It has been a stinging rebuke for Aung San Suu Kyi, and the message that resonated across the world over the weekend was conveyed by the holy of holies, not any libertarian government of the democratic West. Students at St Hugh’s College, the undergraduate institution at the University of Oxford where Suu Kyi once studied, have voted to remove the name of the putative “icon” of democracy from the title of their junior common room because of her virtually muted response to the humanitarian crisis that confronts the Rohingyas.
Not that her name has been relegated to the footnotes of Oxford’s history; it has been eliminated fair and square and the outcome of last Thursday’s vote will come into force with immediate effect. Which in itself is testament to the overwhelming disgust. A more resounding snub from academia would be hard to imagine.
In a decidedly more robust response than the comity of nations has been able to muster, the rarefied campus of Oxford has condemned what it calls the “silence and complicity” in her rather intriguing attitude towards the country’s treatment of the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority segment that has suffered ethnic cleasing and repression by Myanmar’s omnipotent military and also, of course, a section of Buddhists.
Coincidentally or otherwise, the campus “reprisal”, so to speak, has happened in parallel with UNICEF’s report that Rohingya children are facing a “hell on earth” in Bangladesh ~ the neighbouring country where they have fled with their parents. More than half a million are believed to have crossed over, according to the UN. And yet the withers of Suu Kyi ~ the de facto head of government ~ remain unwrung as she plays to the military gallery.
As it turns out, news travels fast from the squalid refugee camps to the hallowed precincts of the University of Oxford. The resolution adopted by St Hugh’s is a searing indictment of her style of governance ~ “Aung San Suu Kyi’s inability to condemn the mass murder, gangrape and severe human rights abuses in Rakhine is inexcusable and unacceptable. She has gone against the very principles and ideals she had once righteously promoted.”
There is hardly a country in the democratic world ~ not to forget India’s pussyfooting ~ that has advanced so stout a denunciation of silence, almost deafening. This must rank as a tragic comedown for an alumnus who in 2012 was awarded by Oxford with an honorary doctorate.
Nay more, her 67th birthday was celebrated at St Hugh’s, where she studied politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) between 1964 and 1967. Thursday’s decision has reinforced the humiliation, notably the removal of her painting from the main entrance and the Oxford city council’s unanimous vote early this month to strip Aung San Suu Kyi of the exceptional honour called “Freedom of the City of Oxford”. Her profound indifference is no less exceptional.