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A holocaust on the horizon

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
May 6, 2015

There are signs of a new holocaust, one in the 21st century that is happening in Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. If the flood that is fueling this impending holocaust is not arrested now, it will soon materialize into a full-scale slaughter and there will then be no looking back. It concerns the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar who for the most part have been ignored by the rest of the Muslim world.

Researchers from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recently stated that “conditions in Myanmar are ripe for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority and the treatment of Rohingya Muslims could be the prelude to genocide.” The staff from the Washington museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide visited the southeast Asian nation in March and carried out a detailed inspection of the areas to which the Rohingya have been confined. They were there to examine the settings and circumstances of the Rohingya Muslim minority in a primarily Buddhist country and the threats that they were being subjected to. The visit was prompted by disturbing signs of an impending and calculated ethnic cleansing operation.

During their visit, they went to internment camps not unlike those of the Nazis during World War II and witnessed first-hand how the Rohingya have been herded and shepherded into “cordoned-off ghettos, separated from their Buddhist neighbors.”

They concluded that the Rohingya are “the target of rampant hate speech, the denial of citizenship, and restrictions on the freedom of movement. These and a host of other human rights violations have put this population at grave risk for additional mass atrocities and even genocide.”

The team of researchers in a statement said: “We saw first-hand the Rohingya’s physical segregation, which has resulted in a modern form of apartheid, and the devastating impact that official policies of persecution are having on them. When asked what the Myanmar government wants to do with them, one Rohingya advocate replied, ‘They want us all to go away.’” The team left Myanmar with a heavy heart, “deeply concerned that so many preconditions for genocide are already in place. But there is still an opportunity to prevent this devastating outcome.”

Myanmar has been the site of several outbreaks of religious tension in recent years, most notably violence between Muslims and Buddhists in western Rakhine state that left tens of thousands homeless, and the intensity of violence has forced hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya to flee to neighboring countries only to find themselves prisoners in refugee camps. The country’s parliament recently began a debate on two controversial interfaith bills that critics say could escalate into an explosive conflict between religious groups in the country.

The increasing violence with the state’s complicit acquiescence in encouraging Buddhist terrorism against minorities prompted David Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, to state that Myanmar was facing a serious challenge regarding the equality of non-Buddhists in the country.

Ambassador Saperstein during a recent visit to the country said that “religious minorities face obstacles and challenges not imposed on the country’s Buddhist majority. In the area of religious freedom, of religious tensions, of minority religions not having equal rights with the overwhelming Buddhist community, there are serious challenges facing the country.”

He added that “there have sometimes been attacks on minority religious communities and the government has not acted forcefully - or as quickly as it could have done - to try to put an end to them. Where the government has intervened in such cases, as they have done recently since the new government took office, it has really made a difference.”

The US diplomat met with government officials and representatives of religious groups and made clear his country’s intolerance of the conditions imposed on the Rohingya and other minorities. But one senior Christian pastor from the Kachin Baptist Church, said he was not optimistic. “In this country, we could never hope that our Christians and Muslims and other minority groups can spread their own faith to the people,” he said.

For the sake of humanity, the authorities in Myanmar must be brought to their senses even if it requires forceful means to do so. Can we in the future hold our heads high knowing we silently stood by when this most recent of holocausts occurred?

— The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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