chapter  27
12 Pages

Humanitarian assistance and Protestant proselytizing in the borderlands of Myanmar

The Free Burma Rangers
ByAlexander Horstmann

My chapter addresses the presence and visibility of a faith-based humanitarian organization engaging with displaced Karen villagers in Myanmar. The Karen are a minority in Eastern Myanmar that has been badly affected by the civil war. In my project, I was interested in the presence and role of faith-based humanitarian organizations. I chose the case study of the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian organization in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, who provide emergency healthcare to needy Karen villagers. American missionary and ex-military Dave Eubank founded the Free Burma Rangers and he works with Karen nurses, male and female. From where do the Free Burma Rangers take their mandate to help in the dangerous borderlands of Eastern Myanmar? In my chapter, I question the role and legitimization of humanitarian organizations. The assumed call by God to fight for justice is problematic in many ways and the Free Burma Rangers are part of a global, Christian, and political community with a strong political bias. Using the theoretical concept of Michel Foucault’s Bios and Power, I show that humanitarianism is a biopolitical technology and an assemblage of power for life in crisis, deciding over the existence of life itself. While the Free Burma Rangers is a community-based organization, but with a global outlook, the organization exercises tremendous power and sovereignty in the micro-context of helping with emergency healthcare in the conflict zone of Eastern Myanmar. The call to help is drawn only from the limited support of international and local church congregations as well as from the ethnic minority army with which the Free Burma Rangers walk together in the conflict zone of Eastern Myanmar. While helping with emergency healthcare, the Free Burma Rangers also endanger their own nurses as well as the villagers. The missionary aspect is especially problematic as the majority of the Karen are not Christian. The Free Burma Rangers are part of a global political community that makes their engagement anything but neutral. In this sense, my chapter has an important ethical dimension as well, as it questions our role as researchers in a dangerous fieldwork site. In a trailer, the Free Burma Rangers repeat the question: “what am I doing here?” several times and they answer that they are here to fight for justice. I, as a researcher, joined the Free Burma Rangers and other NGOs to find out about the impact of Christian NGOs in a context of armed conflict and violence.