The song “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” by the Funk Brothers is truly an amazing and memorable song out of the Motown history. The song takes you where you want to go, but for me it is about agony, loss and betrayal.
Reading the news today emerging from Burma (Myanmar) and absorbing my disappointment with Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the ongoing destruction and debasement of thousands of Rohingya people in the northeast region of the country mixes terrible treatment and torture of this disenfranchised people (who do not have passports though many have lived in the country for generations) with an outcry for Aung San Suu Kyi to divest herself of her Nobel Peace Prize.
Thousands of us supported Aung San Suu Kyi and her democratic cause for years, many years. Now these folks are feeling the sentiment underpinning the song “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a beautiful and moving essay addressed directly to her. As usual, the Archbishop is on the case with authority and credibility.
While I support the letter from the Archbishop, I worry about why many of us worked so hard for Aug San Suu Kyi. The battle was just not for her. The cause in Burma was for civilian rule and a government representative of the people. It was about ousting the military government.
I worry that, if she returns her Nobel Peace Prize, why not President Obama for his involvement in the war in Yemen? There are over ten thousand people dead in Yemen. Starvation is killing more each day. Should Kissinger return his Nobel Peace Prize up because of his involvement in overthrowing democracy in Chile? My say is to let those who have won Nobel Peace Prizes freely criticize her, but I would urge people to forget the attempted push to have her return that award. I prefer we leave that topic alone. Let both those who we deem to be the good and the bad recipients keep their prizes.
Another worry is that the terrible and dangerous nationalism of the Burmese monks is not been seen for what it is, a complete threat to all the minorities in Burma, not just the Rohingya. Buddhists worldwide must be asked to question the actions their fellow adherents. The monks must be asked by those of their own faith to stay out of politics and not support the military drives that end up in rapes and villages being burnt to the ground. In fact, in the long run of history, hard nationalism threatens all of the citizens of Burma. A return to military rule, if they place Aung San Suu Kyi back under house arrest, will be a disastrous setback. Such a development would take a long time again to rid Burma of the steel fist once again.
I worry that other forces might encourage a guerrilla war by the Rohingya. This has already begun and it bodes no good at all. The right to resist political oppression is real, but that right must be based on wisdom and prudence, rather than angry and smuggled guns in the hands of hot heads.
Tourism to the country must be dealt a blow where and when we can make that happen. It is a light touch at best.
Generations of Rohingya have not resolved this issue of citizenship. It is time to work this out and arrive at a solution. To me, this is where we must aim our support. Changing the Burmese nation with hard nationalism is a long and slow journey. All we need to do it remember the American journey from slavery to Jim Crowe to the struggles of today. Burma needs to move quickly to award passports to those who have lived there for generations. Aung San Suu Kyi should make that call.
Whatever results we hope for Burma, I hope we do not turn back the clock and restore the military in power. Burma is a fragile democracy with 25% automatically in Parliament being soldiers. Aung San Suu Kyi is in nominal power, but without an official political title and under the systemic constraints imposed by the military, real political power remains where it was during her detention. She has a difficult job. Let us hope she demonstrates true compassion for the Rohingya and all minorities and steers the country to be truly inclusive beyond the Burman majority.