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Despite Nobel Prize, Myanmar prime minister lacks peace


Cartoon by Tamor Khan/The Cougar

Myanmar: A country many of us can hardly claim to remember, much less pinpoint on the map. The persecution of the Rohingya Muslims has transformed this forgotten site into the host of one of the worst humanitarian crises of the past decade.

Nobel laureate and Burmese Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi has been neglecting the ethnic cleansing occurring within her nation.

Kyi has fed the controversy by barely addressing this ongoing “textbook example of genocide,” according to the United Nations.

It has led to 370,000 of the 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh for refuge. Horror after horror is inflicted upon this small minority, yet the Rohingya’s cries for clemency and aid seem to be falling upon the deaf ears of their own representative.

How did a country with such little notoriety come to infamy in what feels like a matter of weeks?

Myanmar, formerly Burma, attained independence in 1948. The country fell to a military coup in 1962 and “The Burmese Road to Socialism” was implemented and quickly failed. The proverbial conflict between anarchy and social order had been set in motion in this small country and the militant leader of the nation deferred to a timeless tradition: scapegoating.

The Rohingya were ideal victims with their different skin color, faith and dialect. They became increasingly alienated in their own country, forming a parallel with the treatment of Jews in Germany only 40 years earlier. They were stripped of their citizenship, established as illegal immigrants and encouraged to return to Bangladesh.

This narrative has grown entrenched within Myanmar’s society, and the majority of Theravada Buddhists have demonized the Rohingya, most notably stating that this minority will be reincarnated as snakes and pests.

This notion of Rohingya threatening the Theravada way of life has led an overwhelming majority to call for their elimination. They poured into Bangladesh en mass, but those unable to escape are left in concentration camps, denied education and marriage, and child-rearing without a license.

Myanmar is systematically cleansing its history books, lands and consciousness of the Rohingya, a people whose only crime is existence.

Obviously, this strife has been ongoing for half a century at this point, so why is it suddenly such a pressing topic to the Western world? Extremists from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and a number of surrounding countries have been entering Myanmar and attempting to radicalize the Rohingya, a people with very little left.

This resulted in an attack on Aug. 25 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. This attack justified the paranoia the Burmese have entrenched within their culture: that the Rohingya are a universal menace to the Theravada Buddhist way of life.

Kyi worked heavily with the human rights movement in Myanmar under a tyrannical government, receiving a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her time as a freedom fighter.

She won’t even address the Rohingya, instead referring to them as the Muslims in her nation. She does so to maintain support of the military, which still retains a quarter of seats in parliament, according to the New York Times.

She has begun a commission headed by U.N. diplomat to investigate the situation, but they’ve received limited access to the country.

Kyi skipped her U.N. meeting on the crisis this month.

The outcry of this persecuted minority is being heard worldwide, it seems. Yet there is little outlet for support as they quickly climb the United Nations’ most persecuted peoples list.

Those who wish to extend resources and basic human decency to the few aid-offering organizations have been blocked by the Burmese. On Sept. 4, the U.N. said it was hindered from offering medicine, food and water to thousands of refugees.  

With each passing day, the concept of Rohingya identity and preservation becomes more an idealistic dream dying in a cruel reality.

Criticisms of the involved parties are not enough.

The Rohingya need more than words. They need solidarity, human dignity, identity and validation that proves they will not be eradicated.

This crisis should not be known for its infamy, but for a global failure to step up and secure basic human rights.

Regardless of race, religion and nationality, those who remain silent to the cries of others will fall on the wrong side of history.

Staff writer Anusheh Siddique is a political science freshman. She can be reached at [email protected].

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