Can Suu Kyi Stay Silent?

Aung San Suu Kyi arrived on Sunday for a tour of the US where she will address Burmese communities in various cities, and is scheduled to collect at least one award for her non-violent struggle during 15 years of house arrest and for her role as a resilient champion of democratic values and human rights.

“Aung San Suu Kyi will be honored for her leadership and steadfast commitment to human rights and for promoting freedom, peace and democracy in her home country of Burma,” said the US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.

But between receiving Congressional awards on Capitol Hill and dining with the Obamas at the White House, not to mention whatever Hollywood celebrities, former presidents and razzmatazz are rolled out on the red carpet, The Lady will be hard pressed to avoid addressing the burning question—what to do with the Rohingyas?

Until now, Suu Kyi has been largely silent on the issue—she even answered “I don’t know” when asked by a reporter whether the Muslim Rohingya community should be allowed Burmese citizenship. Other statements have been purposefully vague. During her European tour, she responded to reporters’ questions about the Arakan crisis by referring to the matter as a “rule of law” issue—hardly a heartfelt sentiment by a woman renowned across the world as a defender of the oppressed, a voice for the needy.

During this trip, Suu Kyi’s American hosts will want to try to protect her from over-zealous journalists; they don’t want the feel-good factor of this victory lap to be soured with the acrid taste of Burmese nationalism and racism. It’s most likely that her press conferences will be well choreographed, her speeches uplifting and triumphant.

In fact, it would be seen back home in Rangoon as a grave political faux pas for the opposition leader to get bogged down in a debate regarding the reviled Bengali immigrants—as a number of Burmans and Arakanese view the group. No doubt she would receive standing ovations across the US and the West by standing up for the hapless Rohingyas; but in Burma, not so. Her party loyalists assume she is in the process of abandoning her role as a peace-loving activist and assuming the realpolitik mantle of an opposition MP in a slippery Parliament.

“Politically, Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on this,” said Maung Zarni, a Burma expert and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, speaking in August. “She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She’s a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote.”

It won’t help Suu Kyi that her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has failed to declare an official stance on the Rohingya crisis; otherwise Suu Kyi could simply toe the party line and decline to elaborate. But the NLD has side-stepped the issue, allowing its leaders to vent their own opinions. Party heads Win Tin, Tin Oo and Nyan Win have each joined the masses in banging the nationalist drum which basically opines that the Rohingyas are not Burmese citizens unless they can jump through myriad hoops to qualify for citizenship; and that the majority should therefore be repatriated to Bangladesh or find resettlement in a third country.

But to hear Suu Kyi uttering such cold phrases would undoubtedly destroy her international reputation. Even her silence is being greeted by disappointment. One Scottish academic, Azeem Ibrahim, questioned whether her Nobel Prize should be rescinded, while the regional director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, has referred to Suu Kyi’s refusal to be drawn into comment as “unfortunate,” and urged her to take a leadership role in resolving the crisis.

It will not have gone unnoticed that Buddhism’s most prolific advocate of non-violent resistance, the Dalai Lama, has raised his concerns about the violence being perpetuated against Muslims in Arakan State in a letter to fellow Noble Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi. To date, as far as we know, The Lady has not allowed herself to be drawn into a debate on the subject.

If truth be told, Suu Kyi is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. She cannot placate the international community which has fawned over her for so long and at the same time appeal to the general Burmese public.

What is more important to her now must surely be her role as a politician, and she will, I’m sure, go with her head instead of her heart. For if she went with her heart, she must surely know that the moral position is to condemn the violence and call for the respect of the Rohingyas’ human rights.

14 Responses to Can Suu Kyi Stay Silent?

  1. I do not advocate what ASSK is (not) doing now, however, such her approach I mean reflects reality in Burma/Myanmar now. Or are people there open to hear what she has not said? Or, if she says that, which impact will this have (or not) on “transition process into democracy”?

    • Daw Aung San Su Kyi of Myanmar cannot be intimidated by anyone into making a statement on the “Rohingyar issue” that has emerged again recently in myanmar politics and taken up as a international human rights concern by countries that would like to see Myanmar fail in its attempt to achieve freedom, national political reconciliation, peace and rule of constituted law.The Burmese people are 100 percent behind their enlightened national leader’s decision, to remain silent. There is a Burmese saying, that one should always be aware and mindful of the context. At certain places and int certain times one should know ones usefulness and position.

    • ASSK did not stay silent. She was asked the citizenship status of the Bengali-speakers found in Myanmar. She honestly answered that she doesn’t know.

  2. ASSK has been trapped in a very clever ethnic hatred box designed and implemented by the worst elements in the Burma Old Guard and the majority of Burmese who are so blindly and enthusiastically going along with this trap need to wake up and join the 21st century: education, globalisation, economic development, multi-racial/multi-ethnic societies.

  3. This article shows that the Burmese are utterly racist.The mongoloid people denying that no mongol-dravid-aryan people exist in Arakan.They have been there since time immemorial.Their genes will talk.

  4. I have never in my life publicize any opinion. But I cannot help but notice clearly that western names keep pushing people into decisions and situations where Myanmar people are concerned – be they government, politicians or private people. They -the super journalists from the west- maybe also Australians- all have made up their mind that Rohinga are the oppressed, not to mention that most of them have not taken the trouble of researching, who the so called Rohingas are. That a lot of Arakanese (who are not Muslims) have been on the defensive for a long time – whether from the forever multiplying immigrants, the previous corrupt authorities or the the officials themselves, they don’t care. None of them has spoken in the direction objectively that legitimate refugees or immigrants of previous eras be given the chance to settle in Myanmar. Other illegal people should be sent home. They just demand loudly for attention, so that turmoil remains in Myanmar.
    Should the world or Myanmar force Thailand to give all the hundred of thousands of them the Thai citizenship? All refugees want to go back to their native country,nearly all Myanmar too. Why doesn’t people of Bangladesh want to go home to their culture to their ancestors land? Bengladesh is a peaceful land and they culture their beliefs and life style, it can’t be so difficult to take those illegal immigrants into their arms again – the world (including Myanmar) can help them materially. I can understand that they fled to Myanmar because of the war in the 1970s.
    Could it be that they want to occupy fertile land and create “Lebensraum”, wherby driving out the original inhabitants – the Arakanese. Please, you from the western world, you are so overconfident of yourselves -not to say arrogant- wanting to make your onesided ethical stand at the cost of others. ‘Scolding people to live according to your views’. Many Muslims just take sides on only one criteria. I have a lot of very good friends among Muslims who has more than one criteria and are objective in their thinking. There will always be extremely onesided people regardless of their belief. Don’t keep fanning the fire. Maybe you don’t care. But people in Myanmar care ands doesn’t want strife. The Government seems working on the problem to find out who are real legal immigrants and who are not. They will definitely make a sound proposal when every side has been examined.

  5. The media, especially in the West and muslim countries and their lobbyists are working overtime to entrap Suu Kyi to commit herself to come out for the Rohingya or tarnish and cheapen her Nobel Peace Award and render the moral high ground on which she has stood for so long meaningless. This is how the media and the “lobby industry” exploits situations conflict and employ pressure tactics on high profile personalities and entities to do their bidding.

    But Suu Kyi and the people around her can take this opportunity to firmly establish that as leader of the loyal opposition in parliament with the primary natonal agenda to work for democratic reforms such sensiitive and serious issues need to be discussed by parliament and not by any individual member while visit aboad leave alone through the media. It is an opportune time and proper venue to set the rule that the media will not be allowed to dictate what and when to be discussed. It is high time that she respond to the media as a political leader and not as a dissident activist pandering to all sorts of the “corporate media”with agendas of their own.

    Naphetchun MaungSein

    California USA

  6. This commentary assumes that Suu Kyi was being disingenuous when she said that she didn’t know if the Rohingya were Burmese citizens. That assumption, in turn, is based on the belief that the matter is settled–of course the Rohingya are Burmese, and anyone who says otherwise is either a fool or a liar. But the fact is, the matter is far from settled. Yes, there have been Muslims in Arakan State for centuries. And yes, it is safe to assume that ethnic Bengalis have long straddled the border that now exists between Burma and Bangladesh for decades. But this doesn’t preclude the possibility that many who now cal themselves Rohingyas are in fact more recent immigrants who came due to demographic pressures and war. Bangladesh is the most densely populated nation on earth (excluding a few city-states and island nations), due to the widespread practice of forcing girls into marriage before they reach their teens. The tragic consequence of this has been decades of endemic poverty, which even recent economic growth has been almost powerless to ameliorate. This creates an overpowering incentive to seek living space wherever it can be found, and Burma’s porous borders (manned by notoriously corrupt border guards) offer little resistance to desperate/determined communities with nowhere else to go.

    None of this excuses the nasty ethno-chauvinistic rhetoric coming from some quarters in Burma. But to portray the Rohingyas as merely the victims of an anti-Muslim pogrom, carried out by nasty Buddhists, is a distortion of the reality, to say the least–and a very dangerous one. All parties are suffering in this tragic situation (though you would never know, from most media reports, that Rohingyas also committed murder and mayhem at the height of the clashes in June, particularly in areas where they held the demographic advantage), and it is the job of journalists to reflect that truth, rather than champion one side over the other for whatever misguided reasons.

    As recent events elsewhere in the world demonstrate, Muslims don’t need any help stoking their sense of grievance with anybody who doesn’t share their particular views. The Muslim outpouring of sympathy for their Rohingya brothers and sisters would have been heartening, if it were not based on an almost complete ignorance of the actual situation in Burma, and in some cases, on outright lies propagated by Islamists in countries like Iran and Pakistan, who you can be sure don’t give a damn about Suu Kyi, Burma or the suffering of ordinary Rohingyas.

    • Thanks Jake. Your have taken a real “even handed” position . I and most of my Burmese compatriots will agree, and hope you can continue your good work towards peace in Myanmar.

  7. Daw Aung San SuuKyi is now a PM who has to follow the rule and regulation of the current Burmese government. The president U Thein Sein issued a statement on the Rohinga conflict in Rakhaing State. It is a work to be done by the current government.
    We Burmese people want only the nationl unity to re-build our devastated country. We need to get pactical way how to get the goal.

  8. George Than Setkyar Heine

    But to hear Suu Kyi uttering such cold phrases would undoubtedly destroy her international reputation. Even her silence is being greeted by disappointment. One Scottish academic, Azeem Ibrahim, questioned whether her Nobel Prize should be rescinded, while the regional director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, has referred to Suu Kyi’s refusal to be drawn into comment as “unfortunate,” and urged her to take a leadership role in resolving the crisis.
    I see ROAD SIDE BOMBS planted ALL THE WAY by that so-called Islamic academic, not to mention Robertson of HRW and others for that matter man.
    Daw Suu’s NOT AS DUMB as those guys THINK/GUESS as well let me tell you.
    She was BORN in BURMA, EDUCATED at OXFORD and daughter of Burma’s founder Gen. Aung San if they don’t know yet.
    She knows what she is doing as well.
    Daw Suu is in the USA to accept ACCOLADES, AWARDS and MEDALS as well.
    She has NO OBLIGATION to GET MIXED UP with that Rohingya Shit (only an illegal immigration issue since day one).
    And that’s Thein Sein’s JOB as Than Shwe picked president of Burma to convince the sons of Allah there for that matter (Rohingyas are only ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS).
    Daw Suu is under NO OBLIGATION and much less PRESSURE as well to OPEN HER MOUTH for that matter as well lest those sons of Allah and their advocates in alien lands forget.
    Of course when she holds the reins of the country some day and soon as well, then she will SAY and ACT ACCORDINGLY for ALL CASES/MATTERS concerning Burma’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as well trust me.
    So STOP PESTERING Daw Suu while she is DOING SOME SERIOUS WORK for the UNION of BURMA I say!

  9. DASSK joined the election as she agreed U Thein Sein’s government
    That is why she and her party need to follow and implement the
    desicion of the president to keep all those muslim immigrats in refugee camps
    temporarily and send them to third countries. That is rule of law. Democracy countries must
    respect myanmar if they really want her to transform into the real
    democratic state in the world.

  10. What the hell are u thinking with rohingya? If u were borned in myanmar and lived in myanmar,u will know how myanmar people feel exactly for rohingya. I think almost 90% of the citizens in myanmar don’t accept rohingya as a citizen. So , by democracy or what the kind of system u think, we don’t want rohingya live in our country…

  11.  Daw Aung San Su Kyi stands for Human Rights as well as for the universal truth. She is kind-hearted but does not stand for the wrong aspects. She always cares about Human Rights. It’s her priority. So, she has repeatedly said that every citizen should have equal rights. She also points out how migrants can get citizenship and how should they behave in that country.
    To become a legal citizen, there should be legal migration and
    requirements should be in accordance with the law of that country. When a migrant get a citizenship certificate, he or she must not betray that country. He or she must obey the existing law of that country and must live under that law. She used to emphasize the law commitment in every aspect. She can just say that any citizen must get full Human Rights and protected by the law. And, in turn, any citizen must obey the existing laws and must not betray or destroy the country. ( The presence of Bengalis…. they preferred to be called as Rohingers…. in Burma only starts in The English Colony period. They are just migrants from the neighboring country, Bangladesh. So, it will be more reasonable for Bengalis to try to appeal for their own places in their original country, Bangladesh. Or it will be most suitable in their historical native country, India. Neglecting the truth of racial inheritance is against the universal law. “Human Rights” does not mean “Rights to break the universal laws”. )

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