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God's Army

Htoo Brothers Captured. God Issues Plausible Denial

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 17, 2001.

The world sleeps better today, as God's Army's, composed of about fifteen people, most of them children, asked for asylum in Thailand. The leader's of this fearsome bunch, Luther and Johnny Htoo, who claimed to be twelve years of age in 1999, apparently looked sick and less than lethal, despite smoking their cigarettes when they asked for asylum. God's Army, you may recall, was an annoying but surprisingly resilient rebel group in opposition to the Myanmar government. Myanmar is what used to be called Burma. Most of the rebel groups are fundamentalist Christians, and part of the large Karen minority which supports pro-democracy activity in the military camp that is Myanmar. Along with the Army of God, another group is called Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors. It is a very difficult war to take seriously in the United States, what with pre-teen rebel leaders and army names that seem ridiculous, and hardly any press coverage. That is unfortunate, for the United States contributed to it. It is a turf war for drug money, gussied up with nationalistic overtones and religious appeals and sentiments. It would be difficult to fluff out the business plan of God's Army beyond 'defeat Myanmar's Military,' or maybe only 'survive till next week.' Although they claimed at one point to have several hundred followers, the GA seems to have fallen on hard times, and with the demise of their twin photo ops, any further hope of serious support seems gone. But the appeal is on through missionary and religious channels. They are, after all, allegedly Christian. It has not been ineffective.

Let us recall that our initial public support of South Vietnam was partially made possible by the Catholic Diem who ruled and was killed not long before our first Catholic President. Let us recall further that our attachment to China came from the missionary devotions of Henry Luce and the Delano branch of Franklin Roosevelt's ancestors. Our support of Christianity, rather than people, has always exploded in our face, and deservedly.

Here we have some foreign policy horrors in the making, given our new administration. Just as the vocal American Left dissolved in embarrassment after Nicaragua honestly and chronically voted out the Sandanistas and only reappeared later as alleged environmentalists with no program beyond corporate disruption, the vocal American Right, by which we mean the more rabid patriarchal evangelical Christian, faded from view for the years of the Clinton White House. Now they are back, revamped as PC heroes opposed to religious persecution around the world. Well, no, although they state otherwise, they are really only concerned about persecution of Christians. And, in fact, unless there are raped and burned nuns and orphans for publicity value, probably only Protestants. And they have a weak and malleable President at the helm. Look at the places around the world where alleged persecution and prosecution of Christians could be a tar baby. Start with Southeast Asia and the various Armies of God. Then, China, where a small Christian enclave has indeed withstood government horror for years. Then, Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation with a sizeable Christian minority and slathered in religious blood as we speak. And finally, the Middle East, where only now bizarre ancient sects of Christianity like the Armenian and Coptic Churches have any legal standing at all in the land conflicts between Israel and Islam, and are often at war among themselves for the more obtuse benefits of celebratory procedures. These are all places where persecution of alleged Christians could draw a sympathetic American government in way beyond national interest or common sense.

Of course, this doesn't include those areas where intra-Christian persecution is a firebomb awaiting a match. In Russia, the resurgent and bigoted Orthodox Church has toned down its institutional hatred of the Catholic Church in order to have sufficient ammunition for the new enemy: evangelical Protestants. In Russia, as elsewhere, it's all about money. The Orthodox Church used to rule the nation and has its eyes set again, and no Russian wants cash donations exiting the country. Traditional Orthodox entertainments like pogroms against the Jews or new ones like banishment of Pat Robertson's hordes would inflame a tight situation. This is the reason that church and state are to be separate. Given the logic of religion, especially the Christian one, flensing distinctions between one's personal feelings and the law and operating a bifurcated ethics doesn't work any better in foreign policy than it will with John Ashcroft enforcing the privacy zones around abortion clinics. It would be relatively easy to mentally entrap a number of Americans to support persecuted Christians around the world, because they have to believe that the Christians are always the good guys. Sometimes yes, often no.

It will be interesting to see, in the first days of the Bush administration, if the Htoo brothers, who would need much work to be elevated into mere insignificance, suddenly find public voice in this nation, suddenly have phone lines and financial resources formerly denied them. A bad sign, surely.