Sometimes you discover to your utmost horror and disgust that you have placed too much trust and faith in a prominent personality, building them up as an international symbol of hope and courage only to be bitterly disappointed by the unexpected new side to your idol. Burma’s democracy campaigner, once serenaded by U2, was the first:
She was once seen as a beacon for universal human rights – a principled activist willing to give up her freedom to stand up to the ruthless generals who ruled Myanmar for decades.
In 1991, “The Lady”, as Aung San Suu Kyi is known, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the committee chairman called her “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless”.
But since becoming Myanmar’s de facto leader in 2016 after a democratic opening, Ms Suu Kyi has been rounded on by the same international leaders and activists who once supported her.
Outraged by the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh due to an army crackdown, they have accused her of doing nothing to stop rape, murder and possible genocide by refusing to condemn the powerful military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities.
“Suu Kyi’s status as a human rights hero lies in tatters in the West,” concludes a recent Reuters report.
Now comes the Dalai Lama, doubling down in this interview from a few days ago:
In a speech last year he said that refugees to the European Union should ultimately return home, adding that “Europe is for Europeans”, a statement he stood by when I challenged him on it.
“European countries should take these refugees and give them education and training, and the aim is return to their own land with certain skills,” he said.
The Dalai Lama believes the end game should be to rebuild the countries people have fled. But with some 70 million people displaced across the world according to the latest figures, what if people want to stay?
“A limited number is OK, but the whole of Europe [will] eventually become Muslim country, African country – impossible,” he said. A controversial viewpoint, and a reminder that while the Dalai Lama is a spiritual figurehead he is also a politician with views and opinions like everyone else.
Welcome to the alt-right, Suu Kyi and Dalai Lama, you filthy ethno-nationalists!
And while their views might seem shocking to their Western admirers, they are not very difficult to explain. Quite apart from the fact that Suu Kyi’s position vis-a-vis her country’s formerly ruling military continues to be quite precarious, she is a devout Buddhist, and as such member of a religious community which maintains strong memories of historical persecutions by Islam throughout South Asia. The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, comes from a country which not only has been invaded and continues to be occupied by a foreign power but one where the foreign power in question has sponsored a large scale immigration of Han Chinese not just to pacify and strengthen their hold over Tibet, but also to dilute the local population and its culture. Conceivably then, Mr Lama might have a slightly different take on large scale people movements and consequent demographic changes within nation states.
And so, a reminder to the Western wokeing class: brown people might be cute and exotic but they don’t necessarily share the full intellectual consensus of your inner city cocktail party. It might be more difficult to keep that “Free Tibet” sticker on your car bumper now that you know that the Dalai Lama drives with one that says “Tibet for Tibetans”. Which, in addition to the left’s increasing infatuation with China, might explain why we don’t seem to see many “Free Tibet” stickers around anymore. As the Romans used to say, sic transit gloria wokeis.