March 14, 2007
Written by C.N.
As one of the few communist — and officially atheist — countries left in the world, Viet Nam is seemingly caught between the old ideology of official atheism versus the modern advancement of capitalism, information technology, etc. This contrast will be highlighted even further when world-acclaimed Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh makes only his second trip to Viet Nam after being exiled in 1966:
How Vietnam’s rulers handle the visit by Thich Nhat Hanh, a scholar and bestselling author who teaches “socially engaged” Zen Buddhism, will offer an insight into the space for religious expression here. It could also show Vietnam’s abiding adoration for an octogenarian monk who rose to fame in the turbulent 1960s and is trying to engage with a new generation of Vietnamese youths.
In recent years, Vietnam has eased restrictions on public worship while sticking to a policy of recognizing only six state-controlled faith organizations. Last year, the US State Department removed Vietnam from a list of countries of particular concern for religious freedom, citing improvements in the treatment of Protestant churches and other faiths. The move drew flak from human-rights groups that cite continued repression of worshipers, particularly in highland communities. . . .
Buddhists are among those who have felt the sting of government coercion. Leaders of the outlawed United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), which refused to join the official Buddhist organization after the defeat of US-backed South Vietnam in 1975, have been detained and harassed. Observers say the Vietnamese government . . . hasn’t forgotten how monks led antiwar protests in the 1960s.
The article goes on to explain that not only are hardline communist officials wary of Nhat Hanh’s visit, but so too are members of the UBVC who charge that Nhan Hanh’s visit only legitimizes the communists’ power and control over religion in Viet Nam. Apparently, it’s one of those cases where Nhat Hanh is unfortunately damned if does and damned if he doesn’t.
As I’ve said before, there are plenty of things about Viet Nam’s government that I would like to change. At the same time, I also recognize that change in Viet Nam is not likely to occur through any kind of popular uprising any time soon, regardless of what many anti-communist Vietnamese Americans would like to see happen.
With that in mind, I believe that engagement with Viet Nam’s communist leaders is better than trying to isolate them. Change is more likely to occur from the inside than from the outside. In that sense, Nhat Hanh’s visit is another step in the right direction.
Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved.
Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Religious Freedom in Viet Nam" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/03/religious-freedom-in-viet-nam/> ().
Short URL: http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/?p=392
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