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Boyd: Recognize Suu Kyi’s culpability in Rohingya genocide

Ryan Boyd, Op-Ed Contributor

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The world is witnessing a case of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The minority Rohingya Muslim population in Rakhine State are being systematically killed, terrorized and driven from their homes. Over 500,000 Rohingya have fled the country — accounting for nearly half of the total Rohingya population. And it’s not hard to imagine why: villages are burned to the ground on a daily basis, children are being executed and women are being raped. Even worse, the primary perpetrators of this violence are Myanmar’s security forces.

The violence began this August after a group of radical Rohingya — tired of facing long-standing systemic oppression from Myanmar’s Buddhist majority — attacked police outposts and killed 12 members of the government’s security forces. While the radical violence should be condemned, the actions of Myanmar’s military have been atrocious.

Yet in the face of all this, Myanmar’s state counselor and de facto leader, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has remained silent. It is important to recognize that Myanmar’s military is an independent and powerful force in the country. Though Suu Kyi’s party won the 2015 election, the three ministries that deal with security are controlled by the military, which by law also controls 25 percent of parliamentary seats.

One may say the blame rests on the leaders of Myanmar’s military, as Suu Kyi has no power over what military forces do in Rakhine State. Surely the woman who is referred to as “Burma’s Mandela” would not stand for ethnic cleansing.

Unfortunately, such notions are misguided. We must come to terms with the fact that a woman who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote democracy in Myanmar now only seems interested in advancing liberty and self-determination for the Buddhist majority. We must acknowledge that a lauded moral leader refuses to recognize that there is currently an active campaign to ethnically cleanse the country she leads.

Suu Kyi doesn’t control the military, but she does control what she says. While she quickly called out the radical Rohingya who launched an attack on police in late August, she has refused to recognize and condemn the violence against the minority group. If you felt outraged by President Donald Trump’s “both sides” comment regarding who was responsible for white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this should make you livid. By staying silent, Suu Kyi is not just abdicating responsibility, she is actively aiding and abetting one of the worst tragedies of this century.

We should continue to be outraged and appalled by this, but we should not be surprised. During the 2015 election — and the years prior — Suu Kyi refused to speak out against the discrimination the Rohingya have faced for decades. The lesson here is that we cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by a leader’s powerful narrative.

We love reading about heroes and heroines. We love hearing about underdogs who have risen to positions of prominence. We love stories in which democracy triumphs over dictatorship. But these stories are few and far between. The international community has largely ignored Suu Kyi’s deafening silence regarding discrimination against the Rohingya. In a world sorely lacking good news, focusing solely on Suu Kyi’s past achievements provided the success story we needed. Now that the truth is clear, we must remember Suu Kyi’s complicity in this atrocity, and more importantly, we cannot let ourselves be blinded in the future by the comforting narratives distorting the sometimes harsh reality we face.

Ryan Boyd is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at ryanboyd2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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