A fallen icon – How Suu Kyi lost her way



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.

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