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Media: Where are the Burmese Monks?

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The recent street protests in Burma, led by Buddhist monks, created the most striking images of dissent since Chinese citizens staged protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Photographs showed simple, serene monks holding upturned begging bowls and facing down armed troops. These images invoked the kind of courage we saw in Tiananmen Square, when a sole protester faced down a line of tanks. Almost every evening last week, news programs reported on the stunning procession of red Buddhist garbs, as thousands and thousands of monks marched though the streets of Burma. Tens of thousand of citizens found their non-violent courage infectious and joined them in the demand for freedom.

Our papers and evening news were filled with this amazing story of people non-violently singing, marching and praying for freedom. The monks of Burma knew that their spirituality required them to take a moral stand against the brutality of the military junta. The world was riveted by this powerful, colorful and amazing demonstration of courage. World leaders felt compelled to condemn the Burmese government, people held candle-lit vigils around the globe, and Internet petitions circulated by the dozens demanding justice for the people of Burma.

Then with swift and brutal precision, Burmese troops moved into place and opened fire on the protesters. The media still covered this confrontation because there were good "visuals" for the world to witness. Even a brave Japanese photographer was killed as she attempted to record the monks' story. Then, just as quickly as the red processions poured out of the Pagodas to demand freedom, they disappeared.

Reports that have been slowly leaking out of Burma have been simply horrifying. Rumors are rampant and it is still too early to know the full extent of the brutality carried out by the military. But this much is clear, thousands of monks have been rounded up and put in prison camps. Perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of the monks have been slaughtered. One report stated that more than 2,000 bodies were buried in mass graves or floating down rivers. Other monks have been systematically and brutally tortured and humiliated with their robes ripped off their backs and body parts cut off. Most predict that those arrested and detained will never be seen again.

Sadly, when good visuals, such as the processions or confrontations, became more difficult to obtain, the story started to disappear from the media. There was no sea of red to video and bodies in the street to record. The monks had disappeared and so had the coverage of their bravery. Day by day, the world seems to be forgetting these remarkable non-violent spiritual leaders who were showing us a new way.

Last night, on the evening newscasts, the story was buried or not carried at all. We did hear stories that had no power and no inspiration. The newspapers now carry it on the back pages of the general news section. The Today Show continues to highlight their annual special on weddings and makeovers, while ignoring what happened to the monks of Burma. It appears that the military junta not only made the monks disappear from the city streets, but also from the world media.

The Economist, in their lead editorial this week, said "the saffron revolution" made clear that this planet has been given a second chance to help the people of Burma. They said:

"FEAR," the lady used to say, "is a habit." This week, inspired in part by the lady herself, Aung San Suu Kyi, partly by the heroic example set by Buddhist monks, Myanmar's people kicked the addiction.

Defying the corrupt, inept, brutal generals who rule them, they took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to demand democracy. They knew they were risking a bloody crackdown, like the one that put down a huge popular revolt in 1988, killing 3,000 people or more. In 1988 Burma's people were betrayed not just by the ruthlessness of their rulers, but also by the squabbling and opportunism of the outside world, which failed to produce a co-ordinated response and let the murderous regime get away with it. This time, soldiers are once again shooting and killing unarmed protesters (see article). Can the world avoid making the same mistake twice?"

After watching all the national television networks, it appears the answer is yes, we will make the same mistake twice. The world should be outraged by the current situation in Burma.