Buddha's Army

I confess I have this thing about democracy -- people, together, guiding a shared future: it's a beautiful thing they're fighting for. So the Burma/Myanmar protests touch that part of me. But also there's something moving about the symbols, the aesthetics, and the powerful example set by brave individuals acting collectively.

Some of the most affecting images of the Saffron Revolution, for me, are the ones where "armies" of orange-robed monks march in perfect regimented lines, like soldiers, but with a confidence deeper than the false one that comes from carrying sidearms. A Reuters photo series (where I got most of these photos) also shows some of the individual actions, from the example of resolve set by long-imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the image above that seems to show a lone, anonymous protester in a moment of bravery not unlike the man at Tiananmen Square who stopped a line of tanks with his will alone.

Their courage, wherever it comes from, must be linked to deep frustration. I can't help thinking: life under the junta must be awful for a revered institution like Buddhism to have its members turn their alms bowls upside down in direct defiance of the government and its supports. Or: life must be bad when Buddhist monks and nuns, who likely understand better than the rest of us that life is suffering, have had enough.

Nine people are confirmed dead in the violent police crackdown on protest, including AFP photographer Kenji Nagai (above and below), who lying injured after being shot by soldiers still kept taking photos.

Yet they still march.

had a sobering photo essay on all the protests these last 19 years. All registered dissent, but none toppled the junta. Will this one be any different? Maybe: The eyes of the world are on Burma like never before (not that the regime has cared one iota about what we think). What I want to know is: how can we help?

One answer came in my inbox (thanks, Mary): Amnesty International has launched an email campaign where you can urge Bush to call for an immediate deployment of a UN Security Council mission to Burma. A letter-writing campaign doesn't seem like much, but according to blogger Nyein Yan Char, who says there are now more than 1400 (and counting) political prisoners held by the regime, direct action by the UN is what's needed.

Protest Q&A from The Telegraph
Video update from Global Voices
Hour-by-hour updates on the situation, from The Buddhist Channel
Photos by Flickr user gmhembree

*A note about terminology: Out of habit, I refer to Myanmar with the anglicized name, Burma. Long ago, I heard -- somewhere -- that because the junta made the official decreee that changed the name to Myanmar, Burma was the preferred name.

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