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Trump, Myanmar’s 969 Movement and Islamophobia

A Reluctant Royal

By Gretchen Shelby
December 2, 2015

“They’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”

“They would like to occupy our country, but I won’t let them.”

“If I win, they’re going back.”

“President Barack Obama has been tainted by black Muslim blood.”

What do the above remarks have in common? Xenophobia, Islamophobia and the questioning of President Obama’s religious affiliation are certainly obvious. One might even assume that the same person said them.

The above quotes could easily be mistaken for presidential candidate Donald Trump and his outlandish, xenophobic attitudes. Of the four quotes: one statement was made by Trump alone, another is a shared sentiment, and two are actually quotes taken from the leader of Myanmar’s ‘969 Movement,’ Ashin Wirathu, who has also been called the ‘Buddhist Osama bin Laden.’

There exists a fine line between what is said and what is acted upon, and while each man is afforded freedom of speech, the plight facing Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya people is inexcusable and the actions of Wirathu should not be taken lightly.

Perhaps a symptom of the post-9/11 era, the discrimination and violence against Muslims across the globe has gone widely unaddressed by the international community.

From Palestine to Syria to Myanmar, these human beings are faced with the prospect of being sold into modern-day slavery, living in poverty as a refugee or dying at home.

Following an outburst of violent riots between June and October 2012, the Rakhine State of western Myanmar experienced significant increases in ethnic tensions between the Muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist Rakhine. According to Genocide Watch, the resulting destruction of communities and villages resulted in the internal displacement of over 140,000 and 200 deaths.

Over the past three years, news of this type of violence has become commonplace. Both Rohingya and Rakhine have been placed into internally displaced people (IDP) camps, but there are significant differences between the quality of life experienced in each.

Rakhine are allowed access to basic education and health care while enjoying both freedom of religion and freedom of movement throughout the territory. In contrast, Rohingya are frequently denied these most basic rights on the basis that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Despite linguistic evidence dating back to 1799 by British-colonial scientist Francis Hamilton-Buchanan, and more recent anthropological evidence from Australian National University, the Burmese government chooses to deny the Rohingya recognition as an ethnic minority of the state. As a result, they have been barred from obtaining citizenship of any kind and are rendered stateless.

With no jobs and no money, these refugees are limited to those states nearest them. Like the Syrians to Europe, many are choosing to flee Myanmar via dangerous human trafficking routes through the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

Following WWII, the U.N. created the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, effectively defining the term ‘refugee’ and the rights of those deemed stateless. There are only two signatories in this part of the world: Cambodia and China.

Non-refoulement is a basic tenet of the 1967 Protocol, but those states that have not adopted the treaty are not obligated to recognize this. Throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, Bangladesh forced thousands of Rohingya to return to Myanmar. As such, refugees infrequently attempt to travel there, for fear that their efforts will be proven futile.

Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are some of the most popular destinations for refugees. Up until May 2015, they were known to drag boats of malnourished and sick refugees back to sea to prevent them from entering their respective territories.

Succumbing to international pressures, these states have since opted to provide one year of asylum to Rohingya refugees. At the end of that year, they must be resettled elsewhere. The United States and Gambia have pledged to assist in this process.

Considering this information and that the United States is a signatory of the 1967 Protocol, it is both appalling and laughable that conservatives here at home have been threatening to reject, or worse, return refugees to Syria.

This isn’t a ‘Muslim problem,’ and it won’t resolve itself. As Americans and, more importantly, as global citizens, we should strive to set an example by providing refugees from across the globe with aid and asylum, while also encouraging those countries who have yet to sign the 1967 Protocol to do so.

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