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Is Suu Kyi a moral voice?

Publication Date : 24-06-2012

 

Last week, when the Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi flew to Oslo to formally receive the Nobel Prize for Peace, awarded to her 21 years ago, the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee introduced her as a moral voice. He said: "in your isolation (house arrest) for 15 years you have become a moral voice for the whole world," and described her as "a precious gift to the world community."

The Nobel Laureate, in her speech, recalled how she felt "unreal" when she came to know of the award through radio, and said that it had "opened a door in my heart." It then made her "real once again. It had drawn me back into the wider human community"." In a poignant refrain she said that each person in the world lives in his/her universe.

During her house arrest, she lived in an exclusive personal world of her own. Her political colleagues who were incarcerated at that time also started living in their own universes. But those who were free inhabited their own universe too. But in contrast to those in prison, these fortunate free people were part of the real world.

Now that Myanmar is taking small steps and transforming itself into a democracy, she appreciated the efforts of the international community that had helped people like her to join the real world. She said that "it is up to our country now to respond the right way."

Suu Kyi described the recent reforms in Myanmar as a positive sign. But she warned that the world must not be excessively optimistic about how rapidly Myanmar is changing. She said: "Fires of suffering and strife are raging around the world. In my own country, hostilities have not ceased in the north. To the west (meaning Rakhine state) communal violence resulting in arson and murder were taking place just several days before I started out on the journey that has brought me here today."

We in Bangladesh are happy to note that a strong moral voice has spoken out loudly against the violence and hostility that tears Myanmar apart. She has acknowledged that the recent conflict in the west of her country (in the Rakhine state) between Buddhists and the Muslims Rohingyas is a communal one, which needs to be addressed swiftly.

We all know that morality has strong links with politics. If morality is answer to the question "how ought we to live" at an individual level, politics can be seen as addressing the same question at the social level. Thus, a nation like Myanmar, with multiplicity of races and religions, can survive and prosper when it is able to embrace one common morality, regardless of its content.

Political morality is also relevant when national governments interact internationally. But this depends much on the support such morality receives from the host population.

Noam Chomsky, a contemporary intellectual, says that "we must adopt the principle of universality: if an action is wrong for others, it is also wrong for us." Everyone must rise to the minimal moral level of applying to themselves the standards they apply to others. One of the elementary moral principles therefore is that of universality, that is, if something is right for me, it is also right for you: if it is wrong for you, it is also wrong for me. So any moral code worth looking at must have that at its core.

The people of Myanmar and Bangladesh, and for the various religions and groups that inhabit our two countries, must without hesitation base our community relations on such a universal moral code. Any deviation from such a universal code could lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, hostilities and destruction.

Throughout history, Myanmar's greatness has been appreciated and acknowledged by all, especially its neighbours. But when it comes to her treatment of some of the minorities living there, questions have been asked. Rohingyas, who are Muslims and a minority community, are given a short shift. But both Islam and Buddhism share values and cherish morals. So why should there be differences in the treatment of Rohingyas vis a vis the majority community in Myanmar?

Let reason prevail and a universal morality pursued in the conduct of community relations within Myanmar. Let all the people in that country join hands in their common pursuit of an ideal life. Aung San Suu Kyi has to now play a catalytic role in overcoming this disconnect in her country. If her loud moral voice can be heard and acknowledged throughout the world, why can she not be heard in some parts of her own country?

We, therefore, await her return from her European tour. We would expect her to raise these critical issues before the powers that be. In her characteristically strong moral voice she has to end the endless suffering of all the marginalised people in her country, including that of the Muslim Rohingyas. Suu Kyi has the international community behind her on this.

The writer is a former Ambassador and a regular commentator on contemporary issues.

 

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