Myanmar: Why the World Turns a Blind Eye to Another Muslim Genocide
If the apartheid state of Israel has taught the world anything, it’s if you wish to garner Western sympathy for your efforts to colonize, occupy, or ethnically cleanse a predominately Muslim population, your best bet is to stigmatize those you wish to conquer or suppress as “radical Islamic terrorists.”
For 50 years, Israel has conflated Palestinian resistance to Islamic terrorism.
Well, at least one Nobel Peace Prize recipient has been paying attention. As Myanmar carries out what effectively is genocide against its 1.3 million Rohingya Muslim population, its de facto leader Sang Suu Kyi has attempted to justify the state’s violence with accusations that the besieged are “extremist terrorists” who target non-Muslims. Time will tell whether or not Suu Kyi’s transparent ploy to divert attention away from her country’s systematic annihilation of Rohingya Muslims will distract the international community from the horrors taking place under her watch, but it’s also worth examining other reasons for why the world has done or said so little to bring a halt to the violence. From the perspective of Western political elites, the extermination of Muslims in a faraway land that neither threatens or benefits the interests and security of Western political elites. And when neither the interests and security of Western political elites is at stake, and when it’s the lives of Muslims or non-Westerners caught in the crosshairs of someone else’s gun, and that gun is being held by a country that many Westerners can’t find on a map, mobilizing enough political support to sustain any kind of intervention, militarily or diplomatically, is a heavy lift.
We have seen this dimension play out time and time again when Muslim lives are on the receiving end of genocide. When Serbian and Croatian forces were slaughtering Bosnian Muslims, both the US and NATO stood passively on the sidelines for a full four years, 1991 to 1995. Even when the world learned of the atrocities carried out in Srebrenica, one that resulted in the murders of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, only 36% of the US public supported an intervention. Worse still, the US and Britain had six weeks warning that Serbian security forces and militias were plotting the Srebrenica massacre, but did nothing, instead sacrificing 8,000 Muslim lives in pursuit of an ill-conceived grander strategy. Myanmar’s slaughter of Rohingya Muslims has been increasing in both frequency and ferocity since 2010, when the country began its transition from a military junta to a somewhat quasi-democratic system. During this period, the government has openly courted an extremist Buddhist monk coalition, known as the 969 movement, headed by Ashin Wirathu, who has been described as the “Burmese Bin Laden,” portraying Rohingya Muslims as a dangerous, persistent threat to Myanmar society. But as these extremist Buddhists juice the nation up for more bloodshed against their Muslim countrymen and neighbors, the reluctance of neighboring Asian states to offer meaningful assistance to Rohingya Muslims can only be described as on par with the West.
Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia are each Muslim majority countries, and each have washed their respective hands of the growing humanitarian crisis, each claiming they’re financially unable to accept more refugees. “We have to send the right message that they are not welcome here,” said Malaysia’s deputy home minister. Thailand has also made similar claims. Larger and more powerful Muslim majority countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have also turned a blind eye to the plight of Rohingya Muslims. Again, like their Western counterparts, the systematic killing of Muslims in Myanmar doesn’t threaten the interests of political elites in each of the two countries.
Despite their dire predicament, and the reluctance of both Western and Asian states to intervene, protests against Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims is spawning a wave of grassroots political action across the globe. Over the weekend, tens of thousands took to the streets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Turkey and elsewhere to express their disgust towards their respective government’s passivity towards Myanmar’s violence. These mass protests are creating media headlines, and from media headlines comes political pressure, and from political pressure comes new policy. For the sake of 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims, one must hope a more empathetic policy comes fast and furious.
CJ Werleman is a journalist, political commentator, and author of 'The New Atheist Threat: the Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists.