When is genocide not really genocide? When the victims are small, impoverished brown people no wants or cares about – Burma’s Rohingya.
Their plight has finally commanded some media attention because of the suffering of Rohingya boat people, 7,000 of whom continue to drift in the waters of the Andaman Sea without food, water or shelter from the intense sun. At least 2,500 lucky refugees are in camps in Indonesia.
Mass graves of Rohingya are being discovered in Thailand and Burma (Myanmar). Large numbers of Rohingya are fleeing for their lives from their homeland, Burma, while the world does nothing. Burma is believed to have some 800,000 Rohingya citizens.
This week, the Dalai Lama and other Nobel Peace Prize winners call on Burma and its much ballyhooed ‘democratic leader,’ Aung San Suu Kyi, to halt persecution of the Rohingya. They did nothing.
The Rohyinga’s persecution has been going on for over half a century, totally unobserved by the rest of the world. Burma’s government claims they are descendants of economic immigrants from neighboring Bengal who came as indentured laborers to the British colony of Burma in early the 19th century.
Interestingly, the British Empire created a similar ethnic problem by bringing large numbers of Tamils from southern India to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to work the British tea plantations.
But Bengalis have been on Burma’s Arakan Coast for centuries. What sets Rohyingas apart is their dark skin and Islamic faith. Burma seems determined to expel its Muslims for good, treating them like human garbage. It’s the kind of brutal ethnic cleansing, racism and genocide that we recently saw unleashed against Albanian and Bosnian Muslims and Catholics in Bosnia and Kosovo.
I’ve been watched the steady rise of a weird form of Asian racism among some militant Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka. The first sign was anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka a decade ago led by fiery Buddhist monks.
But wait a minute. I have always been very attracted to Buddhism as a gentle, sensible, human faith. My first book, “War at the Top of the World,” was inspired by my conversations with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I like to meditate in Buddhist temples whenever I’m in Asia.
So from where did all those screaming, hate-promoting Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka and Burma come from? Clearly, from deep smoldering fires that we knew nothing about. The bloody Sri Lankan civil war between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils was largely initiated by militant monks. One also remembers Vietnam’s self-immolating monks.
The same phenomena erupted in Burma, a nation rent by violent regional and ethnic tensions that have raged since 1945. But who initiated a campaign of hate and pogroms against the Arakan Muslims who were quietly, minding their own business and eking out a living? As soon as Burma’s military stepped back from total rule, the anti-Muslim violence went critical.
The triple-sainted (at least in the Western media) Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to hear foreign pleas that she do something. Burma will hold elections in November and she wants to avoid antagonizing Buddhist voters – even when her nation in practicing genocide.
I stood in front of her in Rangoon years ago when she was still a prisoner of the military junta, listening to her platitudes about human rights and democracy. I thought then and now that like all politicians, her words were not to be given too much credit. Maybe those fools on the Nobel Peace Prize committee could revoke her Peace Prize and, while they’re at it, Obama’s.
Thailand wants no Rohyingas; Indonesia says only a few thousand on a temporary basis. Australia, which is not overly fond of non-whites, say no. Bangladesh can’t even feed its own wretched people. So the poor Rohyingas are a persecuted people without a country, adrift on a sea of sorrows.
What of the Muslim world? What of that self-proclaimed “Defender of the Faith. Saudi Arabia?” The Saudis are just buying $109 billion worth of US arms which they can’t use, but they don’t have even a few pennies for their desperate co-religionists in the Andaman Sea. The Holy Koran enjoins Muslims to aid their brethren wherever they are persecuted – this is the true essence of jihadism.
But the Saudis are too busy plotting against Iran, bombing Yemen, and supporting rebels in Iraq and Syria, or getting ready for their summer vacations in Spain and France, to think about fellow Muslims dying of thirst. Pakistan, which could help, has not, other than offering moral support. Neither has India, one of the world’s leading Muslim nations.
In the end, it may be up to the United States to rescue the Rohyinga, just as it rescued Bosnia and Kosovo. That’s fine with me. I don’t want the US to be the world’s policeman; I want it to be the world’s rescuer, its SOS force, its liberator.
We should tell Burma to halt its genocide today, or face isolation and sanctions from the outside world.
Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune the Los Angeles Times, Times of London, the Gulf Times, the Khaleej Times, Nation – Pakistan, Hurriyet, – Turkey, Sun Times Malaysia and other news sites in Asia.