March 13th – Stranded in Burma
I was going to write something amusing.
A British civil servant, perhaps, in the pre-war years, hopelessly out of his depth and struggling with the heat, the culture, the natives and an arcane filing system.
Or someone trapped in a restaurant, improbably named ‘Burma’, after it has closed, trying to work their way out.
But I’m not.
Because Burma, or Myanmar, as it is now called, sometimes, is not amusing. It’s not funny. Burma is not a good place.
So I’m going to write about the Rohingya. Because for the ones who can’t escape, the Rohingya are literally stranded in Burma. And they are being slowly and systematically wiped out by a brutal and callous regime. And Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner, darling of the west, is complicit in her silence.
For those of you who don’t know, first of all – you should, and secondly, if the shitstorm of Brexit has blinded you to the fact that there is, in fact, something beyond British shores, or if the shitstorm of Trump has you looking for Mexicans scaling your garden walls, then this is something you should know about. And care about.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in a mainly Buddhist country.
Buddhists. Nice, peaceful, chanting Buddhists. All ‘Om’ and zen. Maybe I’m generalising. But you know the stereotype. And stereotypes work because we like to put people into boxes: it makes them easier to work with, easier to understand. It’s a simple way of seeing a complex world. but we like simple, because simple lets us get on with things without worrying too much about what might actually be going on. So we allow ourselves to be scared by a force-feeding media that tells us that Muslims are terrorists, while leaving us oblivious to the atrocities being dealt to the Muslim Rohingya on a daily basis by a Buddhist country with an abysmal human rights record.
There is nothing amusing about Burma.
The Rohingya mainly live in Rakhine State, where they have lived for generations, descendants of Arb traders who settled hundreds of years ago. And there they have stayed, generally peacefully, until the Burmese government decided they wanted them out.
The Rohingya have been denied citizenship, with the venerable (and feted) Aung Sun Suu Kyi even going as far as to deny their existence. They are not Burmese, she says, so they are not entitled to be in Burma.
Since the 1970s, the Rohingya have been slowly moving out of Burma into neighbouring Bangladesh and beyond, complaining of abuses from the local Burmese police and security forces. This has steadily escalated, and in 2017 the Burmese military undertook a state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing, purportedly a move to drive out militants, but in reality a wave of aggression designed to remove the Rohingya from the land they have, as far as they can remember, always lived on. Villages have been burned to the ground, the fleeing Rohingya cut down in a massacre by Buddhist militias for whom justice is a blank script that they write with their own bullets.
This has led to what the UN have called the world’s fasted growing refugee crisis, as those that can have fled into massive camps across the Bangladeshi border. Those unable to escape are still subject to terror attacks and atrocities as the Burmese government look the other way and pretend that there isn’t a problem. The Rohingya remain, stranded in Burma, and there is nothing amusing about that at all.
Inspired by a prompt from here.