The Plight of the Rohingya People and the ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority living in the majority Buddhist nation of Myanmar. They are primarily located in the Rakhine State on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The group is disenfranchised, discriminated against, and subject to unpredictable cycles of violence, most of which are either ignored or perpetuated by the government. They are not considered an ethnic group by the government of Myanmar and are denied citizenship, the world’s largest group of stateless people.

A radical Buddhist monk protesting voting rights for the Rohingya minority.
“Rohingya have few defenders within Myanmar, hatred of them seeming to be one of the few issues that can bridge the country’s political divide. The narrative of the Rohingya has been overtaken by fiction, with their place in Myanmar’s history expunged by a succession of military governments looking for scapegoats and aided by the country’s already strong sense of Buddhist nationalism.”

This discrimination and hatred for the Rohingya people is largely derived from outspoken groups of extreme, nationalist Buddhist monks and their influence over the entire nation. For a religion that is widely considered as incredibly peaceful, the level of violence is quite surprising to many. The current antagonism is largely spearheaded by a monk, Ashin Wriathu and his 969 group. This organization promotes nationalist policies and regularly protests the rights of Muslims in Myanmar. He was jailed for nine years for religious hatred, and after being released, bizarrely referred to himself as “the Buddhist Bin Laden”. The Buddhist majority use the Rohingya people, and other Muslim groups, as a scapegoat for the frustrated aspirations of the majority, largely focusing on poor economic outcomes. Furthermore, the fear of radical Islam and recent terrorist attacks have frightened a number of Buddhists in Myanmar, pushing them to restrict the rights of this Muslim minority.

The entire state is home to over one million Rohingya, as thousands have escaped the violence through a mass exodus in recent years. While discrimination and exclusion have been a fact of life for the Rohingya people since independence in 1948, an increase in violence has become more visible with greater media access.

The United Nations deems the Rohingya “one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.” Thousands of Muslim Rohingya have been forced to live in extremely basic conditions in displacement camps. Since 2012, hundreds have been killed in recent attacks, largely perpetuated by police and military forces.

In October of 2016 Islamic militants attacked police, resulting in a major military crackdown resulting in the deaths of nearly 100 Rohingya, hundreds were detained indefinitely by the military, 150,000 aid-reliant people were left without food and water, 30,000 fled for their lives, dozens of women claimed to be sexually assaulted by police and military personnel, and more than 1,200 buildings were completely destroyed. This has continued since then, with consistent reports finding security forces committing mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya muslims. Reports from those who have fled the region describe Apartheid conditions, extreme violence, and indiscriminate killings of women and children.

In February, the United Nations Human Rights Office citing a possible ethnic cleansing. Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, promised to investigate these allegations, but recently rejected any international investigations, claiming there was no systematic violence against the Rohingya minority.

Questions:

  1. Why do you think the government of Myanmar has failed to work to improve the lives of the Rohingya people? As a former Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi was expected to bring about great peace to Myanmar. Why do you think she refuses to get involved in the conflict?
  2. What do you think are possible solutions to this violence and conflict? How can foreign governments make an effort to prevent this humanitarian crisis?
  3. Why do you think there has been limited portrayal of this issue in American media? How does the lack of coverage impact this issue? What can be done to increase the recognition of this issue?
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