As the violence against the Rohingyas played out, the newly "liberated" Internet lit up with racist invective. Using a pejorative for the darker-skinned Muslims, one commenter declared, "We should kill all the Kalars [a derogatory word meaning "black"] in Burma or banish them, otherwise Buddhism will cease to exist." Meanwhile, monks in Rakhine state distributed pamphlets urging Buddhists not to associate with Rohingyas. Some Buddhist religious groups were also reported to have interfered with the delivery of humanitarian aid to the areas affected by the recent violence. An expat English teacher in Rangoon said in an email that among most Buddhists, even in the educated classes, "There is fairly uniform xenophobia on the [Rohingya] issue and it won't change soon."
This seems to be true of Burma's pro-democracy community as well, including leading figures in Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD). Ko Ko Gyi, who was imprisoned for his role in the 1988 student uprising and now functions as a mentor to younger democracy activists through his leadership in the 88 Generation Students group, described the Rohingya as "terrorists" who infringed on the country's sovereignty. Like other pro-democracy figures, Ko Ko Gyi denied that the Rohingya should be counted among the nation's 135 recognized "national groups" and said that "the root cause of the violence comes from across the border," meaning Bangladesh. NLD spokesman Nyan Win simply said: "The Rohingya are not our citizens."
Suu Kyi has reacted like a deer caught in the headlights when confronted with the Rohingya issue. While in Europe in June to receive her belated Nobel Peace Prize, she was asked if the Rohingya should be treated as citizens. "I do not know," she answered, then launched into an equivocating, convoluted statement about citizenship laws and the need for border vigilance, implying that she shared the view that the Rohingya issue was at bottom a problem of illegal immigration. At no point did she or the NLD denounce either the attacks or the racist vitriol that followed them, or express sympathy for the victims.
The pinched response left many Burma watchers disappointed. Journalist Francis Wade wondered whether Western observers have "over-romanticized" the struggle between the NLD and the junta, and if the pro-democracy movement ever had the "wholesale commitment to the principle of tolerance" many presumed.
Maung Zarni, a Burmese research fellow at the London School of Economics, said that Suu Kyi's reticence was likely a matter of political pragmatism. "Politically, Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on this," he told the Associated Press. "She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She's a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote."