Aung San Suu Kyi went to Manila to celebrate her second anniversary (Nov 8) as elected leader of Myanmar. Nine Asean colleagues and a few foreign bigwigs played along but she’s not getting the international respect due a de facto president and Nobel Peace laureate any more.
Ms Suu Kyi has just pretty much finished either leading or tolerating the greatest ethnic cleansing in Southeast Asia since Pol Pot led the 1970s pogrom and autogenocide of Democratic Kampuchea. Her army and militant Buddhist constituency displaced 700,000 people. They fled to Bangladesh, which is tolerating them so long as the Turkish-Saudi aid pipeline flows.
The human tragedy hurts but the discovery that the global hope for democracy and human rights is wearing shoes merely to hide her clay feet has come as a shock.
Part of this is our fault. It has happened time and time again, and it seems we never learn, that a person properly lauded as magnificently heroic in one job flops spectacularly at the next, different one. As a close friend once remarked, the Victoria Cross only means that the recipient was absolutely perfect for 15 minutes of their life.
Ms Suu Kyi was absolutely perfect for longer, for the 1990s, but now she’s not any more. That’s why she gets to keep her Nobel Peace Prize, because it was given for her action on the field of democracy battles. She’s due massive respect for that.
Equally, she gets to be exposed as a terrible leader, committing or condoning the worst atrocities against the largest number of people since the Serbs tried to subdue Bosnia-Herzegovina. And larger than that.
Amazingly, Ms Suu Kyi’s supporters attempt ineffectively to support her present-day actions by explaining that she’s not really the leader of Myanmar. No kidding. Here’s a typical apology, from the Associated Press on Wednesday but just another donation to the large Suu Kyi Defence Fund: “… she is limited in her control of the country by a constitution written under the military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades. The military is in charge of the operations in northern Rakhine, and ending them is not up to Suu Kyi.”
Please. No one expects old Ms Suu Kyi to strap on a Kevlar vest and stand between the soldiers and the refugees with her hand up in a “Stop it!” signal. But there are definitely things we thought we had the right to expect from the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and we have got none of them.
She couldn’t stop the rampaging, brutal tatmadaw but she could call the victims what they ask to be called. Insisting they are Bengali people is like insisting there are no Hmong, only Meo; no Sri Lankans, only Ceylonese; no Thais, only Siamese. As a Nobel laureate she could stop empowering the vicious monks of Ma Ba Tha and refusing to take a stand on public mistreatment and day-to-day brutality against non-Rohingya Muslims in the markets and on the streets.
Ms Suu Kyi only wants to encourage unity of Burmans and minorities. But she refuses to drop the tiresome old complaint about how the British foisted the problem of one specific minority on Burma. Even if this were true it’s not the 19th century any more. If it were, there wouldn’t be a woman in charge, that’s for sure.
Ms Suu Kyi is cherry-picking history as surely as the terrorists in southern Thailand who, like, her refuse to let go of events at a time they weren’t even born.
But the evidence indicates that while the media narrative of how she is powerless to follow her instincts to protect the afflicted, Ms Suu Kyi is following her heart.
Like many, probably most fellow Myanmar citizens, she truly detests Rohingya and actually is convinced they are dirty and unredeemable foreigners trying to trade off physical closeness to the decent and good people of the country, like herself. She isn’t upset at beastly mistreatment of Muslims and other non-Buddhists and is inclined to accept the hateful and savage calls to battle of the monks of the Patriotic Association of Myanmar.
She’s never said a word against them, and that’s not because of the army.
As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, pointed out just a few weeks ago, Myanmar under Ms Suu Kyi made a bad choice. They could have been the country that naturalised some 700,000 willing and able stateless people, won worldwide admiration. Myanmar would have crushed Thailand, which awarded citizenship to a measly 12,000, because that’s all the stateless residents they could find in Thailand to naturalise.