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When icons fail

There was a time when Aung San Suu Kyi was the darling of the international community. The daughter of a Burmese general, Suu Kyi fought a repressive regime through quiet defiance. She was imprisoned, on and off, over a period of 21 years.

Given the option to flee her country on the condition that she not return, she refused to leave, even if it meant foregoing the opportunity to be with her husband and two sons in the United Kingdom. She would not leave her people, she said, even when her husband became sick and died.

She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 2011, one year after her release, a movie—“The Lady”—was made about her life.

In recent years, good things appear to have descended upon Myanmar. People enjoy more freedom, and technology has enabled Myanmar citizens to join the rest of the world from which they have been isolated for so long.

Markets are opening up and investors are putting their money where their enthusiasm is. Young Burmese who have left the country to study abroad are returning, brimming with ideas and good intentions.

Democratic elections have been conducted and Suu Kyi’s party—the National League of Democracy—won overwhelmingly, ending more than 50 years of military rule. She is now state counselor.

But all is not well.

In the fringes of Myanmar are the Rohingya people, a Muslim majority living in the Rakhine state. The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group; as a result, they are subjected to discrimination at best and human rights abuses—rape and murder, reports say—at worst. The people flee to Bangladesh to escape persecution.

No less than the United Nations has said that what are happening amount to crimes against humanity.

But in a BBC interview last week, Suu Kyi denied that ethnic cleansing was taking place, reinforcing the belief that the icon of democracy and Nobel laureate had become just another politician, afraid to rock the boat. She has said little, and done even less, about what is happening to the Rohingya. How could she, when she has denied all the wrongdoing in the first place?

That Suu Kyi has been a disappointment to her people remains debatable, but it highlights a sentiment familiar to many of us Filipinos. We often feel shortchanged when somebody we put our hopes on fails to deliver. During a campaign, for instance, we lionize candidates by making them out to be saviors. We entertain unrealistic expectations that they, by their lonesome, can effect the change we long to see.

We do this over and over again with each election season, never seeming to learn over time.

Icons unify people. They inspire them to take up a cause. But they are not miracle workers. People should not expect the world from them so that there is less disillusion—less bitterness and resentment—when these icons show their human side and fail to live up to expectations.

Topics: Editorial , When icons fail , Aung San Suu Kyi , The Lady , Myanmar , Rohingya people
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