By Roland Watson
September 3, 2017
No one knows the source of Aung San Suu Kyi’s anti-Rohingya racism. From her few public statements, I’m certain that she doesn’t even understand it fully herself. Does it date to her childhood in Burma? Is it tied to her time in India at a Catholic school? Did it start when she was at Oxford? Or, did it develop after she returned to Burma in 1988, and was exposed as an adult to the rampant undercurrent of anti-Muslim bias that infects the country. Ever the pragmatic, she has used Muslim allies when it served her. This most notably included lawyer U Ko Ni, who devised the means by which she became the country’s titular head. But, her true feelings were evident after his assassination, by regime agents, when she refused to honor his contribution to her career and even to attend his funeral.
Still, being a bigot doesn’t make you an open advocate for extermination. Many additional things have happened in the past five years, which coupled with her advancing age and increasing inflexibility and intolerance have turned Suu Kyi into nothing less that a genocidal maniac.
She won a seat in Parliament in the April 2012 by-election. This was when she ended her election boycott. This, along with the prerequisite 2011 reregistering of the NLD as a political party, history will show constituted her formal surrender to Burma’s military dictatorship. No longer willing to lead the cause for freedom, she allied with the regime and decided to be content with whatever crumbs it threw her way (and, of course, international adulation).
The Rohingya people have suffered mass repression many times, notoriously when dictator Ne Win attacked in 1978, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to Bangladesh. The latest genocide began in June 2012, when false reports were published saying that three Rohingya men had raped a Rakhine woman. This immediately led to riots, the first contemporary Rohingya and more generally anti-Muslim pogrom, and which spread around the country. There were as many as 2,000 deaths in June alone. 90,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh. Anti-Rohingya violence continued with new major outbreaks in October (the Second Pogrom), and February 2013 (the Third Pogrom). The atrocities continued into 2014, when in addition to the new refugees in Bangladesh there were 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya and who were subsequently imprisoned in concentration camps. During this two year period a massive anti-Muslim mob was established, centered around the 969 movement and later the Buddhist clergy racists Ma Ba Tha. (Please see Portrait of a Genocide.)
Other than the reversal of her election boycott, this was Suu Kyi’s first major ethical failure. Rather than risk her popularity with her core supporters, Burman Buddhists, she was silent about the purge. She had just been elected, and apparently did not want to jeopardize her standing by speaking out against the hate.
Lower-grade repression continued against the Rohingya who remained in their villages. This increased over the following two years until October 2016, when a small self-defense force, ARSA, decided that enough was enough and attacked some police posts. (Raids on Rohingya villages were led by the police and Burma Army soldiers.) This precipitated another major spasm of violence, but this time perpetrated for the most part by soldiers and police rather than public mobs. Another 75,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh, bringing horror stories that United Nations investigators later described as crimes against humanity.
Prior to this, Suu Kyi had the NLD participate in Burma’s 2015 General Election, and which the Party won. She had herself appointed State Counsellor, as a way to circumvent the constitutional provision denying her the presidency. She has since become significantly more candid in her bias, ignoring the state violence against the Rohingya, demanding that the name not be used, complaining when being interviewed by a Muslim journalist, failing to react to the assassination of U Ko Ni, failing to respond to the growth of Ma Ba Tha, and through many other statements and acts. It is clear that Suu Kyi decided for the sake of political expediency that she would go along not only with the military regime but with the nation’s growing population of anti-Muslim extremists. Unbelievably, she rejected and even ridiculed the cries of Rohingya girls who had watched their families be slaughtered and then been gang-raped. Still, while now openly a racist herself, it was not yet evident that she too desired the annihilation of the Rohingya people.
This has changed. The regime raids against Rohingya villages, after being reduced for a short while following the international outcry at last year’s October genocide, escalated again to the point where by August this year there were multiple raids every day, across Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships. ARSA fought back, and the Burma Army went berserk, bringing in helicopters, two infantry divisions, and conducting a new campaign of mass killings and village burnings. The genocide was restarted and there are now at least another 160,000 displaced villagers, some 73,000 of whom have made it to Bangladesh.
This time Suu Kyi ended whatever reserve she might have had. Her office labelled ARSA terrorists, NGO workers in Arakan State terrorists, and by default the entire Rohingya people terrorists. She is now leading their dehumanization, which is the principal step in creating the justification for genocide. The targeted group are subhumans. They should be wiped out.
This is an extraordinary transformation. It is in fact unprecedented in political history. A Nobel Peace Prize winner has become, once again, a genocidal maniac. As a final comment, though, we should remember who is behind all of this: Senior General and Supreme Dictator Than Shwe. Unlike Rwanda, the Rohingya genocide is being carried out in stages. The ultimate goal is to depopulate all Rohingya areas, to either kill the people or force them to flee the country. For the mob, including Suu Kyi, the objective is simply eradication. But for the dictatorship, it is more. The Rohingya genocide is also a diversion from the regime’s manifold other criminal acts, and a defense against the formation of a new and real pro-democracy movement. Further, if successful it will accomplish an unprecedented land theft: all of Northern Arakan State.
What we are witnessing is the implementation of a carefully-laid plan. Regime agents have distributed the lies and at a minimum approved if not secretly established 969 and Ma Ba Tha. Once Suu Kyi reversed herself in 2011, the Burma Army and police increased the repression at crucial times, to put her in a corner and to which she clearly did not rise to the challenge.
I imagine Than Shwe himself is shocked. Certainly he wanted to use Suu Kyi, but I don’t think he ever thought that she would also turn into a genocidal racist. He may have hated her before, but I am sure he is very happy now with how things have turned out.