Is Suu Kyi a Beautiful Flower or a Big Problem?

Considering strapping on flippers and paddling over to Suu Kyi's compound? Over at Double X, I argue that the West's obsession with Suu Kyi has done no favors for her or the rest of the Burmese people. A snippet:

 The story is much bigger than the woman it stars. And so to Westerners who work inside of Myanmar, amidst the 48 million Burmese who are not international celebrities, the American cult of Suu Kyi can seem like remote, self-referential performance art. Suu Kyi's list of vocal supporters includes Laura Bush, Jim Carrey, Sylvester Stallone, and hundreds of placard-wielding college kids around the country. The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate is inevitably described as "petite," "well-spoken," and most of all "elegant." "She is like a beautiful flower," John McCain told Brian Lamb in 2004.

There are candlelight vigils in Dallas and protest rallies in Toronto. There is the claim that the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi's erstwhile party, is a vital force rather than the tired circle of septuagenarians one actually encounters at its Yangon headquarters. On Facebook, one can send a form e-mail to Than Shwe, a dictator who lives in paranoid isolation, requesting that he stop oppressing his fellow Burmese and concluding with "I look forward to hearing from you."

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  • The Last Thrice-Sayer||

    Kerry's back!

  • Kyle Jordan||

    Hi Kerry!!!

    (Let the fawning begin.)

  • Warty||

    You sexist pigs.

  • ||

    I know the Burmese juanta are a bunch of two bit thugs. But what I can't figure out is why the two bit thugs in Burma warrent the outrage of rock stars and media and celbrities all over the world. But the two bit thugs who run about half of the other countries in the world never seem to warrent such attention. Seriously, is there anything that makes the juanta in Burma any worse than say the crooks who run places like Nigeria or Syria or any other of the nameless authortian rabble that makes up most of the non-western world? The only difference I can see is that the opposition in Burma found someone who is both female and physically attractive and can appeal to Western elites. I can picture the Burmese Juanta commiserating with the other tinpot dictators of the world. And all the various dictators patting them on the shoulder telling them what a tough break it is to have an opposition leader who is kind of hot.

  • Paul||

    What was Yettaw's motivation, here? Can it be summarized in 20 words or must I google search this crap for 45 minutes? The article only mentions Yettaw in passing, and NPR never explained what or who he was.

  • ||

    Reason are skyful of liars!

  • Kyle Jordan||

    John,

    I think you're pretty much right. I'd also add that their fascination shows that it's more about the appearance of caring than actually caring. They pick one or maybe even up to a handful of events/people like this and focus on it. Easier to keep straight, and has the desired effect of garnering more fame and wealth.

    But that's just the incredibly jaded opinion of a sleep deprived social deviant.

  • ||

    John -- I think the bigger reason that Burma's two-bit thugs attract more attention than some of their peers is that they overturned a functioning democracy. In the case of Syria or Sudan, I think lots of people just throw up their hands. In the case of Burma, there's an example of democratic rule in recent memory that you can point to.

  • ||

    Is it just me or do substantive allegations human rights abuses in Burma get losed in the fawning over Suu Keyi? All I or most people know about Burma is that Suu Keyi was deprived of being President and under house arrest. Granted, that is not good. But it is pretty small when compared to human rights abuses that go on every day in other countries. This is not to say that the Burmese juanta isn't guilty of terrible human rights abuses. It is only to say that whatever those abuses are, they seem to get lost in the celbrity obsession with Kyi.

  • ||

    "John -- I think the bigger reason that Burma's two-bit thugs attract more attention than some of their peers is that they overturned a functioning democracy. In the case of Syria or Sudan, I think lots of people just throw up their hands. In the case of Burma, there's an example of democratic rule in recent memory that you can point to."

    Maybe. But I would point out that the oldest functioning Democracy in South America, Venezuala, is disappearing before our eyes. Yet, Bono isn't writing any songs about that.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    "Yet, Bono isn't writing any songs about that."

    And if he were there's a good chance they'd be in support of Chavez.

  • ||

    "Yet, Bono isn't writing any songs about that."

    And if he were there's a good chance they'd be in support of Chavez."

    Bono is a nitwit in oh so many ways. But in his defense, he has never cozied up to dictators. I don't recall him ever having good things to say about Castro or any of the other usual leftist murderers. At Davos a couple of years ago he actually said something about "the scourge of communism". That phrase coming out of a Western celbrity's mouth is just remarkable.

  • ||

    I'm going to go ahead and defend Bono as well. He's a bit more "centrist" than you'd expect. He's a liberal, no doubt. Just not a Sean Penn/Oliver Stone liberal.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    I'm looking for it, but I remember recently reading something about Bono having the typical lib-hard on for Che. If I find the link I'll post it. Though, that's like part of the basic primer I think.

  • Paul||

    *sigh*

    Ok, I effing googled it. John Yettaw, a man of questionable origin, background, reputation and Mormon religious affiliation. In this country, we'd refer to him as a 'stalker' and promptly have him locked up for psychiatric evaluation and observation. A "vietnam veteran" who was 19 years old in 1975. I'll let you kids do the math on that.

    So, a crazy, Mormon stalker swam up on her back porch and convinced her to let him use the changing room. Kyi then gave him a spot of sherry and told him to be on his way and the whole thing caused an international incident. Great. This should be an Onion article. Then it'd be funnier.

  • Paul||

    He's a bit more "centrist" than you'd expect. He's a liberal, no doubt. Just not a Sean Penn/Oliver Stone liberal.

    So more of a Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton liberal, then.

  • Mark||

    So, If it's doing more harm than good to focus on the destruction of Burma, I suppose once we start ignoring them, all their problems will start to go away. Right?


    Suu Kyi is a symbol. And the Junta that runs Burma wants that symbol to go away. Why? because like cockroaches, they really really hate the spotlight.

    What the Frak happened to the writers at Reason? did something replace them with pod people?

  • !</a||

  • ||

    "So, If it's doing more harm than good to focus on the destruction of Burma, I suppose once we start ignoring them, all their problems will start to go away. Right?"

    We seem to ignore everything else in the world. I guess the issue is that there is only so much moral outrage and capital in the world. Why are we spending it on Burma rather than say North Korea or Cuba or Zimbabwe where the governments are much worse? The reason seems to be that Suu Kyi is well spoken and physically attractive. That seems kind of fucked up.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    "So, If it's doing more harm than good to focus on the destruction of Burma, I suppose once we start ignoring them, all their problems will start to go away. Right?"

    Uh, what I got from the entry is that the present course is isolating them in to oblivion and the perhaps we should open trade and aid to them, thus having a better chance of benefiting the Burmese people on the whole. That's just me though.

    And I'm coming up empty on the link. Hopefully, John and Soda are right and I'm wrong. Nice change of pace.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    Nice change of pace on Bono, not John and Soda being right. That came off as an insult and wasn't intended to be one.

  • Paul||

    The reason seems to be that Suu Kyi is well spoken and physically attractive. That seems kind of fucked up.

    Welcome to the American Press' treatment of global politics. Find a "star" that strikes an attractive pose and the story writes itself.

  • Clifford the Big Shaggy Cunt||

    "attractive pose"

    That bitch was pure, stupid, evil.

  • Syd||

    John | May 19, 2009, 2:58pm | #
    Why are we spending it on Burma rather than say North Korea or Cuba or Zimbabwe where the governments are much worse?


    Because Burma has an well-known opposition leader who could take over if the dictatorship falls.

  • Gene Berkman||

    Isolating the Burmese dictators has not driven them from power, nor has it driven Castro from power.

    On the other hand, the USA traded with Stalin after FDR opened diplomatic relations with the USSR. Trade did not lead to "liberalization" of Stalin's regime.

    So the answer to driving repressive regimes from power is "we don't know how to do it." Revolutions and wars often lead to just another dictator taking power.

    That said, if celebrities take a public stand against the repressive Burmese regime without calling for a pre-emptive war, I think it is a good thing. Sure, it would be easy to ask "why not Zimbabwe?" or "why did they not denounce Saddam Hussein?" and maybe the answer is that everyone knows we will not go to war in Burma even for Democracy.

  • Mad Max||

    On Facebook, one can send a form e-mail to Than Shwe, a dictator who lives in paranoid isolation, requesting that he stop oppressing his fellow Burmese and concluding with "I look forward to hearing from you."'

    What's wrong with that? That's the format of form letters recommended by Amnesty International, formerly a human-rights organization,* which organizes letter-writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners who are being mistreated.

    *They now advocate for abortion.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Welcome to the American Press' treatment of global politics. Find a "star" that strikes an attractive pose and the story writes itself.



    This is what I was thinking. A single charismatic leader is an easy story. When that person has bravely faced personal dangers for their convictions, it becomes that much simpler of a narrative.

    Having said that, I'm not sure why Morgan Tsvangirai hasn't become a bigger news story in the States, though, because the guy's got courage to spare.

  • ||

    So the answer to driving repressive regimes from power is "we don't know how to do it."

    Sure we do. I can think of several repressive regimes that we have driven from power just off the top of my head.

    Revolutions and wars often lead to just another dictator taking power.

    Oh, well, if you're gonna get all picky and insist that the replacement regime not be repressive, that's different.

  • Atanarjuat||

    "On Yettaw's second try in early May, Suu Kyi let him stay the night, apparently in defiance of the terms of her house arrest. In provoking Myanmar's ruling junta, Yettaw may have extended Suu Kyi's period of confinement indefinitely."

    Mental note, women on house arrest are really desperate.

  • ||

    John

    I think you raise a really good question about why celebrities and media figures are obsessed with Burma but often largely ignore other countries with obnoxious regimes.

    In addition to the other answers provided above (which make a lot of sense) how about this one: Celebrities like to be seen to be 'supporting democracy', 'standing up to dictators' and taking other such worthy positions; however, they don't really want the US (or indeed anyone) to actually DO anything about these rogue regimes (beyond perhaps a few perfuntory sanctions). This is because 'doing something' implies either military action (obviously a no-no for Hollywood types), or a substantive economic embargo (think starving children etc.). From this perspective Burma is so poor, remote and stregically insignificant that there isn't the slightest chance that any US administration would ever take substantive action against its regime. The celebrity can therefore salve his or her conscience, and get to look good in the eyes of the public, but without the risk of being associated with 'evil' military or economic action. The problem for the celeb of campagning against the government of say Iran, Syria, Cuba or Venezuela is that these countries are strategically more significant from a US perspective and there's always a risk that a US administration might seek to impose 'regime change' (admittedly this risk is a lot lower with the current US administration). Therefore the poor celebrity might inadvertantly find themselves aligned with a 'fascistic' and 'imperialist' American foreign policy. Better to be safe and confine their protests to Burma.

  • ||

    Good point Andrew.

  • ||

    I have got chime in when I see writings where people state celebrity competition is the structure of the movement when this girl is unduly held at house arrest by a government who uses torture and labor camps. What has happened to us? Do we think that holding someone against their will has so use in a spiritual way? Quakers designed the prisons and many people in them were so protective of their plaintiff they did not betray the reality of the crime and went to prison to take the suffering on them instead of pointing out the real atrocities, or more likely the atrocities are sanctioned by the government like our sex laws. This woman has got to be freed from her prison and the government who uses the fake justification to inflict suffering on her is a sham. Fighting the use of air time with Bono and American Idol in our country is natural. There are only so many stations and 24 hr. in a day. When a person is being tortured like she is and held against her will is that not false imprisonment and torture? Have you seen the camps and the torture used to force workers into their service. The beating and corruption of the services have no differential motive than the MCA and if not stopped will lead to civil war in our country today.

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