Saturday, 27 April 2013


George Wilson (far left) of Christians Aware, introducing some of the Karen friends on the stage at the Worship Centre in ChristChurch
At ChristChurch, Clarendon Park this afternoon, for Burma Day, organised by Christians AwareThere are 50 or so attendees, about two-thirds of whom appear to be Burmese.

The event starts with a bring-and-share lunch, which establishes a congenial and lively atmosphere - or "happy, jolly chaos" as one friend describes it, with lots of young people running around, changing into costume. 

Gracie and I take our places at the back of the Worship Centre amidst the tables loaded with DVDs, books, giveaway literature - most featuring pictures and text about Aung San Suu Kyi. We wait for Harry to join us, after he has raided the Loros charity shop on Queens Road, bearing with him as many issues of Impulse as his pocket money will get him, from the shop's treasure trove of DC comics.

Centrepiece of the day's programme is a talk from Benedict Rogers, entitled "Burma: A Nations at the Crossroads", which is the name of his most recent book, published last year.

Benedict is a writer and advocate, working for Christian Solidarity Worldwide - an organisation promoting the right of individuals in every country to choose,  follow and practise their own religion. Specialising in Asia, Benedict is a regular contributor to major international media including The Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, The Australian, The Asahi Shimbun, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph, as well as for the BBC, ITN and Sky. He has been invited to give briefings and speeches round the world, in venues such as the White House, European Parliament, the Japanese Parliament, and Oxford University. Currently living in London, his focus has been on Burma for much of the past 15 years, travelling more than 40 times to that country and visiting all of its borders. Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads is the latest of three books he has written on that country.

Barbara Butler, Executive Secretary of Christians Aware, with Benedict Rogers
During the Q&A following his talk, Benedict "clarifies" whether we should call the country "Burma" or "Myanmar". Apparently, Aung San Suu Kyi and other figures aligned with the opposition would prefer the word to call it Burma, as they assert that the regime did not have a mandate to change the name of the country. This is in context of their assertions that the regime has no mandate, period.

After Benedict's talk and the Q&A session that follows it, we enjoy half an hour or so of uplifting performances by two choirs and a young peoples dance troupe from the Karen community of Sheffield (the biggest of its kind in the UK - the next biggest is Blackburn, we're informed).

Jon Ashworth MP puts in an impromptu appearance near the end of the event. Jon has nailed his colours to the mast regarding persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, having secured a debate on the Rohingya in the House of Commons (11 September 2012) and expressed solidarity with the Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicester at a public meeting at St Philip's Church Hall, Evington (7 September 2012) and which, in typically Leicester mashup style, you can see reported on Jon's blog and on the website of the Leicestershire Sikh Alliance. Jon has also had two pieces on this topic published by The Huffington Post: "Why the UK government Must Take a Firm Stance on the Rights of the Rohingya" (12 September 2012) and "We Can't Keep Ignoring Burma's Rohingya People" (1 November 2012).

Jon Ashworth MP (left) with Benedict Rogers
Jon hadn't been formally notified of the meeting but saw it on my twitterfeed, happened to be in the area (ChristChurch is in his Leicester South constituency and he was doing a surgery earlier today) so he popped in to show his interest and support. There's evidence of the power of social media for you, faithful reader - if ever you needed it. Mind you, I was tweeting about this event from just about every Twitter account at my disposal: @GMBallentyne; @counciloffaiths; @FaithAwareness; @leicesterspeaks. Nothing like targetted marketing, eh?

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