At the end of last year, I reported on a story involving Myanmar. The Southeast Asian country appeared before the U.N.’s highest court to face allegations of genocide for the country’s treatment of the Rohingya.
Appearing on behalf of her country was Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who was kept under house arrest for two decades by the military dictatorship for pushing for democracy. She’s now the country’s leader.
And, seems to be, at the very least, turning a blind eye to the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority, most of whom are now living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
When I was covering the case, people kept asking me over and over if I thought Suu Kyi was being forced by the government to appear and defend her country, if she’d been brainwashed, if she was somehow not in control.
I didn’t speak to her, I obviously don’t know her, but I don’t think she was a helpless victim. It’s not normal for a head of state to appear before the ICJ. The normal thing would have been to send a lower-ranking official, an ambassador or a justice minister. I just think she doesn’t really think anything is wrong with how her government is behaving.
But how can someone who risked her life to fight for democracy not care about genocide?
Eh, people can be both into democracy and also racist, I think.
I don’t think it’s all that different than meeting someone who is a feminist but dislikes trans people. Or is progressive on economic issues but kinda racist. A gay person who won’t date Asians. Women in the men’s rights movement.
People are multifaceted. They are complicated. Even the best people can have prejudices and blind spots. Hilter loved dogs and all that.
I also think that racism and prejudice can run extremely deep and can really permeate a person’s worldview. The Rohingya have faced prejudice in Myanmar for hundreds of years. The people living in this region have been oppressed for centuries by other local Burmese, as well as the British during colonial rule. The racism isn’t new and was likely a normal part of Suu Kyi’s entire life.
It also doesn’t help that, on top of being an ethnic minority, the Rohingya are also a religious minority and the current world stage isn’t especially favorable to Muslims either.
No one is perfect. People do horrible things and hold terrible beliefs and are unable to see the world beyond their own narrow lens, even people we might think of as good.
This is why we shouldn’t have heroes.