Aung San Suu Kyi, Rohingya and Buddhist extremists: Frédéric Debomy and Benoît Guillaume

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

The book opens with a giant portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, which sits in the heart of downtown Yangon. A provocation that would have set fire to the powder in 1990 when the former dissident was placed under house arrest by the military junta. Today, some Burmese don't even look up to the image of "Mother Suu". Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991, political prisoner released in 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi, now Minister of Foreign Affairs and de facto head of government, is criticized for her silence in the face of the persecutions affecting the Rohingyas since 2016. The "Lady" leaves do, that is what some of the Burmese and the international community reproach him for. How, indeed, to accept this ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the army? Since 2017, thousands of Rohingyas – referred to as “Kalar” (“bougnoules”) – have been killed, 700 have fled to take refuge in camps in Bangladesh. The Burmese leader appeared in December 000 before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, to defend her country, accused of "genocide". Strange sequence to see the ex-dissident minimizing the abuses of the military, her former enemies.

Like great reporters, author Frédéric Debomy and cartoonist Benoît Guillaume have returned to the heart of the Burmese powder keg – they published a first investigation in 2016, Burma. Fragments of a reality – to try to unravel the mystery of a country less “golden” (nickname of Myanmar) than it seems, eaten away by questions of identity. A graphic survey, in the field but with charcoal, off-screen, designed as a gallery of portraits to illustrate the many faces of Burmese mosaics. Testify without judging, such is the credo of the authors, who have written a number of works on the Burmese question – note that Frédéric Debomy is a long-time activist: former president of the Info Burmanie association, he was one of the organizers of the reception of the Prime Minister of the Burmese government in exile, Dr Sein Win, at the Élysée Palace on September 26, 2007.

Wirathu, the nationalist shift

They chained interviews with journalists, opinion leaders, members of civil society associations, met Buddhist monks, Muslim and Christian clerics, visiting each camp to compare points of view and try to understand the breakthrough of the movement of nationalist Buddhist monks of Ma Ba Tha, led by Wirathu, the monk with vitriolic speeches (“Muslims are like carp. They reproduce quickly, they are really violent and they devour their own species”). And the saffron-brown monks of Ma Ba Tha stir up the embers by parading with signs to the glory of the generals...

Faced with these monks who have taken the wrong path, the authors give voice to the voices of unity, including the Buddhist monk U Wi Thote Da, who had sheltered 800 Muslims in his monastery at the time of the riots of 2015. But also at Myat Kyaw, a Buddhist taxi driver who dared to challenge Wirathu. And to many representatives of civil society that Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to listen to, such as Mie Mie, leader of the Karenni women's organization, who paints a chilling portrait of the condition of women in Burma (adoption of a law preventing Buddhist women from marrying a man of another faith) and the violence that strikes them on a daily basis (“A minister said that there would be fewer rapes if women paid more attention to their outfits”). And what about those Buddhist extremists who disqualify them by developing the concept of "Phon", a spiritual force of which they would be deprived!

Like the brushstrokes thrown on the paper, without stylistic effect, without any filter, the authors sketch but do not strike, they hold out the microphone and sharpen their pens, questioning, questioning themselves, with empathy but without concession . Many would be content to unbolt the statues, they are trying to decipher this torn nation, with “fragile pride”, “claiming a narrow “we”, based on ethnic and religious affiliations. Us against us”. As Ma Thida, a famous surgeon, writer, human rights activist and political prisoner, laments: “We are struggling to draw a common dream”.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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