By (Guest Contributor) Pink Panther

A refugee crisis is unfolding in Myanmar (or Burma). The Rohingya Muslims, who numbered about two million people, have been forced to flee into neighbouring countries. Almost one million of them have ended up in Bangladesh as refugees living in utter squalor. This is because the Bangladesh government and other nation-states have left them to fend for themselves.

The reasons for fleeing are Buddhist religious extremism against Muslims and a military crackdown. According to an UN international tribunal the situation facing the Rohingya is akin to genocide with torture, mass killings, levelling of villages, mass incarceration and other acts. This has been reported by the BBC since August, but other news outlets have largely ignored or downplayed the events in Myanmar until very recently.

Despite this persecution, the Western elites’ Myanmar human rights poster child Aung San Suu Kyi has been noteworthy for her silence. On September 26th, the Myanmar government went so far as to say that no ethnic cleansing or genocide was happening, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Given that she is in a position equivalent to Prime Minister, human rights groups have called upon Aung San Suu Kyi to denounce the violence against the Rohingya community. She has not only refused to condemn the persecution but resorted to the Trumpian tactic of condemning all sides for the violence. In reality nearly all the carnage has been the result of Buddhist extremists and the Myanmar military. What violence that has been by the Rohingya, especially since late August 2017, has been in response to the aggression they have experienced.

The Bangladeshi authorities have started to turn the Rohingya away with brute force for the simple reason they can’t cope with them. Bangladesh is one of world’s poorest states so it shouldn’t come as a surprise they are not in a position to accept so many refugees. But they still continue to come and, there’s little in the way of help being offered except for woefully inadequate assistance from poorly funded Muslim aid groups.

The elites in the West, many of whom were so vocal in their condemnation of the Myanmar military rulers when they crushed pro-democracy groups in the 1980s and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, have been very quiet. Perhaps if the Rohingya were Buddhists like the Tibetans or Christian they may have paid more attention.

Like the Rwandan genocide of 1994 the powers-that-be have looked on and said little about the mass attacks on the Rohingya people. Like Rwanda, there were many warning signs of what was going to unfold, especially with the emergence of radical Buddhist leaders urging their followers to run the Muslims out of the country and to kill them. And, like the Rwandan genocide, it’s the countries that are least able to help them who have been stuck with the burden of housing, clothing and feeding these people.

Countries light up iconic landmarks with the colours of countries when a handful of people are killed by Islamic extremists but when Muslims are the victims, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar and non-Sunni Muslims by Islamic State (and the Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s at the hands of Bosnian Serbs), there is mostly silence. When bomb blasts kill hundreds of Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq landmarks don’t get lit up.

The indifference towards the plight of the Rohingya Muslims is a reflection of the general unresponsiveness – if not hostility – routinely displayed by the Western rulers when the victims of genocide or persecution belong to a group that is often maligned as backward and supportive of terrorism. This willfull blindness is one of the most powerful recruitment tools used by groups like Islamic State to gain supporters. They exploit this to highlight how little the elites care about the plight of Muslims when they are the victims of persecution, terrorism or genocide. One only has to look at the decades of callous inaction and apathy displayed towards, and vilification of, Palestinians since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 to see how little Muslim lives are valued for the most part. One can also point to the unconcern towards Muslim lives in the Bosnian civil war (1992-1995), the Albanian Kosovo community for much of the 1990s and in the on-going conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. So ISIS aren’t wrong about the problem, though their recipe for dealing with it is one of ultra-authoritarian thuggery, so hardly different to what the Rohingya have already suffered at other hands.

The Rohingya Muslims are just the latest group to be persecuted by the Myanmar regime. Their history of attacking various ethnic groups is a long one yet there has been very little publicity about these brutal persecutions. Even when there has been publicity and international condemnation, virtually nothing is done. To a large extent the leadership of countries that could do something, such as in India, China and the United States, choose to do nothing because of geopolitical and economic considerations. It should also be clear that asking their friendly lieutenants like Aung San Suu Kyi to do something isn’t going to work either. So on the face of it, things look bleak. The best that can be hoped for is that civil society, non-governmental aid organisations and ordinary people across the world learn of the condition the Rohingya are in and work together with them at the grassroots to help, before state actors and malignant groups akin to ISIS fill the void with their anti-human agendas.