In Burma, they’re told they’re illegals who should go back to Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, they’re told they’re Burmese who should go back home. Unfortunately, they’re just caught in the middle. They have been persecuted for decades, and it’s only getting worse.
Chris Lewis, Arakan Project
People feel it very acceptable to say that “We will work on wiping out all the Rohingyas.”
Debbie Stothard, Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
So far, there’s been six days of violence, 29 people killed and an estimated 30.000 people displaced. Boatloads of minority Muslims from Myanmar, fleeing violence against them by Buddhists, adherents to the majority religion in Myanmar. The Buddhists having publicly lynched ten Muslims, in apparent retaliation for the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslims. Now much talk among Buddhists in Myanmar about liquidating Muslims.
They flee in boats, and are turned back. More than 1,500 so far. They are denied citizenship in Myanmar. Myanmar, or Burma, has 65 million people, and 135 listed ethnic groups. The Rohingya Muslims are not on the list. They are denied citizenship, based on ethnic or religious origin. Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi has said nothing to date in opposition to the prejudice against the Rohingyas, nor has she condemned the violence against them.
Bangladesh, yet another great recipient of aid and concern from pluralistic democracies (remember the Concert for Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison?)–democracies that consistently demonstrate a willingness to help genuine refugees–and where the recipient of democratic aid behaves in a completely reprehensible manner. It shouldn’t matter that it is Muslims turning back other Muslims–a wrong is a wrong, irrespective of whether it is one of “our people”–though I find it difficult to comprehend adherents to a particular religion turning back persecuted members of their own religion. Pawns in a larger political drama, where life is devalued on all sides? In this case (or in all cases, involving ethnic or religious rejection and persecution), both Bangladesh and Myanmar behaving reprehensibly.
To me, this is a variation on how minorities get set up for liquidation, by first being denied civil rights, followed by a process of dehumanization, where expulsion or liquidation is a matter of public discourse. This was seen in Rwanda, where the Tutsis were regularly referred to as “cockroaches”, prior to the attempted genocide. It was also seen, perhaps most comparably, in the denial of civil rights to Jews in Germany and throughout Eastern Europe, follwed by mass liquidations, during World War II.
Canada’s attitude towards a similar occurrence, where a boatload of a persecuted minority arrived on its shores? Turn them back, to further prejudice and. ultimately, death. That’s what Canada, the United States and Cuba did, in relation to Jews on the MS St. Louis, in 1939.
One can memorialize a wrong, but never undo it. Hopefully, there will be no need for a memorial to Canadian and global indifference to the plight of the Rohinghya Muslims. Quite a liquidation possible; they number over one million.
Postscript, June 17, 2012: Suu Kyi urges all expatriates with grievances against the government to work to support the ceasefire. Seems to assume that persecuted Muslims have been able to achieve expatriate status. Possibly not reading or hearing the news in relation to Bangladesh.