The Peoples of the World Foundation

Education for and about Indigenous Peoples

Op-Ed October, 2018: Appearing, Appealing, Apalling
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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The appearing of this month's photo may be appealing to some but appalling to others. When this Taung-yo woman appeared in front of my camera many years ago in Burma (Myanmar), I intended only to take an appealing photo. But if you find the photo appalling, I would ask you to challenge why you do: is it because you believe women should not smoke?

Whether we admit it — or even realize it — we all have views about how women should behave. When Aung San Suu Kyi appeared at an international conference in the middle of last month, many expected her to behave a certain way: at the beginning of the month two journalists in her country (Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo) had received prison sentences for reporting about the Rohingya crisis there. But, as Tim Rice once wrote in questioning the sincerity of a woman with political aspirations, the actress hadn't learned the lines you'd like to hear. So she simply said that the sentences had "nothing to do with freedom of expression at all." She added that the journalists have "every right to appeal the judgement and to point out why the judgement was wrong."

She is incorrect in both statements. If I know the following, then so does she: the journalists were entrapped by Burmese police who admitted to entrapment during the trial; the Burmese judiciary system is among the most corrupt in the world (I have witnessed corrupt police first-hand in Burma) so her concept of appeal is meaningless.

By appearing at the conference, Suu Kyi hoped to appeal to the world on behalf of her country's judiciary system. Instead, she appalled us.

In the time between the sentencing and Suu Kyi's appalling behavior, Serena Williams appeared at the final of the US Open women's tennis tournament. She attempted to appeal a judgement which was followed by a sentence. Some said her behavior was appalling.

Most sports — particularly governed, professional sports like tennis — have established, codified appeal procedures. But in the case of Williams, the judgement against which she attempted to appeal does not. Unlike in the case of Suu Kyi, there is a valid reason why Williams hadn't learned the lines you'd like to hear: they don't exist.

Tennis governance will change because of Williams' appearing and appealing — whether her behavior was appalling or not. Sadly, the same is not true in Burma. Many commented that Williams fell from grace last month and should now retire. On the contrary, she proved that, unlike Suu Kyi, she is willing to stand up for what she knows is right. Suu Kyi is the one who fell from grace. Both Suu Kyi and Williams will fade from memory eventually. In the meantime there is an actor that can follow the future path of tennis governance instead of the future path of Burmese governance. It is finally time to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi's Nobel Peace Prize.

The Taung-yo people are featured in our documentary, Peoples of the World: Southeat Asia.

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