By The Nation
Canada’s Parliament has voted to strip Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi – once a beacon of hope for democracy – of her honorary Canadian citizenship due to her evident unwillingness to demonstrate moral authority and stop the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in her country. Other nations should follow suit, withdrawing whatever honours bestowed on her in the past.
Clearly, enduring years of house arrest under the former military regime did not qualify as her moment of truth. That moment came only after she’d shed her shackles to win an election and become the country’s leader. It came when her soldiers and police brutalised the Rohingya community. She was in a position to at least oppose the action on moral grounds and beg for a halt. Instead, she did nothing, and in fact vigorously defended the perpetrators of what the United Nations now regards as an act of genocide.
Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for trying to bring democracy to Army-controlled Myanmar. There have been calls for that to be withdrawn as well. However, the humiliation that would accrue if all such recognition were revoked does not seem to be adequate punishment for a person who so resolutely turned her back on her sole guiding principle – that everyone is equal and equally deserving of freedom and justice.
More damaging to her and to Myanmar by far would be a unified stance among other member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that the mass brutality inflicted on the Rohingya could not be tolerated. It would be especially gratifying if Thailand acknowledged the atrocities occurring right next door.
Suu Kyi is the de facto leader of her civilian government, but is compelled to share power with the military, and the military controls the key ministries. It has been argued that Suu Kyi is sacrificing the Rohingya so that the generals will not block her efforts to improve the living conditions of the general populace. Even if this were true, and even if there were evidence that lives were improving, it would hardly justify slaughter, rape and mass expulsion.
By choice or by force, Suu Kyi cannot even bring herself to use the term “Rohingya”, instead insisting that the benighted community is “Bengali”, a word with no actual demographic meaning. Thailand’s generals, keen to keep shoring up relations with our long-ago enemy, are happy to oblige Suu Kyi. Most recently, they ordered the police in Bangkok to shut down a public discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club about the UN report on the Myanmar genocide.
Perhaps the saddest and ugliest aspect to all of this is the underlying anti-Islam current. Buddhist preachers in Myanmar led the charge against the Rohingya, whipping the faithful into a frenzy of hatred over the “foreigners” (who’d lived in Burma for more than a century) and “terrorists” (who had no affiliation with jihadist militants). In Thailand, the concern is that support exists in some Buddhism pockets here for the nationalist zealots across the border. The support has been discreet and contained, but it could cause problems if it sparks against the separatist insurgency in the mainly Muslim border provinces.
The question thus becomes whether our temples and monks are setting good examples. If not, then what societal problems, such as justice inequitably applied, drive people to throw away their moral compasses and their compassion.