Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been under attack around the world for her acquiescence in the persecution of Muslims in her country.
It is a little unfair. For, if not official state policy, the practice has been tacitly sanctioned for years and foreign governments and the world’s media have long ignored it.
The belated outrage over recent pogroms, the latest in Thandwe last month, have centred less on the inaction of President Thein Sein’s government and more on the lack of condemnation by Suu Kyi.
Last week Maung Zarni, a Myanmar academic at the London School of Economics, said: “It is Suu Kyi, not the ethnic cleansing itself, that the media finds worthy of a headline.”
Certainly, there have been lots of headlines that have battered her reputation by exposing her as a hardheaded politician focussed on one thing: the presidency of her country.
It is a goal that will be almost impossible for her to realise; but she will give it her best shot, even if that means pandering to the ultra-nationalist Buddhist majority.
For sure, the Lady’s not for turning on this, as she coldly demonstrated in her October 24 interview with the BBC’s Mishal Husain.
Repeatedly asked to condemn anti-Islamic sentiment and the wave of mob-led massacres of Muslims in Myanmar, she declined to do so.
It was not unexpected. As anyone who has visited Myanmar over the past 20 years knows, the country’s huge Buddhist majority hates its small Muslim community with a passion.
That hatred is now openly displayed by means of Nazi-inspired 969 signs on shops and restaurants to indicate Muslims are not welcome.
So Suu Kyi is not going to alienate her biggest vote bank by sympathising with a few Muslims no matter what atrocity befalls them.
The Lady is not stupid.
She is going to do what her fellow bigoted Buddhist compatriots do: stay quiet or dissemble, and in private cheer. As Thomas Fuller wrote in The New York Times on Saturday: “Hatred for Muslims and the fear of appearing sympathetic to them run so deeply in Myanmar that officials seem afraid even to console the victims’ families.”
Fuller’s report about the latest butchery includes an account of the hacking and burning to death of crippled and elderly Muslims.
Yet local officials and policemen, as well as politicians like Suu Kyi, decline to condemn the murderous perpetrators for fear of suggesting they are pro-Muslim.
In his story, headlined ‘Horrendous killings, without an uproar’, Fuller noted: “In Myanmar today, deploring the fatal stabbing of a 94-year-old woman is considered taking sides.”
His report does lend credence to Maung Zarni’s point by focussing on the lack of outrage rather than the institutionalised ethnic genocide itself.
Most Western press do the same, especially after Suu Kyi’s evasive answers to Mishal Husain, which, said David Blair, in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, “sent a shiver down my spine.”
Blair was particularly shocked when Suu Kyi claimed that Buddhists suffer as much from the fear of violence as Muslims. She was lying.
Recent anti-Muslim pogroms have occurred in 11 towns across Myanmar, causing more than 100 deaths, displacing 12,000 people and destroying 1,300 homes and 32 mosques.
Nothing remotely comparable has happened to the Buddhist community.
When Mishal Husain asked her: “Do you condemn the anti-Muslim violence?” Suu Kyi replied: “I condemn any movement that is based on hatred and extremism.”
As Blair aptly said: “How could a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize fail to answer that question with a simple ‘Yes’?”
Well, Suu Kyi could and she will continue to do so because she wants to be president.
But others, especially in this region, can act by not visiting Myanmar till this carnage ends.
Or if a visit must be made, take a big black marker pen and daub a swastika over those foul 969 stickers. But it’ll take courage.