Last year in a blog post here on God's Politics, I suggested that believers pray for the world’s bad actors, among them, the Burmese generals and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Someone must have prayed.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Burma, the first time in many years that a high-ranking American official has visited that country. President Obama has decided to send her to assess the situation after seeing signs of hope that the human rights situation is getting better.
In May 2009, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. Today, she has been released and the pro-democracy party that she represents has registered with the government. It plans to participate in upcoming elections.
Time Magazine reports that Burma’s new rulers are easing restrictions on media coverage. It has not, however released the large numbers of political prisoners it is holding, and it even fails to acknowledge that it is holding political prisoners.
Writing in his most recent book — Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia — Thant Myint-U describes the fragile moment in which Burma finds itself. It is a small country between two large countries, India and China, who are both growing in global economic and political power. A new president and a new government were sworn in March of this year. President Thein Sein, a retired general, called “for urgent economic reforms, an end to corruption, and political reconciliation."
Prior to the 2010 elections, General Than Shwe replaced nearly all of the old-guard generals with younger men. These men know little of the West, but the changing of the guard could signal new opportunities for engagement.
Thant Myint-U writes:
“So what of the future? Burma will probably see some sort of economic growth, whether Western sanctions remain in place or not. Democratic government itself is almost certainly a long way away, but there could be an improvement in economic policies, increased aid and investment, and perhaps even some success at reducing poverty, creating jobs, and training a new generation of skilled workers.”
Burma has resources that China covets — energy and food. China already has a strong presence in the country, and only time will tell what will happen regarding the strategic possibilities of growing geo-political cooperation between India, the world’s largest democracy, China, the world’s largest communist country and Burma.
The question also is: Will economic advantages that may result benefit all of Burma’s people, especially the poor?
We are not powerless to influence events for the better. We can continue to pray.
Thant Myint-U writes:
“But using this opportunity, to the benefit of ordinary people, will require a basic reorientation: an end to decades of armed conflict and a willingness by elites to see the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity as an advantage and not simply a problem to be managed; a new cosmopolitan spirit in place of xenophobia that has dictated Burmese policy for generations; and perhaps more than anything, a strong and effective government that enjoys the trust and confidence of its people “ (325).
Let this be our prayer for Burma.
Writing in the poem ,Idylls of the King, Alfred Lord Tennyson says:
“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of . . .
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
Jesus would include enemies and the world’s bad actors.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.