Rohingya genocide and global indifference

November 20, 2017
Rohingya genocide and global indifference
Aijaz Zaka Syed

More than six million Jews are said to have perished in the organized mass slaughter, perhaps history’s first, in Germany and across Europe under Hitler. Millions more were forced from their homes and lands of their ancestors. Their crime? They simply belonged to a different race and faith and did not fit in the crazy scheme of things of Hitler’s Aryan supremacist fantasies. Just as the Rohginya Muslims do not fit in the yellow, Buddhist paradise of Myanmar today.

I often wonder how the world could have just stood around and allowed the Jewish holocaust on its watch. The world, or rather the West, did eventually act to stop Hitler, largely when the German juggernaut threatened its own existence. The influential Jewish lobby also played its role in forcing the US to intervene in Europe, effectively turning the strategic equation on the side of allies.

By then though it was too late for millions of Jews. The mindless tragedy of the World War II in general, which claimed more than 60 million lives, and the Jewish tragedy in particular, gave birth to institutions like the United Nations. (The West’s failure to protect its Jews also played a decisive role in carving ‘Israel’ out of Palestinian-Arab land, of course.)

The world community committed itself to protect peace at any price, vowing to never again remain silent in the face of genocide. ‘Never Again’ remained the motto in years and decades after the Great War. That promise has of course been repeatedly broken even though today we have formidable institutions like the UN, International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court etc.

The Rohingya genocide, holocaust rather, has been unfolding on the world’s watch for years now. The latest phase in this long, deliberate war is the most decisive yet, having nearly wiped out the tiny Muslim community.

Thousands have been butchered, raped and burned alive. Even those fleeing the hell that Myanmar has become for its Muslims in one last desperate dash aren’t spared. It is a clear, textbook example of ethnic cleansing, as the UN explains.

The clinical definition doesn’t quite capture the magnitude of the tragedy though. It’s nothing but an open, full-scale war on humanity as the Burmese state and bigoted Buddhist mobs unleash their lethal force on a defenseless, helpless minority, in bid to wipe it out from the face of earth.

Nearly a million Rohingya Muslims have taken shelter in the neighboring Bangladesh where they face another hopeless battle for survival, fighting disease, hunger and gangs of human traffickers. Young girls and children are being sold for as little as 5 pounds in Bangladesh as touts prey on a helpless people.

UK’s Sky News reports of witnessing harrowing scenes on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border including of babies being dumped and left to die on beaches as the desperate Rohingya run for their lives. This week, Human Rights Watch released testimonies of hundreds of young Rohingya women who were gang-raped by Myanmar soldiers. The Myanmar army has deployed rape as a weapon of choice, not sparing even young children.

Many of these atrocities and cruelties inflicted on a traumatized people are so graphic and spine-chilling in their detail that you can barely watch or read them.

And all this has happened and been happening on the world community’s watch. In the case of European Jews, the West at least had the excuse of waking up to the tragedy a little late in the day. We did not have the blessings of 24/7 media and Internet then. Besides, Germany had been a mighty, unstoppable force and it wasn’t easy confronting it.

None of those pretexts apply in the case of Myanmar. The Rohingya tragedy has been unfolding in full view of the world with every major atrocity and attack being reported and documented by the world media and rights groups.

Besides, the Buddhist Myanmar is no Nazi Germany. It could have easily been reined in and disciplined, using the enormous military and economic resources at their disposal if the world powers really had the will to do so. One strong rebuke and firm ultimatum from Washington could have saved thousands of lives. But who cares for Muslim lives? They mattered little even to President Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace laureate. It would be naïve to expect any better from his successor.

Hardly surprising then that the world powers attending the high-profile APEC summit in Vietnam this week did not even acknowledge the gravest humanitarian tragedy that has been unfolding in the region, let alone talk of ending it.

Leave alone taking steps to confront Myanmar on its genocidal war, the world has not even mustered the courage to call this a ‘genocide’ so far. For doing so would require the world powers, including Myanmar’s Asian neighbors, to initiate economic and military sanctions against the junta. And given the enormous business and investment opportunities that the largely underdeveloped and mineral-rich Myanmar represents to the West, that is clearly unthinkable. As for the UN, for all its noble intentions, this ineffectual angel can do little to help controlled as it is by the so-called Big Five.

But why cry about the global powers when the Rohingya tragedy has attracted so little attention from the fellow believers around the world. With their more than 1.7 billion population and enormous resources, the faithful have been able to do little so far to rescue the Rohingya.

Even pundits and commentators in the Muslim world no longer talk about the tragedy. After all, how long can you go on venting your outrage and anger over a distant crisis? No one likes to be greeted by bad news and have their reveries disrupted by a never-ending tragedy.

Of course, some Muslim countries have come forward to share Bangladesh’s burden of hosting more than a million refugees. Noble and much needed as the gesture is, it is hardly enough to save the Rohingya. They do not merely need our pity and money.

Muhammad Bin Qasim, the first Arab conqueror of Sindh, was dispatched to the subcontinent some 14 centuries ago when a desperate woman on the edge of the Islamic empire under the Umayyad rule cried for help. His commander Hajjaj Bin Yousaf was legendary for his ruthlessness. But even he couldn’t help being moved by the pleas of a distant helpless woman, forcing him to send his 17-year old nephew to India. Thousands of such Muslim women in Myanmar have been waiting for their Muhammad Bin Qasim.

Truth be told, we have all failed in doing our bit for our brothers and sisters in Myanmar, both as believers and as fellow humans. This is a burden on our collective conscience. When the time comes to account for everyone’s actions, as it soon must, we may all find ourselves in the dock for our collective failure.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an independent journalist and former opinion editor of Khaleej Times. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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