Swimming to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

As you know, Burma is the country currently known as Myanmar. It is called Myanmar right now because its military dictatorship knows that you associate the word "Burma" with the words "human rights abuses," and so, in a nice branding coup, they changed the name a few years back. Now if you see "Made in Myanmar" on a sweatshirt you're buying, well-- where the heck is that and who cares? Which is what they want. I needed to say this first, so you'd be reminded about Myanmar. But this post is really about something else.

It is hard to think that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the jailed pro-democracy leader who has been living under house arrest for fourteen years in Burma, faces a sentence of five years in a disgusting Myanmar prison because a sprightly young American named John Yettaw decided what a fine thing it would be to swim across the lake that acts as a moat to keep people away from her. True, he was arrested, too. But I have little pity for him.

This thoughtless action provided just the pretext the Burmese military dictatorship was looking for, and it promptly arrested Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi for violating the terms of her house arrest, some say in order to lengthen her imprisonment, since her house-arrest term was coming to an end in a very few years.

As a person involved in refugee relief on the Burmese border, I am often astounded at the continuing smiling naivete and thoughtless actions of my fellow Americans when it comes to involving themselves in the life of another country, the politics of which they do not understand. We've been accused of this ever since "The Quiet American" came out. But really. How long must we not grow up?

This charming capacity for ignorant blundering is not only the province of the odd swimmer. I recently had a smiling software executive assure me that her company is selling their "people-tracking" software in Burma. "Oh, yes," she twittered, "We have a growing presence in Myanmar." Does she get that she is saying, "We're thrilled to be a part of the largest crack-down on human rights the world is currently enjoying?" No. She doesn't get it. She's swimmin' across the lake. She's beaming as she backstrokes. She's causing causing real, human misery and she's masking it as market share. She knows not what she does.

In our world, ignorance is not bliss. It is a refusal to respect other people's rights. It is a left-over colonial attitude, and I don't care how "innocent" you are, if you blunder into Myanmar without doing your homework, or worse, not caring to do your homework, you are reenacting the worst of colonial imperialism mixed with the worst of our American refusal to grow up. There is little more repulsive than an aged virginity : our naive ways do not excuse our irresponsibility.