Burma monk Saydaw Wirathu says to BBC that the “kalar“ (a derogatory term for Muslims) must be plucked out of society like a bad seed, regardless that they are part of the same Myanmar ethnic fabric. Now, thousands have been killed and/or forced to flee age-old homes. In one central town of Myanmar a whole city section was burnt down. In just one incident, 20 young Muslim children were killed and dismembered, (as reported by Buddhist town residents/witnesses). In Burma’s major cities Muslim businesses are boycotted at the urging of Wirathu and associates’ orchestrated campaign. In a form of reverse “Yellow Star of David” campaign reminiscent of the Nazi pogrom against Jews, Buddhist owned businesses are marked with a form of label denied to those owned/managed by Muslims to facilitate the boycott and efforts to force out the Muslims. Myanmar government officials, police and ample military have largely stood back as the riots and killings escalated. To the contrary, there are credible reports of complicity and that the campaign is effectively sponsored by the dictatorial junta to rationalize its hold upon absolute power along ethnic labels and fears of the “other.” It does remind a bit of the start of the Holocaust and more recently the ethnic cleansing/genocide campaigns in the former Yugoslavia.
Political Ambition Trumping Principled Response?
Some Buddhist Burmese have sought to curb the pogroms. Others have spoken out and provided evidence of the brutal and shameful acts of their coreligionists. Aung San Suu Kyi has been notable by her silence, especially shrilling in view of recognition afforded her: the Nobel Peace Prize, audience before the US Congress, hosted by the White House and guest of Bono, (as I have been). The campaign to disenfranchise, disown and finally cleanse and/or kill the Rohingya has been now ongoing for several decades. Persecution of Karen and Kachin minorities, particularly Christians, appears to have only mutated into a more populist effort by Burma to rid itself of bad seeds. The military junta has cleverly cloaked itself in Buddhist nationalism. Rather than challenge, is Aung San Suu Kyi adopting a similar strategy in pursuit of personal political ambitions as party leader, Parliament member and future candidate?
Silence of Convenience?
Hanna Hindstrom of the Democratic Voice of Burma has specifically singled out Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) as authority who must speak out – silence may be interpreted as acquiescence especially when ASSK has effectively been imposed as authority on all democratic and progressive in Myanmar. Several political dissidents who were imprisoned in Myanmar’s brutal prisons out of sight and earshot have courageously now risen to speak on behalf of those who do not have a voice, including the targeted Muslims and other minorities. On the other hand, as noted by the New York Times, ASSK has opted to attend junta-sponsored military parades even as Burmese women demonstrated against the expropriation and poisoning of their land by a Chinese mining conglomerate. Has ASSK become part of the establishment in Myanmar that still needs much change to become a more open and progressive state?
Another Genocide(s) under UN Watch?
General Vijay Nambiar, UN Special Envoy for Myanmar, (the Indian diplomat/former UN military commander of UNPROFOR during the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia & Herzegovina and ex-Yugoslavia) has been largely cautious in his dealings with Myanmar junta, President Thein Sein, and demands for needed political/human rights evolution. However, there is ever greater concern even in his words regarding the military campaigns directed at Kachin, to the unabated ethnic cleansing directed at the Rohingya, and Burma’s Muslims. This is not a Muslim issue, although those targeting them in Burma probably view the current global environment as leaving them particularly vulnerable to demonization and dehumanization within Myanmar’s borders and beyond. Adherents to each of the world’s major religions have been both victims and victimizers depending on time and place. Rather, this is a fundamental human rights issue and necessary challenge to those who are connected by their exploitation of differences and labeling of “the other” as a tool and/or weapon. April is “Genocide Awareness Month” and we must be cognizant especially to such occurring now with the opportunity to save lives as well as judge and learn lessons.
Heroes for Oppressed & Truth Become the Patriots for own Nation:
Natasha Kandic and Sonja Biserko are two Serbian women who seek to inform their fellow citizens, hold their government accountable, and ultimately have provided key evidence with respect to the human rights abuses/genocide committed under the Milosevic regime. Bosnians and Herzegovinians, but also the world, owe a debt of gratitude to these courageous women. Serbia will also move toward a more open, tolerant and democratic country as accountability drives change. ASSK could learn from Natasha and Sonja, but then it is the former that appears to be secure in the personal recognition accorded her while the abuses and despotism continue in her country.
Blessing/Obligation of Recognition & Platform Accorded:
Recognition is a blessing but also an obligation towards those marginalized, oppressed, and ultimately targeted/victimized. Voices are now literally and figuratively being silenced by killings on one hand and a desire to only see the best in a new Myanmar, (which in fact may be mutating into a new fascist approach towards its minorities and poor.) When the UN was my platform to speak on behalf of Bosnia & Herzegovina and its victimized citizens, I was blessed with being able to garner media and diplomatic attention while many were sentenced to suffer injustice and personal loss in silence. I understood that their suffering and drowned out voices amplified my own voice, but only if I opted to speak, and with factual, ethical clarity. Obligation though did not end with those who I directly represented. Rather, it extended to victims and those whose voice deserved being heard well beyond the time and space of our own identity. Privilege of recognition and voice accorded is not merely personal — it is a blessing and obligation. Those political prisoners who suffered in anonymity in Myanmar’s gulags and the religious and/or ethnic minorities who now appear the focus of a new despotism have not chosen their spokesperson. The fortune of recognition accorded ASSK though has delivered to her the obligation and blessing to be unambiguous even if not perhaps compatible with political ambition.