Plight of Rohingya means we (and Bono) need to look behind the mystique of Mammy Suu

Many believed nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi  had the qualities of which greatness are made. Perhaps, in hindsight, it is now clear Mammmy Suu only had the qualities of which power is made, argues Victoria White. 

Plight of Rohingya means we (and Bono) need to look behind the mystique of Mammy Suu

WANT some Buddhist serenity in your garden? How about a Lucky Buddha for €73.90. A Lazy Buddha for €20, or a Giant Tea Light Buddha for €247? It’s easy-peasy to add the touch of class every trendy patio needs.

Putting a Jesus Christ or even a bog standard blue and white Blessed Virgin Mary in your garden is not so easy. There are good religions and bad religions, you see. Christianity and Islam are bad. Buddhism is good.

That’s why that nasty business to the West of Myanmar is not worth stressing about. There can’t be such a thing as Buddhist nationalism, can there? As Buddhist violence?

Probably not, any more than there is Christian or Muslim violence. Strong world religions like these have peace, tolerance and community at their core. Any religion can be corrupted and abused, however, and Buddhism is no exception.

It is clear that the violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Western Myanmar, which has forced nearly 400,000 people to flee since August 25 is grounded in Buddhist nationalism.

Myanmar is no different from most countries, in the aftermath of a repressive secular regime, in replacing it with another religious repression.

Myanmar boasts groups such as the “Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion”, the Ma Ba Tha, headed by one of the half million Burmese monks who wield such power in Myanmar.

With Ma Ba Tha’s urging, laws discriminatory towards Muslims were introduced in 2014. The first not only outlaws polygamy, it debars unmarried people from living together, or “unofficial” marriages.

The Special Buddhist Women’s Marriage Law means a Buddhist woman under 20 must have parental consent if she is to marry a Muslim.

Religious conversion is only allowed with the permission of a local committee. Most controversially, Muslims may be forced to sign a commitment to have no more than two children in areas where they predominate.

The basic argument is that “To be Burmese is to be Buddhist” and there is plenty of support for that view. A petition for the eradication of Muslims from Myanmar recently attracted 1.3 million signatures.

They may be getting their way, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who described the actions of Government forces in the Rakhine province in recent days as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

I have to trust the UN and sources like experienced New York Times journalists, who described the horror of a man whose two nephews, aged six and nine, had been decapitated.

The response of the de facto prime minister, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been terrifying. Her office described reports of the crisis made to Turkey as “the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation.”

We shouldn’t be so surprised. In April of this year Fergal Keane conducted an interview with Amay Suu (Mammy Suu) for the BBC in which he smoked out her bias and brutality.

Asked about the international community’s condemnation of Myanmar’s treatment of its Muslims she widened her beautiful eyes and asked, “What exactly is it that they are condemning?”

She portrayed herself as genuinely puzzled as to why extremists within the Rohingya community might have been motivated to attack Myanmar’s security forces: “Why?” she asked, like an all-giving mammy with ungrateful children.

Hell, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because Rohingya Muslims can’t vote and may be asked if they are Indian or Pakistani when they look for Burmese identity papers, unless they can prove their families arrived in Myanmar before the Brits in 1823.

Amay Suu refused to allow Muslims to stand for her National League for Democracy in the 2016 elections. Despite this, most of them put their trust in her.

They had, perhaps, more excuse than we have had in the Western liberal elite with access to 24 hour media as well as a choice of plaster Buddhas.

The danger signs were always there with Amay Suu. Even in 2012 when she received the Freedom of Dublin, she said she “didn’t know” if the Rohingya people should be granted citizenship in Myanmar.

Standing beside her was our own Bono, who wrote a song for her, “Walk On.” To-date he has not said a word condemning the crimes of the Burmese state against the Rohingya people.

In 2009 I was at a U2 concert in Croke Park with hundreds of other concert-goers when a massive image of Aung San Suu Kyi was projected on the screen and she was declared “Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.”

The scene reminded me of the Nuremburg Rallies.

“What does any of us know about Aung San Suu Kyi?” I asked. “Why are we being recruited to support a political figure when all we know about her is that Bono likes her? Which of us could even find Myanmar on the map?”

The simple fact that she has over-ridden the Myanmar Constitution and become the de-facto leader of the country — pending the revision of the Constitution to allow spouses and parents of non-nationals to take office — should have set alarm bells ringing. Instead the Western media hailed her ascension.

The Myanmar Constitution is stupid. But surely she should have worked within its limits to change it, rather than ignoring it? Is she personally so important that another of her party could not have led the country?

Yes she is. She has built up her mystique very well. She is possibly the most photogenic 72-year-old in the world. Her black pony-tail is a biological miracle, always topped with a carefully chosen flower. In this guise she famously lived under house arrest for 15 of the years from 1989 to 2010, the mysterious ‘Lady by the Lake’.

It has always creeped me out that she left her husband and two boys in England and refused to leave Myanmar to make her political point. The youngest boy was only 11. She has described the loss of her boys’ childhood as ‘the greater sacrifice as a mother’, but surely the greatest loss was to the kids themselves?

And what of her husband who she saw only five times between 1988 and 1999 and to whom she did not return when he was dying of cancer at the age of 53?

These are the qualities of which greatness are made, it seems. Except I’m not so sure. They may be the qualities of which power is made.

If the West could learn one big lesson from the tragedy of the Rohingya Muslims it is to stop trying to understand the rest of the world from plaster statues and poster images.

We have the resources to find out where human rights are being abused and we must use them.

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