Rohingya Muslim’s in Burma’s Rakhine state have now been ordered to adhere to a years-old two child policy by the government, in what authorities claim is an effort to defang ongoing tension between the Buddhist and Muslim communities. In reality, this is ethnic cleansing. And it is ongoing in Burma today.
Restricting the reproduction of a less-than-loved ethnic group is a tactic that’s been trotted out repeatedly through generations of ethnic cleansing and genocide: a bad sign that’s all the more ominous in the face of increasing strife between Rohingya Muslim’s and the overwhelmingly Buddhist population of Burma.
More warning signs of potential ethnic cleansing exist. Genocide Watch provides a list of the “Eight Stages of Genocide,” which I feel is decidedly instructive in this situation — an opinion that Genocide Watch appears to share, as they have recently issued a “Genocide Emergency Alert” for Myanmar.
The stages are, in order: Classification, Symbolization, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination and Denial, and they are rolling by at a distressingly speedy clip in 2013 Burma. (Genocide Watch is not the only entity to create such a “warning signs” list: it’s also worth checking out the United Nations version, which is more detailed).
First, by the Genocide Watch metric, Rohingya are classified as “other” as compared to the mainstream Burmese population, marginalized both by their Muslim religion and their ethnicity. Although not forced to wear a distinguishing clothing item, Rohingyas are often referred to as “Bengalis” by those who wish to disparage their origins, a powerfully symbolic word that a Rohingya group was recently arrested for rejecting.
Violence against the Rohingya is also decidedly organized:although many Rohingya have been victimized by angry mob justice and the like, the government has also been proven to be complicit in the violence, restricting their movements and “looking the other way” during many of 2012’s most violent bloodbaths.
Polarization is downright obvious when it comes to relations between Rohingya and Muslims: violence against them has been drummed up since the June rape of a Buddhist woman by purportedly Muslim perpetrators, and the government has done little to stop the upswelling of ethnic hatred. Local groups regularly put out pamphlets and other documents disparaging the Rohingya people and casting doubt on their ethnicity — in some cases, explicitly calling for “ethnic cleansing.”
The preparation stage of an impending genocide or ethnic cleansing is well underway in Myanmar, as Rohingya are regularly herded into ethnic enclaves, denied aid, and separated from non-Muslims in increasingly desperate areas. Increasingly isolated from the outside world and from the resources they need, the Rohingya are necessarily becoming more and more helpless — and, recognizing the “writing on the wall,” are taking to the dangerous sea in ever-increasing numbers.
Then, there’s the extermination stage, which is arguably already under way after the June 2012 ethnic cleansing. Although the killings aren’t explicitly state-sanctioned, there’s plenty of potential for them to get considerably worse if the Burmese government doesn’t reverse discriminatory policies against the Rohingya, and there appears to be little in the way of political will to stop such an eventuality. It remains to be seen if pressure from Western governments will have much influence, as the Burmese government may hope that the “small problem” of the Rohingya will be overshadowed by other positive moves towards democracy and international commerce.
Denial is the final “stage” of genocide, and although this hasn’t yet happened to the Rohingya, it seems likely that if it does, the agressors will claim they “brought it on themselves,” mentality already evidenced by the two child policy, which shifts the burden of peacekeeping onto the Rohingya and away from Buddhists.
As the US and other international power-players hustle to form friendly relationships with Myanmar’s top brass, they should keep in mind a certain disturbing fact about their new business player: the formenting of a possible genocide, with terrible consequences for the Rohingya people, and for the national conscience of the increasingly confident Burmese people.