Forget Aung San Suu Kyi. This is the Real Heroine of the Rohingya Crisis

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

In my Wall Street Journal column this week, I contrast the leaders of two neighboring countries in the news lately — Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina.

Though Ms. Suu Kyi is far better known in the West than Ms. Hasina, the two leaders’ lives bear striking similarities. Both were born in the turbulent 1940s, during the first flush of independence for many postcolonial Asian nations.

Their fathers — Gen. Aung San and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — are regarded as the founding fathers of their nations. Political rivals assassinated both of them.

An additional piece of trivia: Both leaders spent a part of their lives in Delhi, Suu Kyi as a student in the 1960s, and Hasina in exile after the 1975 murder of her father and much of his family.

Of the two, the soft-spoken Suu Kyi has a much larger following in the West. Since she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign to restore democracy to her country, Suu Kyi has symbolized quiet determination against great odds. Her fluent English and cosmopolitan image have not hurt.

By contrast, Hasina, despite being born into a prominent family herself, has never been part of her country’s Anglophone elite. After interviewing her last week in New York, I asked her to sign a copy of her father’s unfinished memoir for me. She wrote her name in elegantly lettered Bengali.

GettyImages-130232357 Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh's prime minister, at the Chancellory on October 25, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall/Getty

But though “the lady of Dhaka” may not translate as readily for Western consumption as “the lady of Yangon,” the Rohingya crisis is undoubtedly Hasina’s moment.

By accepting a large number of refugees in her poor and densely populated land, Hasina has shown greater compassion than many leaders from larger and richer countries. As Hasina said to me, “Bangladesh is not a rich country, but we have a big heart.”

Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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