The power of the R-word

The power of the R-word

Brian Pellot, the director of global strategy at the Religion News Service, published his take on the use of the word “Rohingya” in the Washington Post on December 4. For once he didn’t focus on the tensions between the Myanmar government and the UN, but on the unsavoury role of National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the public debate over the situation in Rakhine State.

Pellot points out, rightly so, that self-identifying as Rohingya in Myanmar will lead to denial of citizenship, possible internment and loss of livelihood.

“This word Rohingya clearly has power,” writes Pellot. “So why won’t Daw Suu use it?”

Pellot recounted a story he was told by a political analyst with access to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. According to his source, Daw Suu was not silent out of political calculation, but because no matter which side she stands on, there will be more blood.

Nine months ago the opposition party leader told a gathering of journalists, that “a politician thinks of the next elections. A statesman thinks of the next generation.”

Another explanation for Daw Suu’s silence on the Rohingya issue is not mentioned in Pellot’s commentary: Dr Tin Mar Aung, the NLD leader’s most trusted confidente, is a Rakhine with outspoken views on the Rohingya issue.

With Daw Aung Suu Kyi out of the picture in the debate the same familiar story can repeat itself time and again. In the debate on the R-word the Union and Rakhine governments will continue to criticise the UN, a relatively small player in Myanmar that doesn’t bring in the amounts of money that the Japanese, the US and the EU can put on the table.

It’s safe and it helps to deflect the attention of the Rakhine nationalists away from their real agenda: more autonomy and gaining control of the abundant resources in Rakhine. As long as the Rakhine National Party focuses on the Rohingya the government is home free.

Brian Pellot believes that Daw Suu’s global stature comes with certain responsibilities. “If Daw Suu cares about her country (and her legacy), she must speak out against the atrocities unfolding within it, atrocities that the government flat-out denies. In short, she must embrace her role as a global stateswoman.”

If the NLD leader remains silent the moral authority that landed her the Nobel Peace Prize is bound to evaporate.

This Article first appeared in the December 11, 2014 edition of Mizzima Weekly.

Mizzima Weekly is available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at


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