What’s behind the slaughter of the Rohingya

A World to Win News Service for 17 September 2017 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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What’s behind the slaughter of the Rohingya

17 September 2017. A World to Win News Service. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people  – in numbers approaching half of the estimated million of this ethnic group living in Myanmar – have been driven from their homes and country by armed Buddhist militias and the army and police. These murderers have descended upon hundreds of villages, shooting into homes and burning whole villages. The army has laid anti-personnel land mines at crossing points on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh to kill or maim those fleeing and prevent anyone from coming back.

This attempt to eliminate an entire people is made possible by the brutal convergence of a number of different forces in Burma and the interests of Western imperialism, each with its own specific, competing interests but coinciding in a rejection of the Rohingya people’s right to live in Myanmar.

The army, which in one way or another, directly or indirectly, has dominated the state since what was once called Burma became independent from Britain in 1948, has waged war against various minority ethnicities on and off for seven decades. During this time, just like under the monarchy before the British conquest, the Buddhist clergy have not been just a religious institution but a pillar of the state.

In recent years, a major part of the clergy, along with Buddhist nuns and lay people, have mounted a movement called the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (known as MaBaTha) that preaches that the Rohingya people must be eliminated because they are allegedly the spearhead of a global drive against Buddhism by the whole world’s Muslims, citing not only the Taliban (who dynamited Buddhist shrines in Afghanistan) and Daesh (Islamic State), but all “followers of Allah”. MaBaTha has criticized the army and the state for not doing more to eliminate the Rohingya “Islamic threat”, and have now been fully unleashed by the army in a planned and coordinated campaign against the Rohingya, under the pretext of what was said to be an attack on a Myanmar border police outpost in August.

The third component of this genocidal alliance is Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the National League for Democracy and symbol of opposition to the military junta that took power in a 1962 coup. Long the darling of Western governments and their witting and unwitting accomplices, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, a distinction shared with war criminals in the US and Israel, among others. The daughter of the founder of the country’s army and long the leader of its independence movement, Aung San Suu Kyi rose to political prominence in the 1980s student movement against the military junta which at that time combined a proclaimed belief in “the Burmese Way of Socialism” with Buddhist tradition and support from among the traditional exploiting classes. The UK and US began to support her against the junta as a way to reassert Western control and oppose Soviet and later strong Chinese influence. Since her election as de facto head of state in 2015, whatever she may have done to restore some rights, she has objectively been part of the stabilization of an indisputably murderous state, including the army, as Myanmar moves deeper into the hands of its former colonial rulers and other imperialists whose economic and political supremacy blocks any real way forward for the country’s people.

The sudden reaction against Aung San Suu Kyi among Western establishment commentators and her fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners is an exercise in hypocrisy. Even the accusation that she has “remained silent” on the slaughter of the Rohingya is actually a cover-up. In fact, she publicly justified it by referring to them as “Bengalis” (that is, not ethnic Burmese) and “terrorists”. Echoing the Trump regime’s attacks on the media in the name of “fake news”, she even called media footage of burning villages and fleeing refugees “a huge iceberg of misinformation”.

Although the Buddhist fundamentalists have sometimes looked at Aung San Suu Kyi with suspicion because of her Western ties, this stand is not new on her part. She has never opposed the laws denying citizenship for the Rohingya, restricting marriage between Buddhists and non-Buddhists, refusing the right of Muslims to vote or run for office, not allowing them access to education and medical care and other tenets of what can only be called Buddhist fascism. (Anyone who feels that this term is an exaggeration should watch this interview with a prominent Myanmar Buddhist monk: www.theguardian.com/world/video/2017/sep/08/the-battle-for-myanmar-buddhist-spirit-video.) She at the very least went along with the “Protection of Race and Religion Laws” adopted as part of the legislation that enabled her transformation from a political prisoner to the head of the country in 2015. And she continues to enjoy the support of the UK and US governments, which can only mean that she is seen as serving their interests in this situation.

Trump, who so freely menaces regimes his government targets, even threatening “a military option” against Venezuela because “people are suffering and they are dying,” at this point has no problem with the slaughter of the Rohingya. Just as he declared that there were “fine people” among the Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members who paraded in Charlottesville, Virginia, the White House called on “Burmese security authorities to respect the rule of law, stop the violence, and end the displacement of civilians of all communities”, as if this were a clash between “communities” and not basically a war of the state and state-supported lynch mobs against an oppressed community. In an implicit “dog whistle” (coded support) for the Myanmar government, the US refused to call the Rohingya by their name.

The term “Royhingya” is anathema to Myanmar’s rulers because it means people from the Myanmar state of Rakhine, one of the poorest in the country, where some Rohingya families have lived for many centuries and most for many generations. While the British colonialists reduced the power of the Buddhist clergy and displayed deliberate disrespect for any religion not their own, it is also true that they employed the same “divide and conquer” strategy in Burma as in India, Africa and elsewhere, often favouring one particular minority against other ethnic groups. This fed reactionary and in the long term sometimes genocidal rivalries between ethnicities. In Burma the British excluded the local elite and exploiters from the colonial administration, filling even menial positions such as policemen and labourers as well as top administrative jobs with Britons or others brought from neighbouring Bengal (then India, now divided between India and Bangladesh). It is not surprising that the country’s independence movement became largely intertwined with Buddhism.

But the rise of Buddhist fundamentalism today represents more than just the continuation of this history. What’s happening in Myanmar parallels developments in nearby Thailand and Sri Lanka, also majority Buddhist countries where economic and social transformations produced by a globalized imperialist economy are roiling the traditional order with its social relations, ideology and values. The rulers of these countries, like religious fundamentalists everywhere, although in varying circumstances, are seeking to protect and/or advance their reactionary interests in the context of the same global system that is at the same time undermining the conditions of their rule. Despite their mutual hatred, there are striking parallels between this trend in Buddhism and its Islamic, Christian and Jewish fundamentalist counterparts. (More generally, see the chapter “Why is religious fundamentalism growing in today’s world?” in Away With All Gods: Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. This is also discussed in his just issued The Problem, The Solution and the Challenges Before Us (http://revcom.us/avakian/bob_avakian-the-problem-the-solution-and-the-challenges-before-us-en.html).

The global media has provided horrifying pictures of burning villages, endless lines of people threading their way across muddy rice paddy dikes to reach the river dividing Myanmar from Bangladesh, and then crossing in fishing boats to the other side where they will try to survive in huts made of canvas and sticks. The majority are women and children. Many of the women have not only witnessed their homes burned, but have been subjected to rape, and aid agencies are reporting 1300 Rohingya children in Bangladesh’s refugee camps are without any parents. Yet even as all this happens in the world’s plain sight, not one of the world’s great powers has taken a real stand against it. What remains hidden to most people is the way this sickening crime is linked to the heritage of colonialism and to the continuing global domination by imperialism.

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