Just be careful who you put on a pedestal
Dissidents may be media darlings at the time but when circumstances change they can be seen in a very different light, just ask Aung San Suu Kyi
Western governments and their media love to put other countries’ dissidents on a pedestal, projecting onto them their own beliefs, agendas and ideals.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that when circumstances change, those same dissidents, when they are no longer dissidents, are very different from what many Westerners have made them out to be.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the latest example. Having made her one of the world’s great democracy icons, the West has become disenchanted now that she is the effective leader of Myanmar and is going along with its military’s scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya.
Yet, what is happening is very much the outcome of Myanmar’s democratisation, which put her in power and stirred up nationalism and Buddhist extremism. Far from being sidelined by the military, Suu Kyi has long held the official view that the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority, are “Bengali” nationalists being led to sedition by “terrorists”.
Last week, she even did a Donald Trump and accused the once adoring international media of turning fake news into “an iceberg of misinformation” about the military campaign, which has been described as a war crime and even genocide.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the late Soviet dissident and literary giant of the last century, was a hero to Western Cold Warriors and a generation of Americans. Yet, after he was exiled to the United States, Americans were shocked that far from adoring them and being grateful, he actually despised them. He hated America’s materialism and consumerism, its unfettered press, and the lack of character of most Americans, whom he considered to be cowardly and spiritually weak.
Many Americans were confused and angered, and declared him, in the words of a former admirer, to be “a freak, a monarchist, an anti-Semite, a crank, a has-been”.
So, Hongkongers who know what’s what about their city need not be alarmed when the Western media put some of our own student leaders on the same pedestal, even suggesting that a few of them deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.
The only difference, admittedly a big one, is that instead of seminal figures like Suu Kyi and Solzhenitsyn, we have youngsters who are essentially unformed, inexperienced, and with little to no actual achievement under their belt.
As a result, they may be infinitely mouldable and manipulable by foreign media and politicians.