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[2720] Aung San Suu Kyi and cultish reverence

As a libertarian, I have a strong dislike for the cultish reverence towards a person, where one puts a picture of a political leader everywhere almost to the point of worshiping them. It is not the excessive putting of portraits really. It is the attitude of revering too much. It is the worldview that that person is a god’s representative on this earth (even that, on its own, is against everything that I believe in).

That happens in Malaysia in government buildings and sometimes elsewhere too. Recently, the Malaysian education ministry sent out circulars to display portraits of Malaysian government leaders (read Barisan Nasional leaders) in classroom to encourage patriotism. We all know what that means. Starting them young is the best way to manufacture obedient robots. And it is not limited to Barisan Nasional either. And the picture of the Agong is another thing although the practice of rotating the seat every five years among so many of Malaysian sultans, rajas and a Yamtuan Besar does make it less ominous.

Thailand has too many pictures of their king. When I was in Bangkok, I was told I was not supposed to put banknotes in my wallet, because I would sit on my wallet. I do not if that was a make-believe but that is to me, cultish. I have never been to North Korea but through my readings, I would think the North Korean government would like their citizens to worship Kim Jong-un. To some extent, I do have trouble with teenagers worshiping some popstars but let us not get there.

One person that keeps popping in my travels in Burma was Aung San Suu Kyi. I completely understand why she stands out. In a country where the military rules without democratic legitimacy, she is the symbol of opposition to that dictatorship.

When I was buying a book in the streets of Rangoon, the shopkeeper pointed his finger to the wall  and said, “That’s Aung San Suu Kyi, our leader. Do you know her?”

At that point I really had no problem with her popularity. After all, she has done so much and for that, she deserves the respect.

So, things get a little bit disturbing for me when I spotted this calendar somewhere 20-30 minutes south of Mandalay:

Aung San Suu Kyi as a calendar model

The calendar, is somewhere to me, a sign of, in my own neologism, cultish reverence.

I have that skepticism because I always fear power and in a democratic society, popularity and power come in the same sentence. A person with so much power, especially in a illiberal democracy where the liberal safeguards are weak or simply does not exist, that popularity means the popular leader can do no wrong to the eyes of the majority. That means tyranny of the majority.

But this is Burma under military dictatorship and she has only limited power within the limited and guided democracy that the country has. Maybe I should cut her some slack.

By Hafiz Noor Shams

For more about me, please read this.

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