12:00 AM, November 16, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 16, 2012

Pleasure Is All Mine

Silent victims of trade-offs

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Shah Husain Imam

From the state to celebrity to institution, twisted minds either commit horrifying crimes, all under the wraps of normality, or abet in them. The "sewer of deceit" is scarcely laid open in real-time. It is either unraveled posthumously, or through deferred autopsies, if you like. In both cases, at best diminished traces of forensic evidence would be available to go on with. An exercise in moral rage whose potency has long expired as the victims had suffered quietly. Belated moral platitudes cannot heal the wound, but only reopen it.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had to react to a UN internal report leaked through BBC admitting "grave failure" to protect civilian lives (some 40,000 at least) in the closing months of Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. The admission of failure has been explained away by a UN expert as being a "trade-off" between gaining access to the serving areas and turning a blind eye to the government's excesses. Since Rajapaksa's troops controlled the access, the UN mission had to turn its eyes away from the atrocities on the ground. But in the name of reaching humanitarian assistance, what the UN ended up doing was leaving a large segment of humanity to the wolves.
The Sri Lankan representative to the UN bluntly said, the "UN is not a supranational body," implying that it had to act within the restrictions placed on its movement by the government of the day. But with what mandate the UN had been working there needs to be reexamined closely if any future breakdown in the system is to be averted in any crucial area of bloody turmoil.
Now turn to child sex abuse scandals within the BBC. These have brought 90-year long reputation of the most trustworthy broadcasting corporation in the world in the line of fire. But the enthusiasm to put down the fire seems to outpace public outcry stoking the undying embers, as it were. The British taxpayers who finance the corporation to work completely independently of government feel hard done by and entitled to a reform of the BBC ways.
The scandal over shelving last month an investigation into allegations of paedophilia centered on late television star Jimmy Savile, has hit the BBC hard. The fact that he is dead only means a guaranteed immunity to prosecution, though. Yet, it cannot hush up the tales of perverse forays of Savile which are gushing forth. They leave a bad taste just not in the British mouths but also those of millions-strong audiences of BBC around the world.
Here too was a trade-off on two levels. For one thing, the so-called "groupies"-- boys and girls -- swooned over celebrities so much so that they had to pay the price for the amorous idiosyncrasies of a sex maniac of an idol. This came into fashion in the '60s and continued into the '70s. The sleaze in private life of public figures were going off the radar screen.
What was more to the "compromise" is the fact that Savile raised such huge amounts in charities through his Newsnight programmes that the top brass in BBC looked away as he went about his mischievous exploits under the veneer of defrauded good natured PR. In 1980, he was reportedly caught red-handed and an investigation was about to be ordered into when it was frozen on its track as he put out a threat of stopping £4 million in charities to Adenbrook Hospital in Cambridge. He used to bring children around for care and take advantage of their vulnerability. Altogether, 300 allegations of paedophilia have been reported against him. Whilst he should be turning in his grave at the news, the rest of the world is turning to his grave for what an "epitaph" he has had hanging down the slithery tableau at his tomb.
The third tale makes a compelling reading. It is about the human-forsaken Rohingyas who are relentlessly persecuted by the state of Myanmar because of their imposed status of statelessness since 1982. Pre-that point in time they were covered by a citizenship act and, therefore, eligible for rights to domicile they have been robbed of in brazen defiance of standard national and international laws by fell stroke of a hermitically ruled country.
If anything, the West is trading off a just humanitarian and legal cause of minority Rohingya Muslims against what it sees as the opening up of Myanmar through democratisation and the prospects of investments in a resource-rich country. As they vie for geopolitical dividends on their shopping list they have conveniently forgotten the Rohingyas, the worst victims of most brutal ethnic cleansing in the contemporary world. They have potent ways to leverage the Myanmar government in according citizenship rights to the Rohingyas. They can, among other things, take recourse to a staggered withdrawal of sanctions as well as linking investment to normalising the lives of Rohingyas as equal citizens with the majority ethnic groups.
An unassailable ground for Rohingyas' acceptability lies in the fact that ramping up of ethnic tensions runs counter to democratisation of Myanmar society. For this will only strengthen the army in Myanmar who may use it as a fodder to stage a comeback to power. Therefore, striking an equilibrium between the minorities and the majority is in the best interest of Myanmar's complete opening up and taking its legitimate place in the comity of nations as a vibrant democracy.
We heartily welcome President Obama's choice to visit Myanmar. It will have served its full purpose if in addition to cheering Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Shein to embrace greater political liberalism, Obama succeeds in persuading them to grant citizenship rights to Rohingyas. This will help foster a pluralistic multiethnic culture to underpin democracy in Myanmar.
On an optimistic note, may we add that Padmavati-fame poet Alaol (1609-1680) had been a courtier at the Rosang i.e. Burmese King's court. During Alaol's effective poetic life between 1659 and 1673 Rosang King's chief minister Magan Tagore became his admiring disciple. Such is the depth of historical ties between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The bouts of hermitage that Myanmar has rolled out of inspires us to expect a benevolent neighbour in Myanmar willing to relieve us of the pressure of Rohingya dilemma.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
E-mail: husain.imam@thedailystar.net

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