Sheikh Hasina knows the art of com­pas­sion

In an age of mi­gra­tion fa­tigue the world over, the leader shows what it takes to have com­pas­sion for the op­pressed and marginalised. The coun­try has taken in 800,000 Ro­hingya flee­ing death in Myan­mar

Khaleej Times - - FRONT PAGE - allan@khalee­j­ Allan Ja­cob Allan is a news junkie. He loves a good debate

We should have fea­tured Sheikh Hasina on th­ese pages ear­lier, be­fore despots, tyrants, shamed gu­rus, and other wannabe no­bod­ies who be­came some­bod­ies. But it’s al­ways nice to look at is­sues and per­son­al­i­ties in hind­sight, as is my wont. Let me also con­fess here that my orig­i­nal idea for this week’s col­umn re­volved around a South In­dian ac­tor and his op­por­tunis­tic pitch at po­lit­i­cal star­dom, but I shifted gears when I re­alised the Bangladeshi Prime Min­is­ter was the new star of the East. Ex­pres­sions has no bet­ter hero than her this week — for her com­pas­sion and em­pa­thy in open­ing the bor­der to save thou­sands of flee­ing Ro­hingya.

Yes, we missed this no­ble trait as the me­dia was dis­tracted by a No­bel peace lau­re­ate’s fad­ing charm in Myan­mar. I too bear the bur­den of guilt for ig­nor­ing Hasina’s hu­mane ap­proach to an un­fold­ing catas­tro­phe though I in­tently lis­tened to her speak last week dur­ing the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly sum­mit. “It broke my heart,” she said.

With lead­ers like the Bangladeshi PM at the helm, there re­mains hope in a world that is suf­fer­ing from mi­gra­tion fa­tigue. Her ac­tions seemed faint at first, but when Khaleej Times sent a reporter to the cen­tre of the cri­sis on Bangladesh’s bor­der with Myan­mar where thou­sands of hun­gry peo­ple scrounge for a meal, live in ram­shackle dwellings amid the dirt, grime and filth, the grav­ity of the prob­lem came to light. It hit us hard and it hurt.

I re­alise jour­nal­ism is a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort, where ideas, peo­ple and their feel­ings come to­gether for the right Ex­pres­sions — and a uni­ver­sal cause. It’s okay to dis­rupt some ideas for a cre­ative and emo­tional process that rat­tles and shakes you out of your com­fort zone.

World me­dia are guilty of re­port­ing the ex­o­dus through the eyes of Suu Kyi, who ap­pears help­less to save the Ro­hingya af­ter they were driven out by the Myan­mar army from Rakhine, a state in the coun­try. Many do not re­alise that the junta still wields real power in the coun­try though her party, the Na­tional Front for Democ­racy, won the polls two years ago.

For Suu Kyi, it is about sur­viv­ing her elec­toral gains — or should I say spoils of the bal­lot — than pre­vent­ing a mass of peo­ple from be­ing thrown out of the coun­try. She is a refugee of her per­sonal po­lit­i­cal strug­gle that has not found its so­cial and hu­man voice. She’s en­trenched and strug­gling to break free from the trap­pings of power and the para­pher­na­lia of be­ing First Coun­sel­lor, as her mil­i­tary re­sorts to eth­nic cleans­ing. In­deed, she has dug her­self into a hole and has be­come a sym­bolic leader who is de­void of emo­tion when talk­ing of hu­man suf­fer­ing — she looked pale, a shade of her for­mer ac­tivist self when she de­fended the purge.

I have scant sym­pa­thy for the so-called icon as her voice failed her when she needed it most. If democ­racy is for the cho­sen ma­jor­ity, it be­comes flawed and dan­ger­ous. And it’s eas­ier strik­ing deals with jun­tas and despots. Suu Kyi’s cul­ti­vated si­lence here has been deaf­en­ing. I said so in one of our Edi­to­ri­als. I will say it again — I dis­like the sound of si­lence when one should shout out for hu­man­ity.

Suu Kyi may have lost her voice but it’s a great re­lief that Sheikh Hasina has found hers. Both Suu Kyi and Hasina are daugh­ters of free­dom fight­ers. They have wit­nessed tragedy at close quar­ters and re­main true dy­nasts — South Asia has a thing for fam­ily pol­i­tics. The dif­fer­ence though, is stark. One chose to be a spec­ta­tor while the other dis­played gen­tle mercy when lives were lit­er­ally on the line.

Hasina’s small coun­try of 163 mil­lion took in 430,000 Ro­hingya in one go. Two weeks to be pre­cise. The flow has trick­led ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­ports. I’m re­minded of an interview she gave dur­ing her visit to New York for the UN sum­mit. “We al­ready have 300,000 refugees but we have a large heart to take more, de­spite the dif­fi­cul­ties of space.” It was not just an act of com­pas­sion, it showed courage dur­ing tragic cir­cum­stances. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel was brave to al­low 1.2 mil­lion refugees from war-torn coun­tries, but Bangladesh is dif­fer­ent, its re­sources are lim­ited. This was an in­flux not of its mak­ing but the PM did not walk away from her hu­man side.

The to­tal num­ber of th­ese mi­grants has crossed 800,000. Hasina has put for­ward a five-point plan to solve the is­sue that has re­li­gious, eco­nomic and so­cial un­der­tones.

What makes her spe­cial is that she’s not ask­ing for funds from the de­vel­oped world. She wants us to show our col­lec­tive mercy, our con­cern, and our com­mit­ment through deeds. If Bangladesh with its myr­iad is­sues, (it’s grow­ing at 7 per cent) can do it, what’s stop­ping the richer coun­tries from step­ping out of their com­fort zones?

Bangladesh’s re­sources are lim­ited. This was an in­flux not of its mak­ing but the PM did not walk away. The num­ber of mi­grants in the coun­try has crossed 800,000

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