The image of a smiling Daw Aung San Suu Kyi receiving flowers from her supporters is a powerful message of freedom and optimism in Myanmar, the symbol of democracy in a country which has known nothing but authoritarian oppression for decades.
Yet few ask one of the most pressing questions facing Daw Suu Kyi. How will she deal with the Rohingya?
“The Rohingya,” you will ask. “Who are they?”
The Rohingya, whom the BBC calls “one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups”, are the little-publicised and largely forgotten Muslim people of the coastal Rakhine state of western Myanmar. Their historic lineage in Rakhine dates back centuries, as fishermen and farmers. Over the past three decades, the Rohingya have been systematically driven out of their homeland by Myanmar’s military junta and subjected to widespread violence and the total negation of their rights and citizenship within Myanmar. They are a stateless Muslim minority.
The continued tragedy of the unrecognised Rohingya, both in Myanmar and as refugees abroad, casts a dark shadow over the bright hopes and prospects for democracy in a country plagued by violence and civil war. Suu Kyi is ideally placed to extend democratic reforms to all ethnic peoples, including the Rohingya, in a free Myanmar.
This article is the first in a series by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK, exploring how a litany of volatile centre/periphery conflicts with deep historical roots were interpreted after 9/11 in the new global paradigm of anti-terrorism – with profound and often violent consequences.