What even Muppets knowYOO JEE-HYE
The author is head of the diplomacy and security teamat the JoongAng Ilbo.
A piece of news stood out amid the gloom on the global front from the worldwide resurgence of Covid-19. The pioneering American children’s show “Sesame Street” has introduced twin Rohingya Muppets — going by the names Noor and Aziz Yasmin — to educate Rohinya refugee children and help them overcome trauma in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, dubbed the world’s most persecuted minority, fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017 to avoid military crackdowns and massacres. The Sesame Street characters, who talk and act like Rohingya children, will join regular characters like Elmo in a series of educational videos to teach math, science, health and safety to about 500,000 children living in the refugee camp.
Such recognition of the plight of the Rohingya sends a poignant message. Antony Blinken — U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, is passionate on refugee issues as an adopted son of Holocaust survivors — retweeted an article about them and wrote that Muppet characters helped teach him the real values of universal humanity.
We live with refugees from North Korea. South Korea’s law banning the sending of balloons with anti-North Korea leaflets and other propaganda materials across the border has become a point of contention between Seoul and Washington. The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and government were not only neglectful about our right to freedom of expression, but also brutally insensitive toward the defectors among us.
“Defectors have caused the issue of leaflets and made the inter-Korean propaganda problem spill over into the civilian realm,” a DP lawmaker argued in a Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee meeting of the National Assembly on Dec. 1. On the following day, Rep. Song Young-gil, chair of the committee, argued the country fully respected freedom of expression as defectors who criticize the president in public protests had not been arrested. Their comments suggest little regard for North Koreans who fled dictatorship.
The Unification Ministry refused to comply with the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights’s recommendation to rethink the ban by claiming that the government is merely restricting “minority expression” for the safety of the majority. That shows no respect for human rights. The government and lawmakers should learn some basic lessons about humanity from the Muppets.