The Lady: Assessing Aung San Suu Kyi’s Commitment to Democracy in Burma

By Ariana Criste
Staff Writer

The National League for Democracy (NLD), a political party in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi, swept the polls in the mid-November elections–the first open election in Myanmar since the nineteen nineties. This election is a historical landmark for Myanmar, which was previously under the leadership of an authoritarian military junta. A momentous and long overdue victory, these elections mark the beginning of the transition away from the iron grip of the ousted military junta to the promising future of the NLD.

Aung San, Myanmar’s champion of democracy, spent fifteen years under house arrest and was only released five years ago. She is a Nobel Peace Laureate and has drawn praise domestically and internationally for her grace and poise during her fifteen years under house arrest, which she underwent for her involvement as a protest leader in protests against the military junta. As perhaps the most famed political prisoner in the world with a streak of defiance, many look to The Lady, as she is commonly referred to, in hopes that she will address and find solutions to the communal violence and ethnic tensions that Myanmar is facing right now.

Indeed, ethnic conflict within the country is at a critical point. The ethno-religious minority that is native to the Rakhine state of Myanmar, the Rohingyas, willingly face unsafe conditions to flee by boat for neighboring countries in hopes that they will be welcomed and gain some sort of recognition from these countries. Since 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have been killed in communal violence fueled by anti-Muslim sentiments and carried out by the majority group of Burmese Buddhists, including extremist Buddhist Nationalists in the country. Amnesty International has referred to the Rohingya people as “the most persecuted refugees in the world,” and they are a stateless people who are disenfranchised. As a result of this marginalization, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have decided to flee their home to seek better conditions elsewhere.

Aung San’s silence on the plight of the Rohingyas has drawn international criticism. In the past, The Lady has rejected the view that the crimes against the Rohingya constitute ethnic cleansing. She has also said to not “forget that violence has been committed by both sides,” and told international media to not “exaggerate” the situation. The only Rohingya-related issue that she has taken a stance upon is the two-child policy that some provinces in Myanmar implemented for Rohingyas that she believes are discriminatory.

The forecast for Rohingyas under the NLD does not seem optimistic. Aung San’s silence echoes the majority opinion that the Rohingya are Bengali immigrants or foreign aliens. Much of the base of support for the NLD comes from the Buddhist extremists that are carrying out the attacks against the Rohingya population.

For what are likely reasons of political expedience, it is unlikely that Aung San or the NLD will address the Rohingya issue. They are navigating a post-authoritarian political landscape where the military stills plays an active role in politics and will hold seats in the government even after the transition between parties occurs. If they showed active support for the Rohingyas or other Muslim ethnic minorities, it is likely that the loss of perceived political legitimacy would play into the interests of the military.

The NLD is walking a narrow line as it tries to move forward with the transition towards democratization in Myanmar. External forces are vying to hasten or slow this transition. Political actors, some domestic and some international, have varied expectations for the party. The NLD must balance outcries from NGOs about the Rohingya crisis, especially considering the media attention on the issue right now. They also have to deal with external imposition of ideals of democracy from the West and from investors in the state who may not have a complete idea of the situation domestically, and who have expressed discontent with the pace that Myanmar is democratizing at. They must maintain political legitimacy against a military regime that actively tries to detract from the legitimacy of their leadership. To do this requires the NLD to narrowly maintain viewpoints and policies that do not alienate their political base, much of which holds very anti-Muslim sentiments.

In this light it is unlikely that, under Aung San, the Rohingya peoples will see their cause furthered. While this provides hardly any consolation, it is also unlikely that violence from an institutionalized, state-led level will worsen. It is very probable that the state of Myanmar’s transition to democracy will be a positive force in the lives of the Rohingyas and other ethnic or religious minorities in the state. All of Myanmar will see tangible benefits from the transition to democracy from the previously brutal military government, and the NLD will likely lessen the active oppression on the populace that was experienced under the previous government. As state corruption and brutality decrease, the Rohingyas should experience marked improvement in their situation. This prediction must be taken with a degree of reservation, however, because it is unlikely that they will gain true state recognition and rights in the near future. This is not politically feasible in the current climate, which is why noted human rights champion Aung San and the NLD are avoiding the issue. It seems that, for this marginalized and persecuted group, the National League of Democracy under Aung San will not be a shining beacon of human rights advancement. Still, with Myanmar’s slow path of democratization, the Rohingyas can expect gradual increases in their rights and privileges and, hopefully, integration and acceptance into Burmese society.

Image by Rob Beschizza

 

GUN CONTROL: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Gun Control: A Need for Small Changes with Big Impact
By Satenik Harutyunyan
Staff Writer

The United States Constitution- the supreme law of the land- was meant to serve as the fiber of American society since its ratification in 1783. Its Bill of Rights was meant to shield democracy and to serve as its formidable defense against tyranny. Since the Founding Fathers first crafted this revolutionary document, the U.S. Constitution has evolved past slavery, it has embraced women’s suffrage, and it has redefined citizenship. But in the current day and age, one antiquated part of the U.S. Constitution remains unquestioned by the American people and actively upheld by legislators. Today, the Second Amendment simply fails to serve its original purpose. Surely now, in the midst of two national tragedies in the span of three weeks, the time has come to revisit how the right to bear arms should be integrated into American society.

In the hours following the Aurora calamity, the U.S. witnessed a moment of profound national solidarity, but it did not take long for the gun policy debate to blaze through the media. Increased gun ownership, many argue, is necessary to neutralize the threat posed by the James Holmes’s of society. Had the civilians in that theater been armed, they insist, this may have been prevented. However, a study published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control actually shows the opposite: states with higher gun ownership and weak gun laws led the country in gun death numbers in 2007. In a state like Louisiana, where 45.6% of households own guns, there were nearly 20 deaths per 100,000 people. In Hawaii, however, there were less than 3 deaths per 100,000 people and 9.7% household gun ownership (CDC).

Furthermore, there remains a fundamental problem at the root of this argument: where must we draw the line and at which point do the implications become impractical? Consider the Sikh temple tragedy. The hypothetical situation in which individuals arrive armed to a place of worship as a precautionary measure is simply not representative of what the American way of life is meant to be. Whereas the prospect of repealing the Second Amendment and thereby taking away a right so deeply rooted in American society is unrealistic and largely unwelcome, there are extremely simple and concrete benefits to a more restrictive gun policy. A thorough screening of potential gun owners would undoubtedly decrease the chance that corrupt or untrustworthy individuals- ones who are prone to acts of violence themselves or contribute to the illegal gun trade in this country – would possess weapons.

Lastly, to argue that legal gun sales have no link to illegal gun activity is naïve at best. After all, a legal sale is only as good as the law enforcing it. In his declaration to support twelve California counties and cities in a lawsuit to fight existing gun laws, Robert Ricker, former NRA lawyer and gun lobbyist, stated that the gun industry promotes the mass diversion of guns into the black market. In his declaration, he referred to “straw sales, large volume sales to gun traffickers and various other channels by corrupt dealers or distributors who go to great lengths to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities (Siebal).” Straw sales and related activity display that the lack of systematic regulation and the absence of adequate enforcement mechanisms promotes illegal activity by a corrupt dealers and distributors (Siebal). The Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence has also found that almost 60% of the nation’s crime guns come from only 1% of gun dealers. This correlation is not coincidental, and should serve as a call to action (Brady Campaign).

In 2011, following the attempt on Congresswoman Gifford’s life that also involved the shooting of 18 others and the death of six, President Obama solemnly declared the need for a “national conversation” regarding gun policy where “We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future (Time).” The president’s speech, although eloquently written, ultimately produced no change on gun policy. Now, during an extremely charged election year, politicians and legislators are reluctant to tackle such a sensitive policy area. But in actuality, a healthy approach to gun policy begins with reasonable precautionary measures that pose no threat to qualified potential buyers and avert the risk of dangerous weapons falling into the wrong hands. In fact, there is nothing extreme or nonsensical at the root of this issue and it is high time for the American people to realize this.

Gun Control: Ineffective and Counterproductive
By Chase Donnally
Contributing Writer

Before one can get to questions about whether any policy, including gun control, should be implemented, one must first ask the question, “Does it work?” If a policy is shown not to work, no further questions really need to be asked. There is no question of whether one “should” do something if it can’t be done.

That said, let’s look at some facts and figures regarding the actual results of gun control policies. Overall, there is little to no evidence to show gun control is effective in curbing gun-related violence. In studies done by the National Academy of Sciences and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers evaluated dozens of gun control laws, including ammunition bans, waiting periods, and licensing. In both studies, no conclusive evidence was found to show that any of the regulations were effective at reducing gun-related violence, accidents, or suicides.

Furthermore, according to an article published in 2000 by the Cato Institute, states that allow concealed carry are subject to significantly less violent crime, murder, and robbery. On average, states with these laws have murder rates 19% lower and violent crime rates 24% lower than those that do not allow concealed carry. On top of that, the nine states with the lowest crime rates are all “shall issue” right-to-carry states.

Even when looking across different countries, studies show no correlation between stricter gun control policies and lower crime rates. While there are some examples of countries with strict gun control having low murder rates, Switzerland and Israel are both clear examples to the contrary. Switzerland has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world, but one of the lowest murder rates in the world. Despite nearly half of all citizens owning guns (and often military grade rifles) they had only 40 firearm homicides in 2010 (and only 18 in 2008). Israel allows people to carry guns in public, concealed or visible, without a permit, and yet it too has an incredibly low gun-related murder rate, with only 61 gun-related murders in 2008, and only seven in 2007.

On top of all that, a 1997 policy analysis showed that guns are used in self defense upwards of 80,000 times annually in the United States, with some estimates ranging as high as 2,000,000 times per year. Even using the lowest estimate, if only 20% of those people were in lethal danger when they defended themselves, that’s 16,000 lives saved, which is higher than the total number of murders in the US in 2009.

Following the recent massacre in Colorado one of the more popular regulatory ideas is to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. This would be a completely pointless gesture for two primary reasons: first, although murder rates went up from 2004 to 2006, they have been on the decline since then, so once again there is no evidence to show that such a ban would decrease violent crime. Second, automatic rifles are already illegal, so the difference between any assault weapon and semi-automatic rifle is purely cosmetic. As it happens, assault weapons actually tend to be smaller caliber and lower velocity than comparable hunting rifles. The only purpose of such a ban would be to advance the career of the politician who proposes it.

Another suggestion has been to ban high-capacity magazines, such as the 100 round magazine used by the shooter in Colorado. However, magazines with a capacity higher than 21 rounds are already illegal in Colorado. This brings up a very important point: prohibition does not work. As the prevalence of marijuana-use suggests, prohibiting a product is far from a guarantee that people will not purchase and use it. The magazine used was illegal, but he had it anyway. Adding on additional laws or making it “more” illegal will not make it a more effective policy. All it will do is create the illusion that the problem is being addressed.

That is perhaps the largest problem with gun control: in reality it does nothing to address the problem of high murder and crime rates in the United States, but when it passes, people are led to believe that the problem has been solved until the next crime spree happens. And again, the proposed solution is more gun control, and the real roots of the problem are never addressed. Instead of tracing high crime and murder rates to our broken educational system or the prohibition of drugs, gun-control proponents seek to treat the symptom, and attempt to do so with a medicine that does not work.

The litmus test for every policy should be, “Does it accomplish its goal?” In the case of gun control, not only does it not work, it may actually be counterproductive. That is all the information a person needs in order to know that gun control is not the answer.

Works Cited:

“Facts-Gun Trafficking.” The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The Brady Campaign, n.d. Web. 11 Aug 2012. .

Klein, Joe. “How the Gun Won.” Time Magazine. 06 08 2012: n. page. Print (“Time”)

Siebal, Brian. “GUN INDUSTRY IMMUNITY: WHY THE GUN INDUSTRY’S “DIRTY LITTLE SECRET” DOES NOT DESERVE CONGRESSIONAL PROTECTION.” UMKC LAW REVIEW. 73.4 n. page. Print. .

“States with Higher Gun Ownership and Weak Gun Laws Lead Nation in Gun Death.” Violence Policy Center. N.p., 02 June 2010. Web. 10 Aug 2012. . (“CDC”)

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CONSUMER CHOICE

By Justin DeWaele
Staff Writer

There exists in American society a politics of consumer choice in which one’s social consciousness is often judged by the products one chooses to buy. This culture of ethical consumerism was brought about by corporations’ attempts to create a market out of awareness for global problems Unfortunately, this market rests on the assumption that changing consumer choice is the solution to global warming and environmental degradation, or that it can solve human crises.

This culture of socially or environmentally responsible capitalism is epitomized by TOM’s shoes—a company that pledges to donate a pair of shoes to a poor, shoeless child for every pair that it sells—and the “Go Green” slogans on T-shirts and bumper stickers. Such corporate-driven initiatives do two things: shift responsibility to fix problems onto individuals’ behavior and attempt to co-opt humanitarian concerns by offering profit-driven solutions to them.

Drives for ethical consumerism seem like a good thing at first, but they are misleading at best and actually do more harm than good at worst. Take the “green” campaign, for example, which gained widespread popularity in the mid-2000s. This campaign made it fashionable to purchase environmentally sound products and to practice sustainable lifestyle habits. Sales of the promising environmentally friendly Toyota Prius doubled in 2004 and in 2005. Unfortunately, the environmentally-conscious stigma associated with organic foods, hybrid cars and products made from recycled materials is often inaccessible because they are priced too high for working class people. This puts the environmentally sound lifestyle out of reach for people who do not have the luxury of choosing which types of products to buy.

If it seems perverse that middle and upper class people can affect the most environmental change through their purchasing power—it’s because it is. The solution to environmental degradation and destruction cannot come from purchasing more products. The vast majority of pollution and environmental harm come from the extraction of resources and production—levels of the supply chain that are outside of consumer control. No matter what kind of products an individual chooses to buy, she cannot prevent multinational corporations from grabbing land in the Global South for mono-cultural production, she cannot decide how cars will be manufactured, she will not have a say in whether or not power plants will run on coal, and she will not be able to change the deplorable conditions of environmentally destructive feedlot operations of industrial farming companies.

A similar idea applies to consumer campaigns, like TOM’s shoes, that have feel-good business models that offer a solution to perceived global problems. These marketing campaigns supposedly give us the option of helping humanity and taking care of our own wants simultaneously. TOM’s shoes pledges to donate a pair of shoes to an impoverished child somewhere in the world for each pair of shoes that it sells. TOM’s shoes does not, however, provide concrete evidence for the crisis of global shoelessness or the effects that their blank donations have on the receiving communities. Additionally, by buying into TOM’s shoes, one is still contributing to the exploitation of labor and land in the Global South.

While these drives of ethical consumerism raise awareness for global problems and social inequalities, they offer misguided and often regressive solutions and encourage consumers to donate money to a cause without examining their role in the problem critically. Furthermore, these campaigns preclude any non-capitalist solutions to social problems, and assert that a person can enact change through their role as a consumer.

Social change must come about through critical analysis and collective action. A person must recognize that in a capitalist society one must go beyond their role as a consumer to affect this change.

Photo by Memphis CVB