When Plato described man as a featherless biped, Diogenes the Cynic came to his Academy with a plucked chicken proclaiming “this is Plato’s man!”. The Plucked Chicken Award will be awarded every year to the human being that best represents the folly of our idealization of our species.
Plucked Chicken Award 2017: Aung San Suu Kyi
The Plucked Chicken Award is not about identifying the “worst” public figure in the world. Awarding it to a tyrant would be a waste: purely malicious despots are too one-dimensional. They are boring, and not truly representative of the complexities of human behavior (sorry Trump, all in all you’re not really that interesting). Instead, the prize goes to the person who best demonstrated exactly what humans really are: tribalist, murderous hypocrites. And nobody in 2017 did that better than the de facto Prime Minister of recently turned “democratic” Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. Let’s recall what made her worthy of this award. On paper, Suu Kyi was an international darling: a tireless opponent of the military junta that had governed Myanmar (or Burma as it was called) since 1962. After her party won a huge victory in the sham 1990 elections, she was put on house arrest. For these actions, she was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and perhaps more importantly (for some), a Bono-written U2 song in 2000 (“Walk On”) as well. But as the junta’s control over the country gradually slipped, she was freed from house arrest in 2010 and later allowed to contest the 2015 elections which she won by a landslide.
“Sometimes I think that a parody of democracy would be more dangerous than a dictatorship, because that gives people an opportunity to avoid doing something about it”
– Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar, it is worth noting, is a Buddhist-majority country, but which includes a minority of Muslims (about 4%), mostly concentrated in the state of Rakhine bordering Bangladesh and mostly belonging to the ethnicity known as the Rohingyas. The Rohingyas have been no strangers to human rights abuses: they were denied citizenship by the junta given that they were viewed as “colonial leftovers” from the time that Burma was part of British-owned India. Even as the country transitioned into democracy, anti-Muslim violence escalated: riots in 2013 by Buddhist thugs led by the “Buddhist bin Laden”, Ashin Wirathu (a monk, no less), were widely publicized and shattered the stereotype of Buddhists being peace-loving by nature, particularly given that their violence was against the most vilified religion of the 21st century, Islam. In one incident, a machete-wielding Buddhist mob attacked an Islamic boarding school, killing 32 students and four teachers. So much for the real religion of “peace”.
Alas, that was nothing compared to what took place in 2017. Starting in late 2016, security forces began a crackdown against the Rohingyas due to a series of border attacks from unknown assailants. The scale of the crackdown has been horrific: around 700,000 Rohingyas have been displaced, there have been verifiable reports of mass killings and gang rapes as well as infanticide, with a total body count numbering over 10,000 (probably far higher). The UN has hinted that the situation may constitute genocide. And amid this slaughter, Suu Kyi has been largely silent, and defiant against criticism: “show me a country without human rights issues”. Calls for her to have her Nobel Peace Prize revoked (something which has never happened) have as yet gone unheeded by the Nobel Committee, despite the overwhelming case for it.
How could so many people have been so wrong about her? Perhaps they weren’t. Perhaps it was only the circumstance of power that made Suu Kyi choose her tribal loyalty (she is Buddhist after all) above all else. Perhaps the idea of democracy was one only worth fighting for when the victims of despotism were her own people. This is not a flaw in Suu Kyi’s character: this is a flaw in humanity as a whole, a flaw which enables us to dehumanize those that are different from us, and apply a different standard of morality for them than we would for us. When someone says “we take care of our own”, be terrified of what they would do to others.
A Buddhist Noble Peace Prize winner presiding over a genocide. Who could be more fitting for an award like this?
Photo Credit: Reuters