One day it was bound to happen that one brand of do-goodism clashes with another, equally renowned brand. Irish musician Bob Geldof, best known for giving pop music a soppy, self-expiating philanthropic turn in the 1980s, has gone and done his own award wapasi, calling the Myanmarese icon of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi “a handmaiden of genocide”. He has duly returned the Freedom of the City of Dublin award because he doesn’t want to share it “with a killer ... an accomplice to murder”.
Suu Kyi’s extreme ambivalence on the Rohingya issue—countless people have been killed and over 6,00,000 displaced in recent state-led violence—has indeed put a big question mark on her claim to the elevated pedestal the great peacemakers of history occupy. As a partner in the still-evolving, quasi-democratic state structure in Myanmar, she has tended to prefer either silence or roundabout rationalisation. Not good enough for the great and the good of the West.
The Irish band U2—which participated in Geldof’s Live Aid that brought practically the whole western pop pantheon together for sentimental tributes like ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ for the famine-struck in Ethiopia, and also campaigned for debt relief for African nations—certainly thinks so. Her silence is “starting to look a lot like assent”, they said. Some want her to be stripped of the Nobel for Peace. And Oxford has retracted an honour it had bestowed on her.
A touch of hypocrisy in western pop stars—some of the wealthiest artists in the world—indulging in easy bleeding-heart politics without the burden of having to actually make things work in the real world has not been missed. A Dublin official wondered where Geldof’s knighthood stands given Britain’s “shameful record of imperialism”. And what, actually, has Africa got from Live Aid, one may ask. Nor should the grey antecedents of the Nobel, or Booker, or such awards escape us. Still, judging on a scale of direct complicity, it is doubtless that it is Daw Suu Kyi who faces harder questions.