The Burmese politician’s visit to Australia will spark praise from politicians – an unhelpful distraction from the extremely serious abuses taking place against Muslims in her homeland
Burmese politician and international celebrity Aung San Suu Kyi flew into Sydney yesterday to begin a brief tour of Australia, during which time she will meet the prime minister and other members of the government.
If her recent visits to Europe are anything to go by, the Nobel laureate’s arrival will be a triumphal affair involving inevitable cheering crowds, mutual congratulation and much rhetoric about shared values on display. Politicians will no doubt wish to associate themselves with her image and bask in her fading effulgence, while ordinary Australians will very probably receive the heroine of Burma’s democracy movement with open arms.
Yet for all the deserved plaudits she will receive from her hosts, the sheer spectacle of her visit may amount to an unhelpful distraction from extremely serious abuses taking place in her homeland; indeed it may even seem unwarranted, given that the smiling icon has betrayed some of her country’s most vulnerable people.
The Rohingya of west Burma are the most needy, despised and endangered ethnic group in the country. The Muslim minority is stateless (unwanted by both Burma and Bangladesh), impoverished and has been subjected to at least three brutal pogroms over the past 40 years, two of them directly at the hands of Burmese government forces. The latest bout of extreme anti-Rohingya persecution in the country’s restive Rakhine state, where the group is remains subjected to ethnic cleansing, endures to this day.
When asked about the plight of Muslims during her recent visit to the UK, Suu Kyi told BBC journalist Mishal Husain that there was “no ethnic cleansing” and equivocated about the suffering of both Buddhists and Muslims in a manner that at least one other writer found “chilling” to watch.
For the record, there is no parity. Muslims in general, and the Rohingya in particular, have suffered far more from inter-religious clashes over the past two years, during which time children in Meiktila, Central Burma, were burnt alive and well over 100,000 Rohingya have been confined to squalid camps where they are systematically denied aid and where disease is rife. There have been organised attacks on the minority that amounted to crimes against humanity committed by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, whom Suu Kyi is keen to remind us are suffering too – from fear, not mass slaughter.