Right now in Western Burma a massive humanitarian disaster that has so far not drawn a great deal of attention outside of regional media is taking place concerning a people that is a small and despised ethnic minority in a minority-dominated state on the periphery of Burma. This humanitarian crisis involves stateless peoples without any home base, a desperately poor nation that is being asked (demanded even, by the international community) to take in refugees when it cannot take care of its existing population, and a minority that is itself oppressed in Burma but is oppressing an even more desperate and downtrodden ethnic group. Such is life in a fallen world.
What is a given is that so far that the ethnic violence in Burma has revealed even more clearly the darker underside of even the “good guys” in Burma’s fight for democracy. Though I have been critical of Aung San on account of Burmese and Buddhist nationalism before , it is clear that the racism against the Rohingya Muslims of the Arakanese State in Burma is immense and deep, infecting even the pro-democracy leaders of Burma, who think that those people should be removed by ethnic cleansing, whether by the Arakanese, Westerners, or someone else . When such racism has reached deep levels of society, even those who are considered to be enlightened and civilized, truly one’s civilization is in a bitterly dark night from which there is little escape without great and painful self-reflection that the Burmese and Arakanese Buddhists appear very disinclined to undertake.
Additionally, there appears to be a concerted effort by military forces to cooperate with the looters and rioters. Surely, even in a country like Burma, common ground between oppressive security forces and normally oppressed minority populations can be found in a shared religious identity and a shared enemy/target, namely some defenseless minority that has no defenders. Worse, there is propaganda about the security forces having the matter well in hand when that only means that they are providing a force to further the abuses and rioting, even if the Rohingya Muslims are not entirely innocent in their own rioting and arson attacks either. Even more disturbing is that there have been documented efforts of Buddhist rioters killing Muslims and then shaving their heads and putting robes on them after they are dead to promote the narrative of murderous Muslims. Now, generally speaking, Muslims around the world get a lot of bad press, but it is unjust when bad press is fabricated to fit a false story about events to put blame on a defenseless group of people who lacks protectors while one engages in brutal ethnic cleansing.
The Rohingya Muslims have reacted to this crisis the way that most sensible and realistic people would in the face of overwhelming threats to their well-being: they are looking for a way out. Unfortunately, no way out appears to be available for them. There are about 800,000 or so Rohingya in Western Burma, and they lack a legitimate status from both Burma and Bangladesh, making them a very vulnerable stateless people. The recent ethnic cleansing going on in Western Burma has led many to attempt to flee to Bangladesh (a sign of their desperation, certainly), but so far dozens of Rohingya have been turned back at the border by land, and over 1,500 have been turned away by sea , as government officials in Bangladesh have made statements like, “It is not in our interests that new refugees come from Bangladesh,” and are seeking to work with Burmese officials to avoid having any pressures that would increase the flow of would-be migrants on their shores.
Meanwhile, the international community has been putting heavy pressure on Bangladesh to open their borders and allow the refugees safety inside of that overcrowded and desperately poor nation . It is very easy to see in a situation like this that the interests of all sides are greatly in conflict. The interest of the Burmese is to foment hostility between different groups to ensure its overall control, as well as to promote Buddhism and its tendency to acculturate peoples over any Muslims present in their nations, whose religious identity would lead them to resist acculturation. The interests of the Arakanese are to cleanse their region of any minorities that might jeopardize their own interests or local power. The interests of the government of Bangladesh are to avoid having any more poor and desperate mouths to feed in a country that is in rather poor shape already. The international community, of course, wants at least the illusion of peace and harmony and to avoid being complicit to any humanitarian disasters that might cause it to lose credibility, and as a result they want neighboring nations to always have an open border policy to let refugees escape intolerable situations, such as exists right now in the Arakanese State of Burma. Naturally, the Rohingya themselves (like everyone else) probably want safety, dignity, and legitimacy, as well as the opportunity for a decent life, something they are not finding anywhere at present or for the foreseeable future.
In a world and even more specifically in a time where concerns about scarcity are paramount, it is difficult for anyone to act in such a way as serves the best interests of others when their own well-being is seen as at risk or insufficient. We lack love in this world for our fellow man and see helping others as a zero-sum affair that only hurts ourselves. Instead of seeing how easy it would be for any of us to be without a home or without a country in situations of grave peril (something I have little difficulty imagining), all too many of us see charity as something to be met with our superabundance, that requires our needs and wants to be met first before we care for such matters. And in this age of insecurity constant and serious threats to well-being are not absent for any of us. And if we are not willing to show compassion to others, how can we expect anyone to show compassion to us if we find ourselves in such a state?