The world was shocked to discover that Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her dislike at being interviewed by a Muslim in recent interview when it went off air. This was revealed in the recently released book, ‘The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Freedom’ by Peter Popham. The most unpleasant thing about this was not the bigoted opinion itself, but that the person who stated this has been heralded as a progressive liberal across the world.
After fifteen years under house arrest, the past five years have seen Suu Kyi’s popularity rise immensely in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi’s comment reeks of racism, but is not surprising in the least. Her indifference towards the plight of the Rohingya Muslims is displayed by her refusal to issue a statement in their support to show solidarity. The fact that she refuses to endorse reports from organisations such as the Human Rights Watch that clearly point the finger at the Buddhists in the Arakan state for persecuting Muslims is clear evidence of leaders looking the other way while a minority is being marginalised. Suu Kyi is a widely popular leader in Burma, where roughly 90 percent of the population is Buddhist.
What is happening in Myanmar should be universally condemned, just like attacks in Brussels or Paris have been denounced by all and sundry. The matter at hand concerns human lives, and it does not matter whether those lives are those of the Rohingya Muslims or anyone else. Suu Kyi needs to condemn the injustice because over 140000 Muslims have been displaced since hatred against them began to spread in Burma. The government only looks on silently, and it seems that this is not likely to change even with Suu Kyi’s ascent to Minister in the new cabinet.
It is important to remember the consequences of hatred in division along ethnic, racial or religious lines. The fractures that have been created in the global community, with rising Islamaphobia in the west and resulting the increasing anti-west sentiment in the Muslim world have already wrought immense damage. Meanwhile, while Pope Francis’ ceremony to wash the feet of migrants was a symbolic gesture aimed at gaining positive publicity, it spread the message of tolerance at a time when it was desperately needed. There is a need for the international community to realise the real damage caused by divisive politics, and forsake them for the common good.