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Of Egypt and Burma, non-violence and revolution

February 9, 2011

Adam Keller, writing from his Tel Aviv office, stuffed with journals and old paperbacks, is a prophetic Israeli voice for social justice.  You’ll find him at  Here’s part of his January 21 posting:

“Only one who has lost all basic human feeling can oppose the aspiration of masses of young Egyptians, mostly secular, to live in a democracy and enjoy the basic rights which citizens of Israel take for granted—the right to freely express their opinions, to organize politically as they please and to freely elect their government and parliament.  It is in the supreme interest of the State of Israel that in its neighboring countries a real democracy will prevail, a democracy growing from below out of the dreams and aspirations of determined struggle by thousands and millions of people.”

A remarkable aspect of the ongoing struggle against Egypt’s ruling regime has been the non-violence of the demonstrators.  Will they really be able to carry it off without mass bloodshed?  “There is no way to peace,” said A. J. Muste, “peace is the way.”  Of course, we must add “yes, so far, pretty good.”  Still, the profound hopefulness of this vast, sustained protest stands out, astonishes us.

We hear much hand-wringing over what regional effects an outbreak of democracy in Egypt could have.  Adam Keller, who I met in Israel in 2007, concludes his message: “At this moment, the struggle going on in the streets of Egyptian cities is mainly directed inwards, aimed at a deep change in the regime and society, and relations with Israel play only a marginal part in it.  Only by at long last ending the occupation and reaching peace with the Palestinians can Israel hope to preserve and strengthen the peace with Egypt, whatever regime will emerge from the current popular struggle.”  It’s a message Washington needs to hear, as much as Tel Aviv.

And Burma?  The hopeful signs there for an end to autocracy—a despotism that sustains poverty for the masses and luxury for the few, just as in Egypt—are different and not-so-different.  They are seen in the courage and hope inspired by “the lady,” Aung San Suu Kyi, now released from house arrest running 15 of the past 21 years.  We have known about her, from a distance, for a long time.  In my 1995 book, Questions for the Religious Journey, I used her as a living example of the Four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice.  She radiates them still today:

“In my life I have been showered with kindness,” she says.  “More than love, I value kindness.  Love comes and goes, but kindness remains.”  She has practiced Buddhist meditation.  She has kept well-informed on world events by radio.  She counsels patience, non-violence, steadfast resistance, and steadfast kindness.

She has been inspired by Vaclav Havel who wrote of “the power of the powerless” and led a Velvet Revolution.  “My very top priority is for people to understand that they have the power to change things themselves,” she says.  “Then we can do it together.  Then we’ll be home and dry.”  (For these quotes I’m indebted to Hannah Beech, in her Time magazine report, 1/10/11.)  Dry?  Smiling for this word I reflect—Burma must be a rainy country!  –GKB

One Comment leave one →
  1. John Buehrens permalink
    February 17, 2011 1:09 pm

    Glad you are doing this! Rebecca Parker and I just finished teaching the theology track at the UUMA Institute at Asilomar. Many references to JLA, to whom our book is dedicated. . . .

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