Comment from “Burma roundtable” to following article http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/6933
June 15, 2012 - 1:39 pm
We marvel slightly at the propensity to equivocate between Rakhine and Rohingya responsibility for this “burning.” The simple truth of the matter is that we’ve collected hundreds of instances of hideous hate speech directed against the Rohingya by extremist elements in Rahkine and elsewhere in Burmese society. Virtually all of these were prior to this “burning” beginning, in addition to the countless examples elsewhere. In the inverse case, virtually all of the negative speech directed from the Rohingya towards the Rakhines have begun after this incident.
Rakhine-Rohingya speech tends towards comments like “dog” and “scum” and “terrorist” and the like, while Rohingya-Rakhine speech tends towards “racist” and “extremist” and “fake Buddhist.” The former terms are purely negative hate speech. There is no call to use them and they are all needlessly inflammatory (the accusation of “terrorist” is particularly so since it is applied to invoke the spectre of al-Qaeda while virtually all credible scholars know that there is greater likely presence of these influences in Rangoon than Arakan) with no bearing to reality. The latter set of terms is fairly descriptive and focuses on behaviors rather than identity (and notably implies that “real” Buddhism is connected to peace even though the anti-Rohingya crowd seems hellbent on suggesting that “real” Islam is connected to hate/violence).
It is not acceptable to cite people that are “doctors” of academia when their research isn’t taken seriously by any credible or respected peers. It’s disappointing that the NLD and DASSK herself hasn’t taken a stronger line to affirm, perhaps via Buddhism itself, that there needs to be tolerance and existence or to flatly decry the Rakhine-grounded swell of hatred that racks Burma. It’s disappointing that there are still major advocacy organizations internationally who have failed to speak out and make an unequivocal statement that the time for hate speech directed towards anyone has passed and to acknowledge the history has been tilted against the Rohingya themselves by elements in Arakan.
There are a number of ethnic peoples with unknown origins and many others have origin stories that involve relatively recent migrations. Even the Bamar themselves allegedly came from Yunnan province (as did Tai peoples, the Kachin, and many others). Does this make them outsiders? Should everyone who can’t trace a bloodline to Bagan leave or register as a “resident alien”? Do Anglo-Burmese or Indo-Burmese have to leave? Are those refugees born outside of the country not allowed to become citizens? Do other ethnicities who transcend international borders (Naga, Chin, Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Karen, Mon, etc) find themselves suspect? Do migrant workers of even Bamar descent find themselves suspect?
The simple fact of the matter is that there are a great deal of places/cultures/nations that have had to grapple with these issues. The South in the United States, the entire nation of Germany, South Africa under the Apartheid regime, have all confronted their grim and complicit pasts and moved on to a brighter future. Importantly, it unquestionably involved those responsible to take responsibility and to acknowledge that they had been the prime actors in creating atmospheres of violence. To suggest that there is comparable agency here is like citing examples of criminality committed by American blacks, German Jews, or South African Indians: it misses the trend.
Violence of this sort is an unacceptable way to solve these problems. But to pretend that there is some sort of equivalent responsibility that rests on all shoulders is beyond delusional and a betrayal of the journalistic standard that once made “Irrawaddy” a great magazine and could again. But make no mistake and step up to the plate. Join the history of those media who have had the courage to swim against the populist tide to tell the truth:
1. This has largely been a war of words and hateful emotions directed against a people who make up less than 25% of a marginal state in an incredibly poor region.
2. The “multicultural” organizations who have so valiantly (and properly) defended the crises affecting Burma’s peoples along the Thai and Chinese borders are generally absent in selectively publicizing these things and almost invisible when it comes to the Rohingya and to do so is clearly related to race/religion.
3. It is hate speech when formerly respected leaders like Ko Ko Gyi and Moe Thee Zun speak negatively about a group more marginalized than they have ever been. It is a betrayal of a movement that has brought them to safety and international awareness. They are the Winnie Mandelas of the democracy dream of a multicultural federal union.
4. Making politically difficult statements is what gives politicians real value in the world. If any party in any country eschews its responsibility to adhere to principles of Human Rights, they are doomed to walk a low path indeed.
5. There is NO question that there needs to be a complete cessation of violence on all sides. But there’s a much larger question to be answered here: How can Burma include all of its peoples under principles of equality and mutuality? If this question isn’t answered, if this answer isn’t deployed? Burma is doomed more inevitably to failure than the Generals could have ever hoped. That would be tragic.
In closing, we note that we are two interns who were born in America to Americans who, in turn, were born to parents who were Bamar Buddhist and who have, in turn, bloodline connections to Arakan state and Rakhine blood relatives. Who are we? We do not read nor write Burmese very well (yet) and English is definitely our first language with Burmese a second. Are we Burmese? We feel it so in our very deepest thoughts and feelings as much as we are also indisputably American. And we would return to help build “our” country as soon as it can accept all of its peoples as heartily and happily as we feel accepted in America with our friends who are Muslim and Christian and Jewish and Hindu and Native American and Buddhist and people of all colors and gay and straight and young and old. We are sure that we are “real Burmese.” We’re not so sure about anyone from any group who uses hate speech. They’re not real Americans and they’re not real Burmese. We don’t need a regime to tell us who is and who is not “real.” We follow the words of our religion and our families and our hearts and our critical minds.
*We also note that this is OUR opinion and not that of the Roundtable or its convenors or advisory board and that we choose to risk our internship status to make this statement anyway. Thank you for your time.*