Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Suu Kyi can't be the messiah we want her to be

By Stan Grant
The West has long had a messiah fantasy: a belief in the power of a charismatic individual to carry the hopes of his or her nation.
This messiah would bring freedom and democracy to previously despotic regimes.
The list is long: Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Paul Kagame in Rwanda, in recent times Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.
As New York Times reporters Amanda Taub and Max Fisher pointed out in an article last year:
"The simple story of a crusading leader who will transform a nation rarely works out that way."
They said in Ms Suu Kyi's case that "the West seemed to overlook signs that she might not be a paragon of liberal democratic values after all".

The messiah we want?

It tallies with something I was told on a reporting assignment for CNN to Myanmar more than a decade ago.
Someone who had known Ms Suu Kyi since childhood told me emphatically: "She's not the person you think she is".
I have recalled those words time and again in the years since.
The world was then in thrall to "The Lady", as she was known, locked up by the brutal military junta.
I was cynical about this former friend and her motives: she was working with the generals who held Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest.
But now I wonder: was the world seeing something in "The Lady" that just wasn't there?
Aung San Suu Kyi, I was told, was at heart an ethnic Burman nationalist and a child of the military she would later fight so hard against.
Ms Suu Kyi is the daughter of an army general, a revered pro-independence fighter remembered as "father of the nation".
Her father, Aung San, was assassinated only months before his nation won its freedom.
Suu Kyi inherited her father's mantle leading the campaign for democratic reform locked up under house arrest for more than a decade, separated from her husband and children.
She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize and likened to South Africa's Nelson Mandela.

Suu Kyi's halo slips

But since being freed and emerging as de-facto leader of Myanmar, Ms Suu Kyi's halo has slipped.
She's been accused of failing to use her moral power to stop a military crackdown that has brutalised the Rohingya Muslim minority.
More than half a million people have fled the country as homes and villages have been torched, thousands have been killed.
The United Nations is using words like genocide and ethnic cleansing in what it has called a "scorched earth policy".
South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu — a fellow Nobel laureate — chastised Ms Suu Kyi, saying "if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep."
There has been little of Mandela's unifying language.
Mandela believed in the freedom charter, that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it — black and white".

Myanmar's bloody history of racial violence

The Rohingya crackdown raises a critical issue: what sort of nation does Myanmar wish to be?
Myanmar watchers Min Zin and Brian Joseph said, in a 2012 edition of the Journal of Democracy, that Myanmar's history of violent ethnic conflict mean the nation's "fundamental nature cannot be avoided".
Myanmar, they wrote, has a choice:
"Is it a Burmese-speaking Buddhist country with a large minority … or is it a multi-ethnic country where everyone has fair claim?"
The main challenge, they said "is less democratisation per se than the building of a state in which democracy can take root and grow".
The answer to that question has proved beyond Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 2007 the United States Institute of Peace paper on "Building Democracy in Burma" made the case that the country "falls more into the pattern of post-colonial Africa than it does Asia".
Nearly a century of British rule left the foundations for democracy but Myanmar "like many countries in Africa, wasn't able to translate these into an enduring foundation for sustainable democratic governance."

Little power over Myanmar's military

The country has moved significantly in the decade since that was written, but Myanmar's constitution still entrenches the military grip on the nation.
The army controls security forces, the police and is allocated a quarter of the seats in parliament.
Ms Suu Kyi does not exercise control over the military commander in chief. Simply: she can't silence the guns.
Aung San Suu Kyi's courage and determination has brought her country far, but she is not a messiah.
She may not be able — even indeed inclined — to deliver a democratic, peaceful multi-ethnic future for Myanmar.

The questions we should be asking

It is easy — albeit justified — to single out Ms Suu Kyi, but we are asking the wrong questions.
Does the fault lie with the country itself?
And should we look to ourselves? Has the rest of the world — Australia included — done enough?
By many measurements democracy in the West is in retreat; there is weakening trust in institutions; populism and authoritarianism are on the rise.
Western liberal democracy itself is under siege from a resurgence of tribalism, sectarianism and ethno-nationalism — everything we are seeing playing out in the violence against the Rohingya — right at the time we are telling Myanmar to be more like us.

Cate Blanchett questions Suu Kyi's stance on Rohingya refugee crisis

Australian actor Cate Blanchett says it is "bewildering" Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi has not spoken out about the atrocities being committed against Rohingya Muslims in her country.
The two-time Oscar winner made the comment in an interview with ABC's The World, her only Australian television appearance following a visit to Bangladesh last week in her capacity as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
More than 671,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have sought safety in Bangladesh since August 2017, after a military campaign against the minority group that a UN official has previously called genocide.
"It is bewildering isn't it that someone [Aung San Suu Kyi] who has been such a fighter for even a fragile democracy and who has been hailed as someone who upholds human rights, does not seem to be speaking out more clearly about the atrocities that are so very clearly happening under her watch," Blanchett said.
Blanchett visited the region to raise awareness of the imminent threat the struggling Rohingya refugee population is facing ahead of the upcoming monsoon season.
The actor warned it could put 100,000 refugees living in the settlements at risk, and that they are in dire need of additional aid.
"It's a domino effect, one rain and those houses are going to collapse, so organisations like UNHCR really do need the financial support."
The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens by Myanmar and have lived under an apartheid system in the western Rakhine state for decades.

Australia's aid to Myanmar questioned

Blanchett also suggested the Australian Government rethink the millions of dollars of aid it currently provides to Myanmar.
"There are other countries, Canada, the EU and the US that have stopped such aid," Blanchett said.
"From my point of view it wouldn't be seen to be prudent to support the Myanmar military when such atrocities are being committed."
Those fleeing Myanmar have told of horrific violence, including brutal murder and rape.
Blanchett recounted a conversation she had with a refugee, 18, who fled Rahkine after her entire village was torched.
"Her three-year-old brother was thrown in to that fire and her older brother was dismembered and shot in front of her and she had to keep running," she said.
"They call it torture but when they call it torture they mean rape and they ran, they fled towards the border of Bangladesh."
The actor said Bangladesh had been generous in keeping their borders open and called on the international community to do more.

Positivity about 'volcanic nature' of #MeToo campaign

Blanchett said she also stood in solidarity with minority communities in her own industry and "absolutely" supports inclusion riders.
"Artists, creative people deal in grey areas and in nuance and express doubt, and I wholeheartedly stand with the men and women in my industry who are working extremely hard to stamp out systemic layers of abuse that have long existed in our industry," she said.
"And our industry is perhaps very shiny and public and we're airing our laundry in public, but it's inequality of pay, abuses of power, systemic abuses of power, i don't think there's an industry around that they don't exist in.
"I think it's incredibly important, and there's an enormous creative opportunity in allowing those people whose voices have been marginalised to be front and centre now because it changes the discourse and I deal with the creative industry.
"You don't want a homogenous, purely white male, perspective on any creative enterprise, you want diversity. Diversity of voices leads to a much more creative industry.
She added that she felt positive that the "volcanic nature" of the #MeToo campaign would continue.
"I feel women are standing united and certainly having just come back from Bangladesh, it is the women and children who are always the most vulnerable, so there is a lot of crossover there," she said.
Last week, a new inter-agency donor appeal for Bangladesh announced funding requirements of US$951 million through to December 2018 to assist refugees and host communities affected by the refugee influx.
UNHCR is seeking US$196.3 million to continue its work providing lifesaving assistance and protection for the Rohingya refugees supporting host communities.

How They Sold the Iraq War

Photo by Taymaz Valley | CC BY 2.0
The war on Iraq won’t be remembered for how it was waged so much as for how it was sold. It was a propaganda war, a war of perception management, where loaded phrases, such as “weapons of mass destruction” and “rogue state” were hurled like precision weapons at the target audience: us.
To understand the Iraq war you don’t need to consult generals, but the spin doctors and PR flacks who stage-managed the countdown to war from the murky corridors of Washington where politics, corporate spin and psy-ops spooks cohabit.
Consider the picaresque journey of Tony Blair’s plagiarized dossier on Iraq, from a grad student’s website to a cut-and-paste job in the prime minister’s bombastic speech to the House of Commons. Blair, stubborn and verbose, paid a price for his grandiose puffery. Bush, who looted whole passages from Blair’s speech for his own clumsy presentations, has skated freely through the tempest. Why?
Unlike Blair, the Bush team never wanted to present a legal case for war. They had no interest in making any of their allegations about Iraq hold up to a standard of proof. The real effort was aimed at amping up the mood for war by using the psychology of fear.
To read more, click here.

Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?

It’s incredible. Here we are fifteen months into the horrific, arch-plutocratic right-wing Donald Trump presidency and still the United States (U.S.) has done nothing to protect its elections and its broader political culture from the vicious oligarchs who have subverted U.S. “democracy.”
The 2018 mid-term Congressional elections are only months away.  Major party primary races are in full swing right now. Is the nation really going to stand by twiddling its thumbs while more U.S. elections and the nation’s politics are hijacked by kleptocratic interlopers and the treasonous politicos who collude with them? Time is running out!
To read more click here.


Mosque in Germany attacked with Molotov bombs

A mosque frequented by the Turkish community in the German city of Ulm was attacked on Monday.
The attack comes less than two weeks following a similar incident in Berlin when a mosque was set on fire [File: Getty Images]
The attack comes less than two weeks following a similar incident in Berlin when a mosque was set on fire [File: Getty Images]
A mosque in Ulm, a city in southern Germany, has been attacked with Molotov bombs, causing damage to the mosque that belongs to the Muslim Turkish community in the country.
Monday's attack caused no injuries to members of the community who pray at the mosque, owned by the Islamic Community National View (IGMG).
The attack comes less than two weeks after a similar incident in Germany's capital, Berlin, when a mosque was set on fire. Earlier this month, another mosque frequented by the Turkish community in Germany was also attacked.
According to Turkey's Anadolu news agency, the attack came as sympathisers with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey threatened to spread more "violence", along with supporters of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) – the PKK's Syrian branch.
The PKK has been banned in Germany since 1993, but remains active with nearly 14,000 followers in the country.
The PYD/PKK group and other organisations previously claimed responsibility for several attacks since the beginning of this year. The attacks targeted Turkish mosques, associations and shops in various cities including Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Aachen.
Germany has a three million-strong Turkish community, many of whom are second and third-generation German-born citizens of Turkish descent whose grandparents moved to the country during the 1960s.
In January, Turkish forces and rebels from Syria's Free Syrian Army launched an offensive to drive out Kurdish fighters from neighbouring Afrin in southwest Syria.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Turkey had retaken Afrin from Kurdish fighters.
Ankara considers the (PYD) in Syria and its armed wing YPG to be "terrorist groups" with ties to the banned (PKK) in Turkey.
The PKK has waged a decades-long armed fight against the Turkish state that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Boko Haram's latest abductions

Boko Haram is a terrorist group. It's a disgrace to humanity. Its rank and file are made of ruthless criminals that are ignorant of their religion and ought to be punished for their murderous activities and abductions.
Here below is a report from the Reuters.
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian security forces were warned about the presence of Boko Haram fighters near the town of Dapchi, but failed to respond, allowing insurgents to kidnap 110 schoolgirls almost unharrassed, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
The kidnapping on Feb. 19 of the girls from Dapchi, aged between 11-19, had echoes of the terrorist insurgency’s abduction in 2014 of 276 students from the town of Chibok, which shot Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram, now nine years old, into the global spotlight.

It threatens to be a thorn in the side of President Muhammadu Buhari, whose 2015 electoral victory was built on criticism of his predecessor’s failure to protect Nigerians, particularly in the wake of Chibok, and his promises to defeat Boko Haram.
“The Nigerian authorities have failed in their duty to protect civilians, just as they did in Chibok four years ago,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty’s Nigeria director, in Tuesday’s report.
Despite being repeatedly told that Boko Haram fighters were heading to Dapchi, it appears that the police and military did nothing to avert the abduction,” she said.
A military spokesman denied that they had been warned of Boko Haram presence in the region, saying: “There was nothing like that.” He said if Amnesty had important information, the watchdog should notify a presidential panel set up in the wake of Dapchi to investigate the incident.
Amnesty alleged that the Nigerian army and police received at least five phone calls warning that Boko Haram was on the way to Dapchi as early as four hours before the attack, but did not take “effective measures” to halt the militants or rescue the girls once they had been taken.
“The military withdrew troops from the area in January, meaning the closest personnel were based one hour’s drive from Dapchi,” the report said.
One month after the abductions, there has been little sign of the fate of the 110 schoolgirls.
Neither their parents nor Nigerian authorities have publicly acknowledged receiving any proof of life, the students have not appeared in any media issued by the kidnappers, nor has there been a public ransom demand.
“The Nigerian authorities must investigate the inexcusable security lapses that allowed this abduction to take place without any tangible attempt to prevent it,” said Ojigho in the report.
Nigeria’s Buhari said last week he had ordered all military and security agencies to search for them, vowing that the government would not rest until the last girl kidnapped by insurgents has been released.
Buhari has also said he plans to negotiate for their release - a sign that the military may not be able to successfully rescue them.

43% of Public Thinks That Iraq War Was a Good Idea

What' s wrong with American people?

George W. Bush ordered U.S. forces to invade Iraq fifteen years ago today. Bush said the invasion was justified because Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of massive destruction (he wasn’t) and supporting al-Qaida (no). There are still American troops in Iraq—seven died last week, bringing the count of U.S. military fatalities in the country since 2003 to 4,540. The death toll for Iraqis has been much more severe; an estimated 200,000 civilians have died violently there over the same time period. The civil war and chaos that the U.S. invasion created resulted in the rise of ISIS.
All in all, a pretty solid showing by the ol’ USA, eh? Forty-three percent of Americans think so, Pew has found:
Fifteen years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the American public is divided over whether using military force was the right decision.
Nearly half (48%) of Americans say the decision to use military force was wrong, while slightly fewer (43%) say it was the right decision, according to a Pew Research Center survey, conducted March 7-14 among 1,466 adults.
That 39 percent of respondents answered this question affirmatively might be even more mind-blowing:
More Americans say the U.S. “mostly failed” in achieving its goals in Iraq (53%) than say the U.S. succeeded (39%). 
In Bush’s own words, the purpose of the Iraq invasion was to create a country which would “set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation.”
Here’s another good one:
Conservative Republicans are more likely to say the U.S. mostly succeeded in Iraq today (50%) than they were in 2014 (36%)
That’s the same bloc of voters who otherwise spent their time between 2014 and 2018 electing a president whose central foreign policy argument, as a candidate, was that the Iraq War was a disaster. Good stuff!