Myanmar’s leader asks for understanding. The world understands only the immense suffering she is sanctioning
Nearly a month after the Myanmar military launched what the United Nations calls a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Muslim minority Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi has
finally broken her silence on the
horror. She begged for understanding amid a growing international
campaign to punish her country for its long and bloody history of treating minorities disgracefully.
In a televised speech yesterday, Suu Kyi made a broad appeal to
foreign critics, asking for support for the refugees fleeing Rakhine state, but she noticeably avoided using the term Rohingya. Myanmar insists on calling this group “Bengalis”, denying they have any claim whatsoever to local residency or citizenship.
The latest round of violence broke out on August 25 after Rohingya militants launched attacks against military positions in the western state. Myanmar responded by burning down Rohingya communities, raping women and chasing as many as
possible across the border into Bangladesh. An estimated 410,000 Rohingya have crossed the frontier in recent weeks.
“Hate and fear are the main scourges of our world,” Suu Kyi declared on TV. “We don’t want Myanmar to be a nation divided by religious beliefs or ethnicity ... We all have the right to our diverse identities.” These were noble sentiments, but then why have the Rohingya descended into such a hellish
existence that the UN dubbed them the world’s most persecuted group?
Suu Kyi said her government was ready “at any time” to take back the refugees. Leaving aside the nature of the “verification process” to which she said they must be subjected, her words still have to be taken with a grain of salt. Myanmar disowned these people three decades ago when it revoked their long-standing
There is also the question of why Suu Kyi waited until now to speak out on the issue. Was it merely an attempt to answer the harsh criticism pouring in from around the world, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling the latest military offensive “ethnic cleansing”? Suu Kyi was attempting to reassure the world, but she skirted the crux of the matter – the rights and status of the Rohingya and their horrific treatment at the hands of both soldiers and bigoted citizens who describe themselves as Buddhists.
It is of course true that Suu Kyi has no control over the still constitutionally and politically powerful armed forces. But here she was, speaking for the military, with all the blood on its hands after decades of war against the country’s many ethnic minorities. Her words rang hollow, bringing to mind the saying, “If you’re not part of the problem, you’re part of the solution.” She has made little effort to quell the brutality against the Muslim population led by the military and ostensibly Buddhist monks. On the contrary, her National League for Democracy and the armed forces are united in their stance against the Rohingya and Burmese Muslims in general.
Meanwhile, presenting himself as defender of the country’s territorial integrity and of Buddhism, armed forces commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing has emerged amid this crisis as an unexpectedly popular figure among citizens. He’s saying what the public wants to hear. It will be little surprise if he becomes the nation’s next leader, in control of both the civilian government and the
If Suu Kyi broke hearts with her refusal to speak out, Min Aung Hlaing couldn’t care less.