By Farhana Qazi
Millions of Muslims have been forced out of their homes, and the world is still waiting for Aung San Suu Kyi to help end the military operations against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority. Among those who oppose Suu Kyi is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the veteran South African Anglican leader and fellow recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. But it’s not certain that even a reputed leader will have much impact on the increasingly isolated Burmese political leader, who seems unwilling to intervene in the wholesale genocide being leveled at the Myanmar people.
While now formally retired, Tutu has penned an open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi, expressing concern at the persistent violence and ethnic cleansing that is not only continuing in the Rahkine region but is accelerating in its venom too.
In the letter, he acknowledges her years of house arrest and her subsequent rise to government, but goes on to berate her:
If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
Desmond Tutu is the latest voice in an increasing backlash against the persecution of the Muslim minority which, according to the United Nations, has seen over quarter of a million refugees cross into neighboring Bangladesh with an uncertain future.
The Nobel Peace prize winner has come under enormous international criticism over her failure to condemn her Governments treatment of the Myanmar, which started in late August after Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar paramilitary posts in response to persecution by Government agencies. The military response was a series of clearance operations which have resulted in as many as 1,000 civilian deaths, thousands of casualties, and the displacement of the Myanmar population.
There is no end in sight to the horror being perpetrated against the Muslim population. And calls for restraint from the international community have yielded nothing from the Burmese Government.
Add to this the stony silence from Aung San Suu Kyi, which is astounding, given her role as a respected female leader. (Note: Aung San Suu Kyi became the leader of the Popular Democracy uprising, despite being under house arrest by Burma’s military leaders. In prison, she gained international support and soon became one of the most famous political prisoners until her release and the subsequent taking of a government position.)
But Aung San Suu Kyi seems to have forgotten her past and her reticence to stand firm with the Rohingya looks likely to become a defining feature of her political life, eclipsing the strength and resilience that she demonstrated during her years of house arrest. It is disappointing, to say the least, that Aung San Suu Kyi seems unable to stand up for the oppressed.
In a conversation earlier this week, a Muslim from Kashmir–one of the world’s oldest conflicts–said to me:
“What’s happening to the Muslim world? Where is the concept of charity? When there is injustice, Muslim countries should respond with aid and the world community needs to condemn Suu Kyi for ignoring a conflict taking place in her own country.”
Will Myanmar become another conflict in the Muslim world? What happens next is unclear, but one thing is for certain: the refugees, the persecuted, and the oppressed will never be able to return to their homes unless this conflict comes to a peaceful end.