Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Monk-y Business

(Photo: AP)

As mass demonstrations spread through Myanamar a good deal of the media’s focus has been on the Buddhists monks who have joined the regular citizens in their protests against new government policies.

The monks provide a great image, identically dressed in bright red robes, and their peaceful philosophy and manner serves as a dramatic counterpoint to the aggressiveness and oppressiveness of the ruling Junta.

The situation looks likely to result in a classic battle of democratic people-power versus despotism, peace and humility of the monks versus the arrogance and aggression of the military. Anyone with a soul will be rooting for the monks and the public to prevail.

But the monks notable participation isn't about freedom of expression and democracy or morality or social justice--it's about a change in economics that is going to hurt the monks directly.

"The protests, sparked by a doubling of petrol and diesel prices, and a fivefold rise in the price of cooking gas on August 15, tapped a deep well of anger in a country in economic crisis. Inflation runs at 40% and most people suffer economic hardship." ( The Guardian )

If the citizens can’t afford the essentials, how are they going to afford the alms that the monks rely-on to survive? Monks contribute next-to nothing to the general economy and the general economic welfare—what they get they keep to themselves--and they are supported in that by the general population.

So don't imagine that the monks are championing democracy, they've got a significant economic interest to protect.