Yes. The word “genocide” in this title was written plain and simple. Countries and organizations, such as the UN, might try to avoid utilizing the word to prevent taking responsibility, but that does not necessarily mean that it is not a genocide. According to Merriam-Webster, a genocide is defined by being “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” In other words, one group must be taking the initiative to plan out a method of eradicating a group of people, whether it be by ethnic background, skin color, or even political differences. In this case, the Buddhist majority in Myanmar has been oppressing the Muslim Rohingya minority and has even conducted purposeful raids and attacks against them. By definition, there is a current genocide in the modern era, decades after the people said, “Never again,” right after the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.
What exactly is going on in Myanmar, and how did it start?
Burma was a civilization heavily founded on Buddhist values in the 11th Century. Burma was eventually overtaken by the British in the 1800’s. They fought for independence and instituted a democracy in the 1940’s.They then resorted to what seemed to be the norm in the 1900’s – a junta, or a military dictatorship. Since then, the country has gotten restructured with a new constitution, democratic elections, and a parliamentary republic. The current prime minister is Nobel Peace Prize winner and freedom advocate, Aung San Suu Syi, who stands against the the junta. However, do not let any of her progressive notions paint a perfect picture of society in Myanmar.
The Rohingya are a group of around one million Muslims living in Myanmar at the northern area of the Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh. They are the descendents of Arab traders and other groups who had lived in the region for generations. However, they have been facing oppression from the Buddhist-majority nation. They are not recognized as a part of the 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar and are instead seen as Bengali intruders who arrived during the end of the British Empire or during the Bangladeshi war for independence. The government with a Nobel Peace Prize winner as the president does not officially recognize them as citizens even when they have been in the area for generations on end. Laws in the country restrict interfaith marriage between Buddhists and Muslims to prevent the “inferior people” from gaining traction. According to an article written by the Washington Post about the issue, a U.N. spokeswoman called them “probably the most friendless people in the world,” in 2009.
Although there was much hatred brewing against the Rohingya, there was no major ethnic violence occurring until 2012. A woman in Rakhine came forward claiming that she had been raped by Rohingya people. Riots and clashes plagued the villages, killing more than 100 and leaving over 100,000 Rohingya to stay in camps around the state capital. There was also a mass exodus of Rohingya in 2015 right before Aung San Suu Syi gained power, who since has done nothing since to improve the lifestyles of the Rohingya.
However, that is not to say that current hardships are not in part the direct result of people from the Rohingya group making radical choices that end up making matters worse for everyone. In October 2016, there was a shooting where nine police officers were killed by armed men said to be Muslim. On August 25 of this year, the militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (a name that seems to make the terrorist organization against Muslims more real) organized an attack. This recent event prompted the current crisis in the country, where average citizens even feel that the Rohingya deserve to be killed. There are reports of raids and attacks done on villages all over the Rakhine state. Countless people are fleeing the oppression and becoming refugees in places, such as Bangladesh. Others are stuck and being killed because of their background and the actions of a select few people.
What can be done now?
The best action to take up at this moment is awareness. Stay alert with the news coverage and see from multiple sources to formulate a personalized opinion based on facts. However, nothing could be done until enough are aware of the situation. Previous genocides had little push back due to a lack of knowledge and a lack of care by the worldwide community. Care and caution could be born from the knowledge received as people take in the devastation through pictures and other media. From that care, people can donate and raise awareness. Advocacy groups are always present to make things right. People should notify their representatives in the US government as well as the UN.
The bottom line is that actual human beings are being slaughtered due to an oppressive rule by a majority. If humanity wants to truly honor those who were killed by genocides in the past, then the “never again” agreement must become a reality.