Moral authority and immoral U-turns

 Published in: The Daily Star on August 29, 2018
Moral authority and immoral U-turns

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of several honours including Freedom of Oxford and Freedom of Dublin. PHOTO: YE AUNG THU/AFP

Many moons ago, the world believed in philosophy, religion and politics. Not wholly true anymore. We see acute reversals on a regular basis. We have more heroes falling from grace every day—more than ever before. A week ago, a television channel in Singapore televised the entire speech of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de-facto leader defending the steps of Myanmar. Amidst huge global criticism, the State Counsellor was summing up her four-day visit to Singapore and urging investors to invest in her land, in which she saw enormous “tourist” potential amidst the ravaged landscape, and was seen confidently delivering that Myanmar has reached great heights in terms of peace and national reconciliation.

In her speech, she also referred to the four million migrant workers from Myanmar working in Thailand and mentioned how closely Thailand and Myanmar were working on resolving the challenges. And finally she said, she hoped to similarly work “with” Bangladesh to ensure a “voluntary”, “safe”, and “dignified” return of the displaced persons from Northern Rakhine. In her 30-minute speech, she was totally reticent about accepting any critical views and stressed on how dangerous inter-communal violence could linger on and thus affect other countries in the region. More shock was about to follow.

In an absolutely calm tone, Suu Kyi said that Myanmar had been ready to receive Rohingya returnees since January 23, adding that the ball was in Bangladesh’s court as Bangladesh will now have to decide how quickly the process will be completed. Indeed, Suu Kyi. Ouch. Following her speech, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee was also seen urging both Bangladesh and Myanmar to concentrate on their “shared commitment.” All this time, Suu Kyi looked well settled with a flower tucked behind her ear and a bright red clutch adorning her dress, almost oblivious of the massacre that had led many including the UN to call it a “genocide.” The recent report based on 875 in-depth interviews, satellite imagery, documents, photographs and videos has helped the UN fact-finding mission to conclude that Myanmar’s top military generals must be investigated and prosecuted for genocide. UN has also blamed Suu Kyi for not having used her moral authority to “stem or prevent” the atrocities. In reality, she chose silence to remain in power with her “sweet” generals. So far, the Nobel laureate has lost seven honours, the last one being Edinburgh’s Freedom of the City award.

In the meantime, the Vatican has just erased a recommendation that Pope Francis made about gay children needing psychiatric help, hinting that homosexuality was a mental illness. That was the second shock in a week, the first being his indifference to sex-abuse allegations against the US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The damning Pennysylvania grand jury report covers cases of 300 priests involved in sex-abuse and over a thousand victims, to which the Pope in response refused to comment. The latest call was from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano who submitted an 11-page testimony to the Roman Curia accusing the Pope of encouraging the “wolves to tear apart the sheep of Christ’s flock.” Victims and their families in Ireland are now outraged at the lukewarm apology offered by the Pope. For the people of Ireland, the Pope really needs to address the history of sin, sorrow and shame. It’s simple and clear now. Pope Francis has failed to do the right thing…

A superstar professor of New York University, Avital Ronell, a German and Comparative scholar, after an 11-month investigation, has been suspended for a year without pay for sexually harassing Nimrod Reitman, a former graduate student, over a period of several years. Many from the relatively insular world of academia reacted and stood by Ronell, referring to her intellectual generosity and brilliance. To Ronell, all the exchanges were between two consenting adults. And to the rest of the world, it is but a shameless example of blurring boundaries in a system where professors wield a highly disproportionate amount of power over students, dictating terms for young academics stepping into a precarious professional landscape. However, ironically the post-structuralist and linguistics professor, Ronell, has been defended by household names like Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak …

Point is, stardom does not grant impunity. Stars cannot be untouchable. They may compromise their integrity, deny every inch of the moral nerves in their bodies, in order to justify all that they have done and obfuscate the right, but that still leaves them the dishonour of being ambassadors of abuse and nothing beyond. They are still people who are using their position and renown to discredit the tales of agony and abuse of the marginalised. In today’s world of new, alternative media and a call-out culture, there’s no escape for anyone anymore.

Rubana Huq is the managing director of Mohammadi Group.

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