Myanmar, stay focused and keep moving!

Paradox of religious freedom

Religious freedom is a very acceptable concept to any man of reasoning. It is something we should all cherish and allows us to live peacefully when religions are nothing but  part of our personal beliefs.

But then, what if there is a religion such that its prevailing practices stifle or do not tolerate religious freedom of other religions, and perhaps even  women rights, education and intellectual freedom. Then promoting of such religion is also defeating the religious freedom, thus creating a paradox.

In today’s world, we might not or may be should not speak out such openly due to political correctness. We must try to avoid all sorts of conflicts and violence to promote peace and prosperity. But at the same time it should not prevent us from making sound policies and smart decisions. We should not be fooled by sugar-coated words, our own subtle concepts and ideologies but to think critically and act justly.

Otherwise, others could be exploiting our liberties to end our liberties.

My understanding of US economy and why Obama will be a better choice!

– US is going through fundamental economic changes due to globalization and technological innovations.

– The winners are corporations, entrepreneurs, skilled workers, financial intuitions and banks. The losers are unskilled workers, workers with not-relevant skills, under-capitalized small businesses, and they turn out to be majority of US population that build up as middle class since the time of mass manufacturing jobs during the industrialization age.

– While free trade in theory is always good, in practice countries need to embrace it with thorough preparations and long-term plans as it opens it markets to global economy. Successive US governments, in particular with emphasis on trickle-down economics policy, failed to prepare US majority of population and the country to successfully compete and gain benefits in global economy.

– While there is no doubt that many of the US companies are most innovative and productive in the world, majority of the middle class population that was built on old industrial age economic model, are suffering due to lack of relevant skills, financial literacy to benefit from financial markets and growing corporation profits, and broken immigration that stifle growth of entrepreneurship and job creations.  Government needs to create equal opportunities for its citizens by investing in its people, which is not redistribution of wealth as often accused by some right wings.

– In the long run, I believe in market economy where people taking care of themselves, as Lee Kwan Yew said “No welfare state, but fair state”.  However, in the current unusual dire state of US economy with unequal opportunities for its citizens to prosper in global economy, trickle-down economics will be a recipe for a failure in long-term, with possibility of pushing US to downward path further. Instead, asking wealthiest Americans who already seen tremendous income growth as winner in this global economy, to contribute in investing in American people as a whole through more spending in education and research, infrastructure is essential now and for a foreseeable a decade or so until most Americans are well prepared and equipped with skills and other equal opportunities to prosper in the context of global economy.

– Therefore, although Obama is not personally coming from strong  career background related to economics before becoming president, his policy in regard to economy is on right path than trickle-down economic policies offered by Mitt Romney who is though coming from much more business-oriented career background. After all, managing a business where its goal as simply to make profit, is vastly different from managing economy of a country where its goal is complex enough to serve interests of all inhabitants in ecosystem. Thus I will bet more on policies than on personalities when it comes to economy. While Obama is still far from perfection with rooms for improvements, he is clearly the better choice in this election to keep US afloat as a global economic powerhouse and leading way ahead into future.