A fallen icon – How Suu Kyi lost her way
LOOK WHAT VICTORY IN ELECTION HAS MADE THE NOBEL LAUREATE – INEFFECTIVE AND DISCREDITED, JUST WHAT THE MILITARY WANTED
MYANMAR is wallowing in the throes of a hideous anniversary again – the violent persecution of its Rohingya population.
So keen are the mobs within and outside official circles in killing off or driving out this indigenous group in western Rakhine state that the cull began early this year.
It was in October 2016 that the last mob violence raged, as Rohingya villages were burned, men slaughtered and women raped.
With the “lucky ones” allowed to survive in bleak, destitute camps, risking their lives on the high seas in rickety boats seemed worthwhile.
UN and independent civil society groups testify to persistent and lethal persecution against Rohingyas.
Just 10 days ago another 40,000 were reportedly fleeing for their lives. Soon, UN figures reached 164,000 and by last weekend exceeded 250,000.
The government rejects unfavourable reports as “false news,” relying on a few lame excuses unworthy of even a decrepit failed state.
Among these is that things are “very complex,” meaning that only the government can understand it so its laboured inaction and covert complicity are somehow justified.
Another excuse is the situation must be seen “in context”, that is only the government version (“context”) is acceptable. All others must therefore be false news or hapless victims of it.
A frequent irritant to the official version of events is the allegation of genocide. Its proper meaning is the systematic persecution, including murder and expulsion, of a community based on race or religion.
Myanmar authorities have tried hard to fit the bill on the ground, only to deny it on paper and abroad.
But others know it as genocide or “ethnic cleansing”, as independent researchers and UN officials have found.
A frequent excuse is that different numbers for Rohingya casualties prove their unreliability. But the figures keep changing because they are rising.
Uncertain data may also mean the actual numbers are higher. That would explain why government officials routinely ban independent observers from visiting crisis areas.
A cynical excuse is that however bad, the whole thing is Myanmar’s “internal matter” in which others should not interfere.
This false argument tries to leverage on Asean’s principle of non-intervention between member states.
However, the genocidal persecution forcing Rohingya communities across borders ceased to be an “internal matter” ever since the first refugee had to be housed abroad, many years ago.
When masses of refugees flow into other countries, it becomes a dire international issue. To insist it is only an “internal matter” is sheer idiocy.
The official imbecility does not stop there. While officials argue that Rohingyas are not from Myanmar but from Bangladesh, they also insist it is all “internal” to Myanmar.
With such deficits in logic it is beyond them to acknowledge the facts of history. The Rohingya have been indigenous to Rakhine, the former Arakan state, long before Burma invaded in 1784 to steal its wealth and eliminate its people.
Seasoned observers find nothing new in this diabolical mix of greed and violence.
Burmese forces repeatedly attacked Siam in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, razing the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya.
These military campaigns continued under different Burmese kings despite being restrained by China.
A significant blow was struck by Siam under General Taksin (later King Taksin the Great) when his forces ended the Burmese occupation in the 18th century.
Today, Myanmar’s military retains decisive power despite formal elections and a nominal civilian leadership. Myanmar in the 21st century is a showcase of military political rule by the deep state behind the facade of a civilian democracy.
Soon after last year’s atrocities, a Myanmar speaker at a Bangkok conference had the gall to attack critics of his government’s complicity. He shamelessly parroted the official line that the critics could only be Muslim, like the Rohingya.
The other participants were unimpressed. It was as absurd and pathetic as insisting that anyone expressing concern for the plight of the Rohingya, from the Pope to Ban Kimoon to former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, must be Muslim.
Fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates like Tutu have appealed repeatedly to Myanmar “leader” Aung San Suu Kyi to halt the violence against the Rohingyas, or at least say something sensible against it – but to no avail.
Far from it, she has echoed the official military line that the Rohingya are not Myanmar people and undeserving of citizenship. It was only in 1982 that a law banned the Rohingya from citizenship.
Suu Kyi has even refused to recognise the Rohingya as a community and condemned others for using the “R” word. Recent days have seen an international debate over whether her Nobel Peace Prize should be revoked.
In the process, she has brought Asean into disrepute. As a victim of the military regime, she criticised Asean for complicity in working with the junta, but now she has outdone that by serving as an ugly and craven apologist for the junta’s deep state.
She had not signed up to be the servile errand girl of the generals that she has now become. But she has certainly chosen to remain where she now is – the principal of a Faustian bargain as the chief caretaker of an Orwellian nightmare.
Her dwindling supporters say the real villain is Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, not her. But even the most vile and vicious militarist has not used his international credit, if any, to leverage in favour of an odious regime overseeing current atrocities as she now does.
After many years of not fighting back, some Rohingya are resisting through groups like the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. If militancy grows, Suu Kyi will have her share of the blame for inflaming it.
Before taking “high office,” she boasted that as party leader and incoming State Counsellor she would be “more powerful than the president”.
Perhaps that had some traction when she still had a cause and the personal credibility to go with it.
Today, that seems so long ago, along with notions of dignity, decency and self-respect.
Her boast now empty and discreditable, she is incapable of controlling both the army and the police.
Eyewitness accounts tell of police and military involvement in the mass murders and rapes of the Rohingya.
If Suu Kyi is still to stand for anything, she first has to stand aside from the current debased and murderous status quo. A principal question now is how long more it would have to take before she does that.
She may one day reflect on how terribly torn she had been between doing what was right and still trying to steer the ship of state.
Perhaps she should ask herself how and why the junta had given up power so easily if she could effectively wield power at all.
Another crucial question is how long more will her international backers extend her line of political credit.
They have banked on her and invested substantially in “her government” as a budding independent Myanmar not necessarily beholden to China.
But they must also know that everything has its limits. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Beijing would not be so dependent on Myanmar for access to the Indian Ocean anyway.
Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), Malaysia.
Aung San Suu Kyii may one day reflect on how terribly torn she had been between doing what was right and still trying to steer the ship of state.