When Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to the civil rights movement, things in the USA, especially in the South, got very tense. Many church leaders in the South, largely white middle class and intelligent people, were advising him to bide his time and wait for justice to come instead of making people uncomfortable and endangering lives by sit ins, peaceful protest, marches for peace, and civil disobedience. His actions were carefully crafted to display to the whole world just how unjust the laws and culture of segregation was. Here’s how he answered the pleas to wait:
For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
When he was put in jail for 6 days in Birmingham Alabama, for inciting civil unrest, he wrote a letter to the clergy and to those who were supposedly on the side of justice but wanting to preserve the so called peace. When I read his sharp and well-reasoned words, the similarities of his struggle and that of the ethnic minorities in Burma struck me again. Especially now as things appear to be getting better, when in fact things have never been worse for so many (millions of) people in the ethnic states. Just take a look at how the Kachin, Rohigya, Karen, and Chin are doing while the Generals and officials of the Thein Sein regime swim in an influx of direct foreign investment.
When I, or members of my team help the victims of violence and oppression, we have to break “laws.” We have to
cross borders illegally and help people that the world’s hegemony of power say don’t even exist. To that challenge, King Jr.’s logic was motivating for me too:
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
My wife and two staff members were detained and interrogated for a day in a neighboring country to Burma, then asked to leave the country and followed until they got on a plane bound for Thailand. Their crime: visiting and helping refugees whose villages had been recently destroyed. So again, returning to my question from yesterday: are we supposed to “keep quiet” about this stuff like we are being told by some of our peers and so many of the major powers at work in Burma today?
“On 2 September 2013, 200 Burma Army soldiers arrived at Nhka Ga village, forcing KIA troops stationed there to decamp. Mr. Lahkyeng Hkaw Tup and Yung Hka Hkyen, both from Nhka Ga village, were tortured and killed by Burma Army troops from IB 137. Reverend Ram Me and 10 villagers were arrested and tortured after being questioned by Burma Army troops. John Seng Awng, son of Nhka Ga Village, was tied up and badly tortured. Burma Army soldiers raped his wife, 29-year-old Nhtung Hkai Nang Htu, right in front of him. They have one child.” FBR
John Seng Awng and his wife matter. They matter enough to sacrifice some of my comfort and freedom so they might have some too. No member of the human family should have to suffer like that, especially under an approved world power that the west does business with as Burma is today. These people need help. We will give them that. They want their stories told and justice to prevail, we will speak for them. Please, I beg you to join us.
At the risk of making this into an epistle, I’ll quote one more piercing work of reason that King Jr. included in his missive.
A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.
So I close another blog episode with a deeper than ever determination to find creative ways to be a true “neighbor” to the people of Burma; to feed the hungry people who are so due to systemic oppression and violence, and to tell their story with as much passion and clarity as I can.
“How long will you hand down unjust decisions
by favoring the wicked?
“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
deliver them from the grasp of evil people.