By MARTY GOODMAN
The military regime and fascist monks within the Buddhist clergy in Myanmar (Burma) have been waging an ethnic war against the Rohingya, a mostly Black Muslim minority living in the southwest of the country. Violence against the Rohingya erupted in 2012, leaving villages torched, up to 300 dead, and 140,000 fleeing their homes in terror. It was the worst example of ethnic cleansing in the region in decades. Cops merely watched the spiraling violence.
The attacks began with the rape of a woman in the mostly Buddhist Rakhine state, where most Rohingya live. The rape was blamed on Rohingya men (likely false), which set-off racist terror. As a result, there are some 300,000 internally displaced persons in Myanmar, a nation of 53 million. The UN says 130,000 Rohingya fled by boat since 2012 to destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Some 25,000 left between January and March alone.
The journey into exile is often in filthy, overcrowded boats operated by smugglers. Many end up in slave labor camps, drowned at sea, beaten, starved, dehydrated, simply abandoned or tossed overboard to avoid a smuggler’s arrest. Refugees are even executed when impoverished families are unable to pay ransoms demanded by ruthless operators.
Up to 8000 have been stranded at sea at a time. Mass graves have been found in Rohingya, with bodies either drowned or physically brutalized.
Veteran Asia observer Walden Bello wrote that “violent labor trafficking and ethnic cleansing [form] the dark underbelly of Southeast Asia’s ‘tiger economies.’”
In addition, migrants face racist immigration policies. Of late, Australia’s anti-immigrant Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has been accused by the press of giving bribes to smugglers to not land refugees. If true, as seems likely, Australia is guilty of ignoring the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, which Australia signed.
There are 1.1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar and they are 30% of the Rakhine state inhabitants. Myanmar has eight large ethnic groups; 90% are Buddhists, only 5% are Muslim, the rest Christian and Hindu.
After Burmese independence in 1948, the post-colonial government included many minorities, including Rohingya. However, a 1982 law passed by the military dictatorship, which had been in power since 1962, rendered the Rohingya “stateless.” Yet, the Rohingya have been in Myanmar for centuries!
Temporary cards allowed some Rohingya limited voting rights in 2008 and 2010. In 2010, Rohingya voting was conditioned on their voting for the military, with the promise of citizenship. Rohingya voting rights were stripped away again last February in the wake of the 2012 events.
The military refuses to use the term “Rohingya,” preferring to portray them as job-stealing migrants from Bangladesh, thus dividing workers with racism. Rohingya describe round-ups of Muslim youth to perform forced labor for the Army.
Although some monks have spoken out against racism, reactionary monks spew filth. Said racist leader Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk, “Muslims are like African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind … the national religion needs to be protected.” Wirsthu likened Muslims to “mad dogs” and “cannibals.”
These fascistic forces organized the “969 campaign,” which seeks to ban inter-faith marriages and urges Buddhists not do business with Muslims.
Human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winner who spent over 20 years under house arrest—and the daughter of Aung San, a nationalist hero who worked closely with the defunct Communist Party of Burma—surprised some by not calling for an end to anti-Rohingya racism. She said that she “didn’t know” if they could be citizens and meekly urged the military to handle the situation “carefully.”
Finally, after much criticism, her National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a statement calling for citizenship rights, but it was not issued in her name, a ploy to hold on to racist votes. Suu Kyi has declared herself an NLD candidate for president this fall. The NLD is a capitalist party, and she would be expected to win, but it is disqualified because her deceased husband was British. Her NLD is expected to do well in parliamentary races—if they happen.
In September 2012, after a wave of racist riots had reached its peak, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was present at a hypocritical signing ceremony which lifted U.S. sanctions on the dictatorship. Her distinguished guest? President Thein Sein, dictator of Myanmar.
Since Obama’s and Clinton’s photo-ops in Myanmar, the dictatorship received about $375 million in (supposedly) non-military U.S. aid through fiscal 2014. The domestic aid will help the military elite afford its outsized military budget. Inequality, after all, requires repression. About 26% of the country lives in poverty; 32% of children under five suffer malnutrition, 53% in the Rakhine State.
Obama finally called for an end to discrimination in Myanmar, but the real goal of imperialism goes beyond paying lip service to human rights—the U.S. is looking toward outflanking China. Chinese interests, along with Japanese funds, are building a $2.5 billion petroleum line from riot-torn Rakhine to Yunnan, China. Rakhine land is also being grabbed to create a “free trade” zone to operate on starvation wages.
Capitalism in Myanmar has got to go. A genuine revolutionary party would seek to unite and defend all ethnic peoples against racist violence and ultimately overthrow capitalism, the real source of poverty and racism!
Photo: Buddhist monks protest UN resolution to grant full citizenship rights to Rohingya.