Dear Military Intelligence Service of Burma, er, Myanmar:
Thank you for sending me a copy of the people who are now off The Black List. Lovely that you actually call it The Black List. You've always been so literal, practical and admiring of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. We've had that in common since we first met in 1996, during those messy protests in Rangoon.
I am honoured to be included in this collection of more than 2,000 names of people who were, until Aug. 28, denied visas to enter Burma.
While it was annoying for me to be refused entry into the Golden Land for a decade, you can imagine how painful it was for Burmese friends and colleagues, some of whom live in exile in Canada, including the indefatigable Alice Khin Saw Win, who used to be Aung San Suu Kyi's personal physician but now lectures at the University of Alberta, as well as Tin Maung Htoo, San Aung, Cham Toik, Kyaw Moe, Toe Kyi, Thuzar Thant and others who have finally been pardoned for loving their country enough to try to change it for the better. It's unfortunate, but unsurprising, that they had to offend the dictators in order to do that.
Sorry, former dictators. You know – your old bosses, the generals and other top brass who spent the past 60 years doing a stellar job of destroying Burma's economy, civil society and once remarkable university and health-care systems. Not to mention killing all those people.
I'm sure you feel nostalgic for the past, as recent as it is. In less than two years, your government has moved from hard dictatorship to quasi-democracy, from prison sentences for uttering Aung San Suu Kyi's name in public to selling big posters and calendars of her face in the street markets – and yes, she has a seat in parliament now, too. You've gone from blanket censorship to real freedom of the press.
But how is it for you on the ground? Sure, the generals filled Swiss bank accounts while the country was under the boot, but you and your little buddies, the taxi-cab and street-corner informers, those who spied on the photocopying shops and infiltrated student groups, the members of that vast network of listeners, whisperers, liars: You all must be suffering.
The most, ah, talented among you were trained to be brutal, but let's face it, most henchmen are little people. Your job was to frighten, hurt, terrorize, torture. Changes that push the whole country toward democracy must be worrisome. What to do in a country where interrogation and torture are becoming obsolete? How many of you can remain employed?
I know how you feel. I'm also nostalgic for the past. Being on any black list is a thrill for a Western writer, because much of our spare time is devoted to convincing ourselves that we're still relevant – or even interesting – to the new world order. No, I don't mean democracy. We've had that form of government over here for so long that we often don't honour its basic tenets, such as telling the truth and respecting those whose opinions differ from our own.
Sorry, I'm getting off topic. I was talking about the new world order: social media. Everyone knows that corporations rule the world's money, but mind control is always the problem, don't you agree? Just wait and see how effective the Internet is at managing the "freed" masses. Twitter, Facebook and texting have already rendered large segments of the population incapable of thinking a thought longer than, say, 30 words. Combined with reality TV and a higher standard of living – which will surely come to Burma – this amputated attention span makes it difficult for most people to give a damn about politics.
Anyway, thanks again for your recent note. Friend me if you're on FB. BTW, I'm curious: How did you get my new address so quickly?