A Myanmar beauty queen has been disqualified from a major international pageant just days before she was scheduled to compete after she released a video statement that blames the ongoing crisis in Rakhine State on the insurgency led by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
In the video, titled “The truth about the Rakhine situation in Myanmar” and released on September 24, 19-year-old Shwe Eain Si cites her role as a pageant contestant as an imperative to “promote peace.”
“It is expected of me by the public to voice my opinion and concerns about the recent violence and massacre happened in the Rakhine State of my country,” she says at the beginning of the video.
Throughout the narration that follows, Shwe Eain Si characterizes ARSA as an Islamist-expansionist movement with international backing that targets civilians and uses deceit to win the sympathy of international media. The video is also interspersed with images of mutilated corpses.
“The attacks of the caliphate style movement carried out in last month by ARSA…are already out of proportion, but it is even more unfortunate that they, and their powerful supporters behind them, have administered a more or less successful media campaign, so that harbingers of terror and violence themselves are now seemed as if they are the oppressed,” she says.
Her statement does not mention the 500,000 Rohingya civilians who have been displaced to Bangladesh since August 25 or the allegations of atrocities committed by the Myanmar army.
Shwe Eain Si’s interpretation of the events in Rakhine State relies heavily on that of the Myanmar government, which has also tried to win support by linking its military operations to the global “war on terror.”
Her video also cites an interview with the former head of mission of the US embassy in Myanmar, Priscilla Clapp, who has been a vocal defender of the Myanmar military since the military crackdown on Rohingya communities began. In the interview, Clapp discourages international criticism of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and of the military, saying: “Nobody really knows what the situation is on the ground.”
Shwe Eain Si also sees on-the-ground reporting as the solution to the “falsehood” she says pervades international understandings of the crisis.
“The only way to clarify the situation is to have the international community come to Myanmar and witness the situation with impartial eyes,” she says. “Therefore I would like to invite everyone to come to my country and see the situation for themselves.”
She does not, however, acknowledge that Aung San Suu Kyi has already banned a UN fact finding mission from entering the country.
Yesterday, Miss Universe Myanmar announced that her “unbecoming conduct” violated the pageants rules and that she would be stripped of her title as First Runner-Up in the Miss Universe Myanmar 2017 competition. It also said she would not be allowed to represent Myanmar in the Miss Grand International 2017 pageant, which will be held in Vietnam from October 5 to 26.
Bangkok-based Miss Grand International markets itself as “a beauty contest aimed at participating in creating peace and stopping war.”
Shwe Eain Si has interpreted this as a reference to her video, saying on October 3: “[I have] all along been well aware of the consequences before [I] made the video [and] decided to make it all the same.”
The Miss Universe Myanmar Organization has countered that the decision to remove her from the pageant was unrelated to the video.
Nonetheless, Shwe Eain Si’s removal from the pageant has earned her an outpouring of support from people around Myanmar, most of whom also see the mass displacement of the Rohingya as part of a justified counter-terrorism campaign.
In another cringey video published by Miss Grand International on September 18, Shwe Eain Si visits a refugee camp, where she sets out in her pageant gown to “change the mindsets of people” and “make them believe that nothing is impossible.”
Though she never mentions the cause of the refugees’ displacement or what problem she intends for them to overcome, she does share an inspiring joke:
“Even the word ‘impossible’ says ‘I’m possible.'”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the Miss Universe Myanmar Organization’s assertion that Shwe Eain Si’s removal from the Miss Grand International pageant was unrelated to her posting of the video “The truth about the Rakhine situation in Myanmar.”