“No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”: Comments attributed to Aung San Suu Kyi spark disbelief

She said what?

That was the general reaction to the following comment reported in a Daily Mail story on Friday and attributed to National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.”

The statement is odd and weird and many other things even without the context. But the context is important.

It was supposedly after a 2013 interview with the BBC’s Mishal Husain, who was pressing Suu Kyi to say something about the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. The anecdote is reported in British journalist Peter Popham’s new book, The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Freedom.

Suu Kyi has been repeatedly criticized for not speaking out about the plight of the Rohingya, who are confined in IDP camps in Rakhine state following the outbreak of interreligious violence in 2012. She and her party were also roundly lambasted for not fielding a single Muslim candidate in November’s election in the face of pressure from Buddhist nationalists.

It is impossible to confirm with certainty whether Suu Kyi said what she allegedly said, and even Popham calls it “gossip.”

In case you were wondering, here is the full paragraph in the book.

Some believe it is simply a matter of prejudice: that, as a Burma Buddhist, she shares the same bigoted views as many of her fellow citizens, perhaps reinforced by regular exposure to the opinions of her constant companion, Dr. Tin Mar Aung, an Arakanese Buddhist who it is said – I have seen no evidence of this – is herself strongly anti-Rohingya. One snippet of gossip supports this explanation: after a particularly bruising interview with Mishal Husain of the BBC, Suu was heard to mutter angrily, “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.”

The paragraph, intriguingly, has a footnote for the quote. But alas, the footnote reads “Private Information.” Translation: somebody who was there told Popham or somebody told somebody who told Popham. You get the idea.

Shockingly, an NLD spokesman did not pick up the phone when called for comment.

Popham dips into semi-apologetics after the passage about the interview, saying the comment is “more likely to be the product of a not-unfounded sense on Suu’s part that aggressive and chauvinistic voices within the international Muslim community – voices with no organic connection to the Rohingya community either in Burma or abroad – have deliberately fuelled a hate campaign against her. That may well be her suspicion, and she may well be right. But it doesn’t mean she is personally prejudiced against Muslims, and there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that she is not,” citing, among other things, the fact that she once had a Pakistani boyfriend.

But replace “Muslim” in those remarks with the word “Jew” or “black person” and it starts to become difficult to see the quote in that context. It would be nice if Suu Kyi clarified what she did or did not say. Who are we kidding, that won’t happen.

Fortunately for her, the quote is poorly sourced and will remain gossip. Some sharing it online don’t believe she said it.

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