The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Chirayu Baral

As Rakhine Burns, World Powers Refuse to Acknowledge the Persecution of Muslims in Myanmar

Nasima Khatun, 60, lives in a shelter camp near Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. Along with her daughters, she endured a life-threatening journey to flee religious persecution in Myanmar. A few weeks back, Myanma military took control of her village and started firing in all directions. She lost her husband, land, house, and community. She is not alone.

Every day, Al Jazeera (the source of Nasima’s story) publishes gut wrenching tales of Rohingya Muslims fleeing terror unleashed by Burmese forces. The United Nations reports that over 87,000 members of the persecuted Muslim community have crossed into Bangladesh since violence erupted on August 25.

In this glorious age of “human rights” diplomacy, major world powers have not only refused to take moral responsibility, but have also refrained from directly condemning Myanmar’s oppressive regime.

Reported by Reuters on September 18, 2017 by the publication’s staff, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the UN Secretary-General that China supports efforts by Myanmar to protect its national security. Myanmar’s other neighbour, India, is indirectly blaming Rohingyas for the ongoing crisis. Wire, a left-leaning publication in India, published Devirupa Mitra’s article on September 19, 2017 stating India’s representative to the UN claimed that violence was “triggered” by “terrorist attacks which led to the loss of lives amongst the security forces as well as the civilian population.”

Furthermore, instead of taking in more refugees, India’s Hindu nationalist government has openly supported the deportation of Muslim refugees. Even the world’s self-proclaimed human rights activist, the United States, has careful worded its statements to not offend Myanma interests. Dhaka Tribune, a national newspaper in Bangladesh, outlined on September 19, 2017 that the U.S. will simply provide humanitarian aid to Bangladesh, and will not put direct pressure on the Myanma junta.

So, why is the international community always apathetic to the cause of persecuted minorities? Why do great powers that love proclaiming their prowess to the world suddenly become shamefully silent? Why have we always failed to prevent ethnic cleansing? The answer is simple, yet scary. In a world where diplomacy abides to the sacred principle of national interest, countries often have very little to gain from fighting for persecuted minorities. For instance, why would rising powers like China and India offend a vital neighbour like Myanmar and push it away from their sphere of influence?

Domestically, refugees have always been a contentious political issue. In the short-run, they induce an additional economic burden, increase the prospects of law and order problems, and disturb the ethnic makeup of a country. Why would a poor country like Bangladesh ever risk overstretching itself?

Our analysis yields a gloomy conclusion. It is absolutely naïve to expect the international community to act. As long as countries prioritize interests over people, persecuted minorities will not have their voices heard. They will be trampled, and quickly forgotten. This is unfortunately the sad reality we have to grapple with.

When I first started writing this article, I hoped to give my readers a solution, an optimistic outlook. However, as I identified the cause of our apathy, I realised that I would be lying to myself if I gave you one.

Brutal Subjugation of the Media in India, and the Threat to Democracies

On September 5 2017, Gauri Lankesh, a firebrand activist-journalist, was shot dead in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. Just forty-eight hours later, Pankaj Mishra, another renowned activist-journalist, was shot in the northern Indian state of Bihar. A preliminary glance at their work reveals the stark difference between the two. They spoke different languages, were occupied by dissimilar local issues, and targeted varying audiences. However, despite habiting different journalistic planets, Indian news outlets like the Hindu and Times of India were quick to notice that the two were ardent critics of Prime Minister Modi, his political party and its Hindu nationalist following. In an increasingly majoritarian and aggressive India, that is a mistake few citizens dare to commit.

Astonishingly, few hours after Gauri’s cold-blooded murder, Hindu nationalists who despise the secular fabric of India’s media (often labeling them as sickulars or presstitutes) swamped social media with messages applauding this gruesome crime. According to them, her killing was justified because she was a communist, an apparent terrorist-sympathizer, an anti-national, and a feminist. Some fanatics used Gauri’s murder as an opportunity to openly threaten other secular journalists. In an independent investigation conducted by the Wire, it was revealed that a majority of these posts came from individuals who were closely affiliated to the BJP, India’s current ruling party. To top it all, a Twitter account followed by Prime Minister Modi posted a tweet openly celebrating Gauri’s assassination.

These murders and the despicable response by India’s right-wing demonstrates the volatility of democratic institutions in India. It has showcased that democratic India’s biggest enemy is not an autocratic leader or a foreign power, but the Indian people themselves. Instead of asking tough questions to the establishment, a majority of Indians have channeled their anger towards the press for flirting with ‘radical’ ideas. Therefore, in the near future, self-censoring induced by a fear of the majority will be a greater threat for independent media than an actual bullet.

India is definitely not an anomaly. History is unfortunately ripe with cases of democracies capitulating to majoritarian pressure. In April, as reported by BBC, Turks voted in favor of a constitutional referendum that greatly expanded the powers of the President and weakened checks and balances on the executive. Brexit, Trump’s election, collapse of Weimar Germany, Charles De Gaulle’s France are just few famous examples of democracies partially surrendering to the will of their own people. In each of these cases, national, ethnic, racial, and religious fundamentalism effectively clouded the moral judgment of the majority, and pushed it towards making a decision against its own interests.

Therefore, to protect democratic culture worldwide, we need to increase our focus on the sources of these contagious and disastrous ideologies. Throughout history, we have chosen to focus on the threat posed by a single individual. Trump, Modi, Erdogan, and Putin are seen as the problem, and removing them is viewed as the solution. For instance, right here in America, liberals have often committed the grave mistake of highlighting Trump as a one-off problem, while ignoring the structural defects that permitted his rise in the first place. Similarly in India, Modi is viewed as the cause of religious fundamentalism, when in fact he is its product. It is high time that we start recognizing the role of the corruptible majority. Only by being honest to ourselves and our fellow citizens can we save democratic culture worldwide.


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