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Political Correctness and Taking Sides


Linguistically at least the New York Times seems to be standing shoulder to shoulder with China and India in support of the Burmese junta as its troops gun down monks and unarmed demonstrators. Apparently the Grey Lady’s style-meisters still believe it is politically correct to follow the whim of the country’s vicious military kleptocracy and refer to Burma as Myanmar, and its capital as Yangon instead of Rangoon. Never mind that most English speaking Burmese use the traditional names. Or that much of the international media, and certainly the British media (including the generally PC BBC) are quietly going back to the country’s real name.

It has long been the settled habit of the nastiest and most incompetent governments of South Asia to rename streets, districts and cities in lieu of doing the real work of governing, or in the hope of whipping up nationalist support. Bombay was thus renamed Mumbai by the fascistoid Shiv Sena party. (Citizens Bombay born and bred generally use the old name though foreigners – especially those of Indian extraction – have adopted the new one. And everyone in Bombay ignores the new nationalist name for Victoria Terminus railway station, just as citizens of New Delhi refuse to call Connaught Circle “Indira Gandhi Chowk” just because the Congress Party wants them to)

Sometimes renaming ‘works’. Sometimes it doesn’t. Remember when Cambodia became ‘Kampuchea’ under the Khmer Rouge and politically correct types insisted on showing their solidarity with the regime by calling it the latter? In the case of Burma, it was a slap in the face to an oppressed people when foreigners instantly began referring to “Myanmar”. It’s even more so today.


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