Sunday, October 15, 2017

35.6 - We Are Not Alone: Burma

We Are Not Alone: Burma

I have been meaning for some time to take a more internationalist view here. Too often we, not just me but all the political shows and podcasts and blogs and whatnot, tend to focus almost exclusively on domestic issues and address the rest of the world only when and only in terms of how events there affect us. We act like we are alone on the earth.

But we're not and so I've decided on a new weekly feature, called, appropriately enough, We Are Not Alone. The first thing back from break each week, we are going to spend at least a couple of minutes addressing some event or events beyond our borders even, perhaps especially, if they don't affect us.

This week, it's Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Rakhine province in southwest Burma has been the site of ethnic cleansing directed at the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim people. The UN human rights office has blamed the Myanmar military for brutally driving well over a half million Rohingya from northern Rakhine state into Bangladesh in the past several weeks, torching homes, crops, and villages to prevent those fleeing from returning.

There are survivor accounts of mass killing and rape as part of that ethnic cleansing.

Rohingya are not classified as an indigenous minority in Myanmar and so are denied citizenship under a law that links nationality to ethnicity. That is, they are not just not citizens, they are specifically barred from becoming citizens.

This is part of what to means to be stateless: There is no place where they can say "we are part of this nation." By comparison, the Kurds, for example, don't have a Kurdistan, but they are not stateless: The Kurds in Iraq may want independence, they do want independence, but even so they are citizens of Iraq. The same is true in Iran and Turkey. In Turkey, the Kurds may be accused of being terrorists, but they still are a recognized group in Turkey.

Not so the Rohingya. Despite having lived in Rakhine province for generations, they are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They face restrictions and discrimination and are derided by much of the wider, largely Buddhist population of Burma, which has experienced a surge in Buddhist nationalism recently.

The Myanmar army's onslaught in Rakhine was triggered by a small-scale attack on clearly military targets in August by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which is demanding full citizenship rights and recognition of Rohingyas as an indigenous community. Even before the government offensive, the small, lightly armed ARSA was only capable of hit-and-run raids - which is why it would be a more accurate description to say the August raid "was used to justify" rather than "triggered" the army's brutal response.

By the way, a quick sidebar to explain the Burma-Myanmar thing. The formal name of the country is Myanmar, a name that was imposed by the ruling military junta in 1989. Burma is the historical name and the one used by the common people. You'll find both names used pretty interchangeably except in formal legal settings and, usually, in reference to the military.

Anyway, in what was billed as the first part of a major push for improved relations among followers of different faiths in Burma, mass interfaith rallies were held in several places on October 10, attended by Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian leaders calling for peace and understanding.

Which sounds good: pleas for amity and reconciliation including in Rakhine. Except for one thing: These rallies were organized by the National League for Democracy, which is the ruling political party in the country. These were government-sponsored, government-organized rallies intended to push back against the international condemnation of the government by a show of gushing, gooey appeals to "unity" and in some cases directly defending the government and attacking its critics as lacking "understanding."

They existed, that is, to promote a message equivalent to an event in the US responding to issues of racism by solemnly intoning the greeting-card sentimentality of "All lives matter." The insistence - there as here - is that the one thing you can't do is hold anyone responsible.

It's not good enough. The government - and particularly the army that despite the outward frame of democracy, still is effectively in charge - is responsible. And should be held accountable.

There is some talk, vague, but talk, along those lines: The European Union and the United States are supposedly considering targeted sanctions aimed specifically at top generals of the Myanmar military, sanctions that were not even on the table a month ago. There is also some talk of increased humanitarian aid to Rakhine province.

Which unfortunately will be hard to do because the government will not allow international observers or aid workers into the area. Which very likely in a good indication of what those observers and workers would find, including seeing who is to blame.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');