Towards a Well-Meaning National Consciousness
by - Saw Kapi
Speaking of national consciousness, it is timely to recall some of the most promient figures in Karen history. Dr. San C. Po, arguably the Karen equivalent of Dr. Sun Yet Hsin (of China), was one of the foremost Karen intellectual nationalists, who articulated eloquently, albeit unsuccessfully, the need for Karen independence. Intellectual leader such as Saw Aung Hla, the one and only Karen historian to date, sought to establish a credible Karen migration history. Dr. T. Thanbyar and Poe Lay Tay, despite their close affiliation with Christian religion, were able to expound the entire Karen people on how we as a people – or areguably as an "imagined community" – should collectively develop and move forward. Mahn Saw Bu, a well known community leader from the Delta Region, for instance, attempted to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of fellow innocent Karens, who were about to be executed by the Japanese troops. He was said to have prefixed his name with both “Mahn” and “Saw” to capture both sentiments of Pwo and Sqaw, crossing tribal lines in displaying his nationalism. Saw Ba Oo Gyi, a man of selfless character, notwithstanding the world class education he received, disregarded a professional career and did his utmost for the Karen people. He uncompromisingly led the Karen National Union during its early turbulent years and committed his whole life for his people.
When a nationalistic sentiment is driven by constant reasoning – of learned individuals – and guided precisely by the realities of the environment, it can instigate endless creative power of nationalities, thereby transforming itself into unstoppable driving force for change. This sort of nationalism is capable of advancing a nation forward, not driving her backward – politically and economically.
Historically, Karen nationalism has been the one that entails utmost dedication and profound sacrifice. These leaders, whose names mentioned above, had contributed their skills and expertise in numerous ways to uplifting their people, both under the British colonial rule and in the early period of post-independence Burma. And yet unfortunately, the struggle hitherto is unfinished. Between the resource-hungry neighbors and the ruthless military regime, the Karens are up against enormous uphill battles in their fight for self-determination. In the wake of this socio-political reality, it is truly compulsory that the Karens, especially revolutionary Karens, adopt the kind of nationalism that not only accepts ideological diversity but also encourages political pragmatism and fosters strategic creativity.
A far-sighted nationalism is the kind that encourages our people to seek out learning, acquire knowledge, and explore new ideas and ways to achieve our desired goal. Besides, a pragmatic nationalist learns from the goodness of other people and contributes positively and practically to the well being of his or her people. Shortsighted nationalism, however, boasts only about its goodness and yet tenaciously hides its flaws; therefore those who subscribe to it are not capable of learning anything from their shortfalls but bound to repeat them.
A well-meaning nationalism promotes peace, and together with a clear vision and subsequent actions, it can lead a nation to social hermony, political maturity and economic prosperity. While a broad-minded nationalism can preserve diversity and encourage creativity, the narrow-minded one maintains "we-are-better" attitude, is very trivial in essence and utterly divisive in nature. Thus, we shall embrace the former and reject the latter.
No individual or organization should have the monopoly over the destiny of our people. Each individual Karen must play his or her own role to contribute to our collective wellbeing. To echo the words of former president Nelson Mandela, no one is irreplaceable. That includes this author, the readers and all those leaders and ordinary people that we know. One must not fail to note that if the love for our people alone could carry Karen people to their desired goal; we would have already reached there for a long time. Regrettably, that has not been the case.
In the end, our given history compels us to tread on the path of this unfinished struggle – a struggle for national coherence and advancement. It is critically necessary that we continue on with a sense of pragmatism and far-sighted vision. The future of Karen people will be much brighter if we can avoid dwelling in our own feeling of insecurity, but focus on achieving excellence in seeking knowledge and developing our expertise.
It is time for us to embrace the kind of national consciousness that encourages Karen people to think, to reason, to question, to learn, to compete, to cooperate and to be creative in this increasingly interconnected world. The world we live in is a competitive world. The economy we are compelled to be a part of is a knowledge-based economy. It is in these contexts that, I believe, we must seek to develop and adopt a true, meaningful and peaceful existence.
Thank you for visiting "Karen for Karen" Blog.
February 04, 2007
Towards a Well-Meaning National Consciousness