Trust issues (or: how i learned to stop worrying and love the West)

Here’s an all-age sermon illustration. Grab a kid by the wrists and play this game: Tell them to make a fist and to try and punch you. Then, when they do, use your superior strength to make them smack themselves in the face. Two things will happen. 1) You will probably appear in a black and white NSPCC advert, and 2) Once you’ve let go, the child will never trust you again. Not even if they’re drowning in a stream and you’re the only person on shore. Now think of Burma.

Last week’s news was dominated by the fact that the Burmese government has been refusing entry (or slow in granting it) to foreign aid-workers, particularly British and American ones, following the devastating cyclone of a few weeks ago.

oppressive regimeWhy, every piece seemed to demand, are they being so unreasonable? Why are they so paranoid? The answer may lie in the fact that many voices have been calling darkly for ‘more than quiet diplomacy’ in dealing with Burma. That, and the fact that the USA (no great friend of the Junta) has a battle-ship stationed off Burma’s coast.

Now, I’m not going to defend an oppressive regime. But I am going to suggest that the incredulous howls of ‘why don’t they trust us?’ are not just naïve but stupid.

One commentator last week suggested that the reason the media cares about the Burmese cyclone victims (rather than starvation victims in the Niger delta) is because the story has a hook: the Burmese government are bad – Buddhist monks were callously crushed for opposing them quite recently.

But do you know who (not counting the Japanese on their WWII rampage) crushed them last? We did. George Orwell, who served there under British rule, wrote in detail of Buddhist monks’ hatred for the British. In 1938, it was the British, not the military Junta, who fired into a group of protesters, killing 17. It was Britain, not the military Junta, that exiled the Burmese monarchy (or what was left of it) to India (what, no Olympic torch Free Burma demonstrations?). It is Britain that has declared war on Burma three times.

So when considering their reluctance to accept our help, let’s consider a hypothetical situation. If we suffered an earthquake and Iran, North Korea and the Taleban offered us help, would we be keen?

The hypocrisy of demanding the Junta focus on human life rather than political paranoia and then our speaking of little but opportunities to change their politics is matched only by the arrogance of assuming that only Western countries deserve sovereign control of their borders.

Last week’s Sunday Times carried two book reviews that put into perspective why some countries don’t always trust the intentions of the West. One chronicled the creation of Israel by Western powers (which, as we know, turned out peachy and everyone already living there agreed it was a good idea, well executed). The other told the story of Western governments forcing a population control agenda on the developing world, using, among other methods, forced sterilisation and contraceptives deemed too dangerous for Western women.

So pray for Burma. Pray even for regime change. But let’s not pretend they’re being completely unreasonable when they’re being justifiably cautious, and let’s not pretend that the numbers dying because of their callousness in responding badly are anywhere near those dying due to our callousness in keeping the world’s poor in chains to feed our growing bellies and taste for stuff. There is a plank in the eye of the resource-devouring West and Christians here have a duty not to ignore it if we’re to do our duty of pointing out the terrible, brutal speck in the eye of our country’s enemies.

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