Printer Friendly

"What's in a name?" wrote Shakespeare more than 400 years ago. Well, just as the names Capulet and Montague made all the difference between life and death in the bard's "Romeo and Juliet," recent events in the world tell us that "what's in a name" can have geopolitical implications for the lives of millions.

Byline: The Register-Guard

"What's in a name?" wrote Shakespeare more than 400 years ago. Well, just as the names Capulet and Montague made all the difference between life and death in the bard's "Romeo and Juliet," recent events in the world tell us that "what's in a name" can have geopolitical implications for the lives of millions.

During my grandfather's days, working in the Burmese capital city, Rangoon, was a prized economic opportunity. Burma and Rangoon attracted Indian immigrants for the same reason that Singapore and Ceylon did - they offered way more economic opportunities than were available in India. Furniture made with Burmese teak commanded a premium, and Burmese rice was routinely smuggled into India for its quality and because of the shortage of rice in India. Reports of wealth, of which some may have been completely fictional, attracted skilled and unskilled Indians to Burma.

The voluminous migration came to a crashing halt when Japan's involvement in World War II sent many of the expatriate Indians hurrying back to their homeland.

A generation later, Indians headed out in the hundreds of thousands to the countries around the Persian Gulf - to such countries as Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. For a while, it seemed like everybody had at least one close relative in the "Gulf," as it was colloquially referred to in India. But, not even a trickle to Burma.

It was an interesting coincidence that as Indians headed out to the "Gulf," Burma not only disappeared from the people's imaginations, it even ceased to exist politically: In 1988, the military rulers in Burma renamed the country Myanmar.

The name change was a unilateral move by the military junta and was, obviously, not a result of democratic deliberations. The same military government also placed under house arrest the leading opposition figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, who in 1991 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hence, an interesting conundrum for news outlets: should they refer to the country where Buddhist monks have been protesting as "Burma" or as "Myanmar"? By referring to the country as Myanmar, are they then loading the story in favor of the junta? If we are sympathetic to democracy and Suu Kyi, then should we insist on Burma as the correct usage?

Meanwhile, a name controversy shadows the other geographic area that Indians have been migrating to - the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia, and many of its allies, insist on referring to this geographic feature not as the Persian Gulf but as the "Arabian Gulf."

Saudi Arabia and Iran do not have the best relations, and disagreements between these countries are a result of, among other things, differences in religious traditions, language and history - thus, a dispute over the name of a geographic feature.

Throughout history, this gulf has been widely known as "Persian Gulf." Only in recent years, with the increase in tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, has there been a systematic drive to rename this body of water.

I suppose Saudi Arabia does not agree with Shakespeare's observation that "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

A couple of years ago the National Geographic Society - the organization that publishes the National Geographic magazine - generated heated discussions when it published its "Atlas of the World." The controversy was simply because the atlas listed "Arabian Gulf" as a secondary name to "Persian Gulf." As one might expect, the Iranian government immediately banned the magazine within its borders and demanded a correction from the National Geographic Society.

Here again, we have an interesting situation. Even though we might be extremely unhappy with Iran's politics, should we recognize the historical precedent and refer to the gulf as "Persian Gulf?" Or, just to poke the inflated egos of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ruling theocracy, should we launch a worldwide campaign to rename, at least temporarily, the water body as "Arabian Gulf?"

The optimist in me hopes that these problems will soon evaporate, and wants to hold on to another wonderful note from Shakespeare - "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Perhaps the bad actors in Burma and other places will soon have their exits, and the good ones will quickly step in and put a halt to the geopolitical tragedies that are hidden behind names.

And, maybe before long Rangoon - or, as Myanmar's leaders would have it, Yangon - will once again become a favorite destination for Indians, and the rest of the world.

<hr noshade size="1">

Sriram Khe of Eugene is an associate professor and director of the honors program at Western Oregon University in Monmouth.
COPYRIGHT 2007 The Register Guard
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:9MYAN
Date:Sep 30, 2007
Words:777
Previous Article:Hoffman-Campion.
Next Article:LETTERS IN THE EDITOR'S MAILBAG.


Related Articles
Under Bush, environmentalists becoming the new communists.
Cartoonist draws on his supporters.
Upgrade UO housing.
Dr. Stephen Chen named UA Polymer Science dean.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |