Myanmar’s Democracy Cuisine Course: Entrée

By Chit Hnin Aye | 12 May 2016

This article was written for an op-ed assignment in JM 212 Advanced News Reporting course by Lecturer Joel Gershon, BJM Program, Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, Thammasat University, Thailand.

Imagine a person who was forced to stay in a pitch black cave for over 50 years and suddenly, that person was being thrust into the limelight with microphones from every angles being shoved into the face?And like anyone getting used to the limelight, Myanmar is disoriented by all the attentions and media scrutiny from the international community, especially on the issue of religious intolerance, specifically pertaining to events occurring in the country that have been getting harsher and harsher now that the country is ruled by their first civilian government since 1962.

The West is no longer so optimistic about what lies ahead for Myanmar. Just recently, the New York Times editorial board called out Miss Aung San Suu Kyi of being “cowardly “for not taking a firm stance on the Myanmar’s shameful affairs with Rohingyas communities. The nationalist Buddhists and Rohingyas population of Myanmar have been in the one of the deadliest tug-of-wars since 2012, but recent protests by the nationalists in front of the U.S Embassy in Yangon would show that things are starting to sizzle again. The U.S Embassy released a statement on April 20th expressing their condolences to the families of Rohingyas who lost their loved ones in a boat sinking accident off the coast of Rakhine the day before. Typically, nationalists cried out over the embassy use of the term: “Rohingyas” and stormed out to protest in front of the embassy a few weeks ago. To make the matter worse, Mr. Kyaw Zay Ya, a Foreign Ministry official, also came out and said, “We won’t use the term Rohingyas because Rohingyas are not recognized as among the 135 official ethnic groups.”

Since then activists and supporters of Miss Suu Kyi from all over the world have been shaking their head at the newly elected government and virtually sending their disappointments to her.

To be honest, their disappointments are not uncalled for — Mr. Thet Swe Win, 30, Director of Center for Youth and Social Harmony based in Yangon said, “Based on everything I have observed of Miss Suu Kyi over the years, the way I see it — when it comes to Rohingyas issue, she is never going to comment. It’s almost as if it has nothing to do with her.” Mr. Thet Swe Win is an activist who has recently started a petition on to take actions against some nationalist monks who are interfering with the livelihood of Muslims vendor at Shwedagon Pagoda. “Sure, before she can ignore the issue depending on her personal choice but she is the leader of the governing party right now, she simply cannot evade this issue.”

However, over the years, the Rohingyas issue has been politicized so much with the rise of Wirathu and his Association for the Protection of Race and Religion organization (Ma Ba Tha) pushing their anti-Muslim agendas down the throats of everyone in Myanmar. Radical groups’ beliefs are legislated. Truths and rumors became so intertwined that day-to-day citizen couldn’t differentiate where the truth lies, and the population of 135 ethnicities became divided on the issue based on their religious beliefs.

Miss Thet Mon Phyo, 38, a Burmese-Rakhine native who is the founder of community based organization for the minority, The Help based in Yangon, said that all these religious intolerance issues are very sensitive and people like Wirathu and his organization, and many other nationalists are waiting for this current government to mess up. “If Miss Suu Kyi’s government came out right now and said, we need to give priority to this Rohingyas issue, it will be chaos. If this issue is tackled this early on their term, they are digging their own graves.”

Although some are having problems with the way Aung San Suu Kyi has handled the Rohingya issue, Mr. Thet Swe Win agreed that the issue has become bigger than all of us. “All these radical groups are waiting for the chance to attack this current government in any ways they can and they are waiting for the loopholes to happen so that they can shame the government.”

Radical groups are truly enjoying their rise right now and they are reaching so far out from their anti-Muslim rants to even protest against the newly appointed Vice President Henry Van Thio, a Chin-Christian native for being a Christian. The groups claimed that he should not hold executive position because ‘as a Christian, he does not command the support of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority.’

All these radical groups are never going to stop and their massive brainwashed supporters are not going to stop as well.

But when the country had been ruled by dictatorial leaders, whose worldviews are clouded by their narrow-mindedness, for so long, it’s clearly not going to be an easy process for the current civilian government to clean up all these human rights violations happening in the country in the first month of being in office.

Saying this doesn’t mean, the government should completely ignore the Rohingyas issue as well. This may not be time-sensitive issue but it is still a sensitive issue. Whether the government want to tackle them or not, they need to do it, but with caution.

“All Rohingyas people want is to be considered as one of the indigenous group living in the country who want the same elemental rights as any other indigenous groups.” said Mr. Thet Swe Win. If the general population and radical groups are vehemently protesting against this due to the ‘well-accepted’ idea that Rohingyas (referred to as Bengalis by the nationalists) are illegal immigrants living in Myanmar, then don’t tackle this part of the issue yet.

The most important thing that this current government can do for now is to allow all the displaced Muslims and Rohingyas alike to have their basic human rights is this you speaking or Thet Swe Win?. Mr. Thet Swe Win further said, “Current government needs to build up trust with the Rohingyas community. To build up trust, they need to make them happy and secured meaning fulfil their basic human needs.”

Then second, the government needs to educate the general public about what basic human rights are and why it is important for everyone to fight for each and individual’s basic rights.

Everyone needs to compromise and learns to meet each other halfway eventually.

The current government also needs to retract their statement about not using the term Rohingyas. Because, clearly, this is truly ridiculous. People should have the rights to refer to themselves whatever they want. Would someone like it if we keep calling them the wrong name? Some people in the country don’t even like it when someone called Myanmar their former name, Burma, even though both are accepted. So, again, compromise!

As the last generation of citizens who have experienced the tight hold of our dearly beloved previous military governments, I know for a fact we are in a completely unknown realm.

Some of us may have slight issues with the current government or the ruling party, or even Miss Aung San Suu Kyi herself. But we need to realize that the concept of democracy may be a several course meal and we have just sat down to enjoy and barely half way through the starter.

One thing that seems to be the case though is that Miss Suu Kyi is no saint. Yes, she’s a well-respected activist and politician by the whole world. But she is still human who is prone to make mistakes as any other person. She has said things that put herself in highly embarrassing situation and she has also avoided taking a stance in important human rights violations.

Dear international community, cut Myanmar some slack! We are trying to navigate our ways out from the darkness towards democracy. Despite some of our shameful acts and events, the future of Myanmar is definitely bright, but still an enigma for us.

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