If we don’t act, history will ask us what we did to stop the genocide, writes Shelina Janmohamed
Why does the world do nothing for the Rohingya?
The massacre of the Rohingya people of Myanmar is the world’s first fully HD, livestreamed extermination. Our screens, emails and WhatsApp chats are filled with footage of Myanmar’s security forces killing children, women being raped, people being brutally murdered and bodies being disposed of.
The horror comes with subtitles and talking heads, who are issuing condemnations and bare-faced denials. And yet we have one leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, refusing entry to humanitarian aid and to UN inspectors. Her team conveniently characterises the victims as terrorists. She has previously rejected the Rohingya as being from Myanmar, shamelessly claiming they are foreigners and unmoved by their massacre.
Everyone is calling for a halt to the stomach-churning killings, but there is no end, only persecution, violence and death. We see it with our own eyes, live. What else is needed for the world to take action?
This genocide has not come from nowhere. The Rohingya had their citizenship revoked in 1982, and over the last five years, their persecution in Myanmar has intensified. Read the details. Your stomach will turn at the horror. When trying to flee, they are turned back at the Bangladeshi border and are sent straight back into army gunfire. Their refugee boats to neighbouring countries are denied entry to harbours, leaving refugees to die at sea.
But who will do anything?
Myanmar is a complicated geopolitical mess. In the past, it was rightly seen as a pariah state, oppressing all of its people in equal measure. We thought Ms Suu Kyi was enduring house arrest for all of her people. How wrong we were. Now that she and Myanmar are being rewarded with economic investment, it is getting busy oppressing its inconvenient minority.
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Rakhine State, the home of the Rohingya Muslims, is also a coastal state, providing access to the Bay of Bengal and across to India. Others point out that the land from which the Rohingya are being displaced is used for lucrative factories. It’s worth checking our clothes labels to see which big companies are reaping profits from the massacre of a whole ethnic group or investing in a country happy to engage in genocide.
As human beings and humanitarians, our hearts are wrenched. From the Pope to Malala Yousafzai to Kofi Annan, the statements have been clear, unequivocal and urgent. A migrant rescue ship is relocating itself from Malta to Myanmar to offer safety to the Rohingya. But states and state institutions are doing little beyond talk. Myanmar is among the newest virgin economic opportunities, and countries vie for entry, contracts and geographic affiliation.
This is the likely reason China is not stepping in. But why would it intercede to save a (Muslim) minority when it is already brutally suppressing so many of its own?
The same reasoning applies to other neighbouring countries that will be weighing up the economic and political pros and cons of intervening. In the meantime, their own policies of dehumanising the Rohingya continue. India recently upheld a court ruling to deport its existing Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh has been blocking its border and has done so for many years, returning innocents to certain death.
For western countries, one wonders if the love affair with "the Lady" will continue despite her tacit support for her own country's people being exterminated. And there is no other phrase than tacit support. Her words in dehumanising the Rohingya. Denying them citizenship and refusing to let aid and inspectors into the country are tantamount to a green light for genocide. Some blinkers are falling from western eyes, as UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson suggested.
But the international machinery is remarkably still. Instead, all we hear are the death cries of the Rohingya.
In the Muslim world, which is beset by its own tensions, this is one issue on which there must be unity. It’s not that it is about Muslim persecution, but it is an area in which the Muslim world can take a lead. It can show leadership, flex its economic muscle and use its geographic proximity for a good cause.
If we don’t act immediately, future generations will ask us what we did to stop the genocide. And all we will be able to say is that all we did was watch it live on television.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World
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