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Why Does the West Ignore the Plight of the Most Persecuted People in the World?

A family stands beside remains of a market, which was set on fire in Rohingya village, outside Maungdaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Hassan Mahmud
RB Opinion
June 5, 2017

Western media continues to ignore a horrible ongoing genocide of the Rohingya Muslim population in the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. While it is indisputable that the Rohingya people have been living in Myanmar for generations, the Myanmar government continues to dispute the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens. The majority of the Rohingya population lives in the Northern part of the Rhakine State in Western Myanmar and has a population in the neighborhood of 1 million to 1.3 million.

People in power sometimes effectively use fear to control and manipulate their populations. The military dictatorship of General Ne Win built such an atmosphere, encouraging Buddhist ultra-nationalism among the public, and a feeling of tribalism, xenophobia, and bigotry encouraged by an institutionalized racism against the Rohingyas. 

In 1982, the Burmese government enacted a “citizenship law” know as the Burmese nationality law that rendered the Rohingya population as illegal immigrants and made them stateless. Denied citizenship, a type of apartheid developed making official policies of segregation and discrimination. The majority of Rohingya population lives in villages that do not have basic schools and even if they achieve elementary education, they are not allowed to get higher education. They require papers when traveling to neighboring villages even if for a simple overnight stay. They are not allowed to formerly participate in the country’s economy, placing the minority in deep poverty. Rohingyas need the permission of the state authorities to get married and usually have to pay a large fee, which they often can not afford. Malnourishment among the children also continues to this day.

A pro-democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi rose to prominence in 1988 as she became General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD won 81% of the parliamentary seats in a 1990 election which the military nullified, and then placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrests for 15 years. There was a huge international outcry and Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. In 2010, President Obama lifted all economic sanctions when the Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrested was lifted, and democratic reforms were allowed. While the military still retains considerable amount of power, Aung San Suu Kyi became State Counselor a role similar to that of Prime Minister. 

Unfortunately, like many Nobel Peace Prize winners, it is quite questionable if the recipient really deserved the award. Aung San Suu Kyi has led pro-democracy reforms for the majority Buddhist population, but kept the Rohingya population stateless and unable to participate in the democracy. Sectarian violence by the Buddhist population on the Rohingya population amplified in 2012 with the Rakhine State riots and has been ongoing ever since. 

Since the United States lifted economic sanctions meant to encourage democratic reforms, the situation for the Rohingya population has become much worse, with the United Nations describing the Rohingya as the most persecuted peoples in the world. 100s of thousands have fled the violence an ended up in refugee camps in such countries as Bangladesh. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a study this past February in which detailed interviews were conducted with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The atrocities committed by the Myanmar armed forces, the Border Guard Police Force of Myanmar, non-border police forces, and non-Rohingya villagers joining the security forces in civilian clothing paint a horrific picture of ethnic cleansing.

Over half the women interviewed by the United Nation’s team were raped, gang-raped, or sexually assaulted which those that were pregnant or as young as 8 years old. Whole villages were burned down and if a home had elderly that were unable to leave the home, they ended up being burnt alive. Young children were stabbed to death, shot, or thrown into a fire. Helicopters dropped grenades at random at Rohingya villagers. Rohingya villagers were shot at, stabbed or beaten to death. Many Rohingya end up dying try to leave the country, or end up in captured and used for forced labor. Women and young girls have been captured and sex-trafficked to places like Thailand. Over 120,000 to 160,000 that had to evacuate burnt down villages live in internment camps under terrible conditions and are poorly fed.

Sadly this horrific genocide on the Rohingya people is very popular among the Burmese population. The military has staged the notion that armed Rohingya insurgencies are attempting to rise-up and take over the nation, and that area clearance operations are keeping them safe. This has allowed the military to maintain a strong foot-hold on the government, and the primary reason why the situation has gotten much worse.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been completely unsympathetic to the treatment of the Rohingyas. When asked, she acts either aloof or makes statements about atrocities committed by both sides when there is overwhelming evidence that the Rohingyas are the victims. When asked about the release of Rohingyas in internment camps, she states “We have no place for them to go,” as if it is simply impossible for them to integrate with the population or go back to their villages. Aung San Suu Kyi has gone so far as to refuse to let United Nation’s observers into the North Rhakine state region. One can cynically state, Aung San Suu Kyi has joined the ranks of other Nobel Peace prize winners including war criminal Henry Kissinger and President Barrack Obama who expanded the theater of war for US military operations to 7 countries while he was in office. 

The United States government should bring back economic sanctions to force Myanmar to stop this ongoing genocide. However, the US government prefers to push the fiction that it aided a country into a peaceful transition from a dictatorship to a democracy in a model that should be emulated worldwide. At the opening of her Benghazi hearing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted about steering Burma into a democracy, and also discussed it at some length in her book “Hard Choices.” The Obama administration apparently felt the need to push the narrative as a global steward leading in democratic reforms to position the United States as a world leader. This fiction can be debunked by just looking at its leading ally, Saudi Arabia, which is a highly authoritarian and oppressive dictatorship. Trade between the United States and Myanmar has quadrupled since 2012 with the US exporting soybean, aircraft, machinery, optical and medical equipment. Myanmar’s key exports globally include petroleum products, gemstones, pearls, and tin ores. 

Who sells the weapons to the Myanmar military that are used against the Rohingya? Those that have been making money on arm sales to Myanmar include Russia, China, North Korea, Israel, Ukraine, and India. At least the United States is not making a buck on the slaughter of these people 

So, why does the Western medium, for the most part, ignore the plight of the Rohingyas? Especially noticeable with the United States media, and partly true with other Western media outlets, whenever there is a terrorist attack committed by a radical Islamic group, the broadcast media will dwell on the incident for hours. Sadly, crimes do occur all the time, but if even if the incident is a radical Muslim gone amok with a kitchen knife or his automobile, these incidents have become ratings darlings for media outlets. If fulfills the narrative that Isis or Al Qaeda are the major existential threats to all of Western civilization. Without a doubt, there are horrible terrorist attacks that do occur, but these incidents are given far more attention than any other crimes or threats are equally important if not more so. It is a narrative that sells, and also convinces the Western populations for the need of constant and ongoing military operations throughout the Middle East. A notion that we are in a new age of war based on a “Clash of Civilizations” as pushed by political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1992 for the right wing think tank, The American Enterprise Institute. Samuel Huntington’s notion is false as the largest Muslim population in the world is in Indonesia which is completely unconnected with the Middle East and related terrorists organizations that originated from there. However, this narrative is very successful, and has created large scale Islamophobia. The notion of a violently oppressed Muslim minority runs completely counter to the narrative favored by the media.

Not to mention, exposure of the ongoing genocide of a minority of the population in Myanmar, also exposes the United States as a leader in peaceful transitions to a democracy as a sham. 

Pressure must be brought on the United States to enact economic sanctions on Myanmar. The United Nations needs to pressure the Myanmar government further on ending this human rights nightmare. The government of Myanmar also must be forced to allow the safe entrance and operation of organizations that can provide nutritional, economic, and medical aid to the Rohingya population. This can be done if activist bring about further awareness of the plight of the Rohingyas among the populations of the wealthier Western nations, and especially in the United States. An organization known as Burma Task Force USA has planned rallies throughout the United States to enhance awareness which are to take place on August 19, which is to be known as World Rohingya Day. These events are listed on their Web site,, and participation by all is urged.


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