A few days ago, Dr. Azeem Ibrahim published an opinion piece in the Huffington Post questioning whether Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be stripped of her Nobel Peace prize because of her failure to adequately address Myanmar's simmering ethnic tensions. This proposal would bring about the worst possible outcome for all the people of Mynamar. While not a credible threat, Dr. Ibrahim's article warrants a response.
Ms. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991, not 2012. While it is fair to call on her to do more to reform Myanmar's sprouting democracy, she deserves substantial credit for her role in inspiring a new class of leaders. For more than 20 years, Ms. Suu Kyi has demonstrated the highest level of sacrifice, bravery, and perseverance. Few leaders have willfully endured years of house arrest and social isolation. While other leaders may have compromised their values, given up hope, or turned to violence, Ms. Suu Kyi has continued to carry herself with dogged determination. There is no better recipient of the Nobel Prize than a leader who choses faith over dogmatism, pacifism over anger, pragmatism over revenge.
Ms. Suu Kyi has used her leadership to inspire others to work for positive change through peaceful means. Forbes named her in the top 20 most powerful women in the world, ahead of Queen Elizabeth and Nancy Pelosi. "Mother Suu" gives hope to the oppressed and forgotten. As one refugee recently stated, "Our life here is very difficult, and Suu Kyi comes here to visit us just like our own mother. We're very happy to see her... "
And yet, Ms. Suu Kyi's actions are not beyond questioning. She must increase the use of her celebrity status to address the social isolation of Myanmar's ethnic minorities. For instance, the Muslim Rohingya have faced bouts of famine, isolation, and devastating cycles of violence. Myanmar's government requires Rohingyas to obtain state-authorization to travel, to marry, and to have more than two children. In July, President Thein Sein even called for their deportation. That is why it was unfortunate when asked about whether the Rohingyas should be granted citizenship or deported, Ms. Suu Kyi told the Economist she simply does not know.
Ms. Suu Kyi must think as a reformer and not just a revolutionary. She promised to reform Myanmar's antiquated and stodgy constitution, and yet she reneged on her promise not to take an oath of office to uphold it. She continues to build her shaky alliance with President Thein Sein. And while some progress has been made, including the legalization of trade unions and the liberalization of press and electoral laws, Ms. Suu Kyi cannot be President Sein's pawn. To further attain her potential, she must begin to propose her own reforms, and to lead her opposition party to pursue more practical and independent avenues of social and political inclusion of Myanmar's ethnic minorities.
The next general election is in 2015. Myanmar and Ms. Suu Kyi are at the crossroads of the first meaningful transformation since Myanmar's independence. But Myanmar cannot survive as a fractured being. Ms. Suu Kyi is the only leader who has the power to unify the diverse people of her country.