Muslims blast Suu Kyi’s Harvard prize

Rakhine State is one of the poorest in Myanmar. Source: Wikimedia


Muslim US undergraduates are criticising the Harvard Foundation’s selection of Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi as its Humanitarian of the Year, arguing that she has remained silent on persecution of the country’s Muslim minority.

The Harvard Foundation says it grants the annual award to “an individual whose works and deeds have served to improve the quality of our lives and have inspired up to greater heights”.

Recent award recipients include Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai who stood up to the Taleban and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The Harvard Islamic Society spokesman Anwar Omeish said the group believed the decision to give the award to Suu Kyi was “really jarring”.

“I think for us we see the type of rhetoric surrounding the Rohingya in Myanmar, the similar war on terror rhetoric that creates violence against people across the world and that affects us here,” Omeish said. She added that the choice of Suu Kyi was surprising, given that the Harvard Foundation had provided support for the Islamic Society in the past.

Back in Myanmar, two Turkish charities have delivered almost 2,400 packs of meat from livestock sacrificed for the Eid al-Adha holiday to Muslims, including those in unstable Rakhine State.

Humanitarian Relief Foundation in Myanmar said “charitable Turks have always extended a hand to those in need everywhere, without taking religion and race into consideration”.

Mucahit Demir of the charity said: “If we managed to put a smile on their faces, we are very happy. We will continue to help suffering people around the world. Here, especially in Rakhine, Muslims live under difficult conditions.”

Rakhine, one of the poorest states, saw rising tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Rohingya since communal violence broke out in mid-2012 that left nearly 100 dead and around 140,000 homeless, most of whom were Muslims.

The vice chairman of the Sadakatasi Foundation also expressed concern about the living conditions of Muslims in Rakhine State.

Elsewhere, in an unusual move, a Burmese military court has sentenced seven soldiers to five years in jail with hard labour for the murder of five villagers in Shan State in June.

The servicemen, who include four officers, will serve their time in civilian prisons, the military announced.

Claims against the mighty Tatmadaw are rarely acknowledged and very rarely reach the courts.

Sai Kaung Kham, an activist who supported the Mong Yaw villagers in their demands for justice, said he was surprised that the armed forces had taken action.

“The fact they have been sentenced to imprisonment is better than nothing,” Sai Kaung Kham said.

The Tatmadaw is hoping to re-establish ties with Nato members and the move might be an attempt to demonstrate its efforts to reform.

One of Myanmar’s highest-ranking officers held a surprise press conference in July to say that troops were responsible for the deaths of five villagers.