Will the real Aung San Suu Kyi please stand up?

When Aung San Suu Kyi delivered her landmark acceptance speech after being awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, she made a plea on behalf of victims of persecution worldwide: “Wherever suffering is ignored,” she observed with characteristically understated defiance in her voice, “there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages”.  How right she was.  How different, though, from her non-committal response last week to whether Rohingya demands for justice in Myanmar should be satisfied: “I don’t know”.  Was it pusillanimity, hypocrisy or just a slip of the tongue? Whatever her justification, for the 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who have lived in Myanmar for centuries, “I don’t know” simply isn’t good enough.  Imagine being born country-less, with no state, no police force, no institution to represent you.  Imagine being marginalised, ostracised and ignored.  Imagine being incarcerated in your village, with no way of escape, no hope …

Stamping out FGM

In the time it takes you to read this article, over 50 young girls will have their clitoris hacked out. What are you going to do about it? Each girl will be pinned down, with no anaesthetic, whilst 8,000 nerve endings cringe at the touch of an unclean scalpel. Each girl will scream and writhe and howl – but you won’t hear them. Each girl will be irreversibly, unbearably, agonisingly mutilated. “I heard it,” described Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “like a butcher snipping the fat off a piece of meat. A piercing pain shot up between my legs”. Skin rips, blood pours, cries screech. But it wasn’t over for her just yet: next “came the sewing… the long, blunt needle clumsily pushed into my bleeding outer labia,” thread weaving through thread to leave behind only a miniscule opening for urination and menstruation. The scars of this torture, butchery on a factory-line …

Long live the king?

It was the great 16th Century French essayist Michel de Montaigne who best expressed the idea that travel broadens the mind: “Je ne sache point meilleure école à former la vie”.* To travel, though, is not only to learn more about ourselves, but also to catch what we may be tempted to label brief glimpses of truth, glimpses that are rarely – if ever – afforded to those who live, day in and day out, in the pell-mell of our destinations. An outsider’s empiricism is often the best kind: nonpartisan, unflinching, honest. One such glimpse occurred to me as I was travelling down one of the many canals that form the veins and arteries of the Chao Phraya River, as it carves its way through the magnificent heart of Bangkok. “Long live our beloved king,” the banner read, flailing desperately in the wind that rushed across the waterway, interminably barraging …