For many years if you had asked me to name the people I most admired Aung San Suu Kyi – the Lady – would have been high on the list. A woman who combined the intellectualism of a Western education with the serenity and spirituality of her Buddhist heritage. A woman who left her family to fulfil her destiny as the leader of a democratic Burmese opposition.
But now as our television screens are filled with images of yet more refugees – this time Rohingya Moslems fleeing ethnic cleansing. The ruling military are accused of atrocities, starving the population, burning villages and killing hundreds. But this campaign has arisen from long-standing oppression of the Moslem minority by the Buddhist population.
And what does the Lady say – not only has she refused to condemn the violence, but she has joined with the slander of aid workers for allegedly helping ‘terrorists’.
There is an armed opposition group fighting for Rohingya rights and it may be argued that Suu Kyi is unable to act freely whilst the military remain powerful. However military oppression did not prevent her standing up for human rights and enduring house arrest.
So is she another Indira Gandhi – a dynast who embraces violence to pursue her own political ends – in this case retaining the support of the Buddhist majority?
To be frank I am unsure – I understand that Myanmar is not a democracy and that Suu Kyi is not free to speak her mind and condemn the military in the terms we would wish. But is she a Buddhist nationalist giving at the very least tacit approval to the words and actions of hard-line religious leaders?
I am, however, certain of two things – that human rights are universal, not just for one’s own religion or race and that the last thing the world needs is more refugee camps filled with Moslems persecuted for their religion and another fertile ground for ISIS and other Islamist groups.
Perhaps the real lesson of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rohingya crisis is that we should not put our faith in heroes – we must be our own heroes and act according to our ideals.