By MARTY GOODMAN
Capitalism has reached a new level of barbarism in Myanmar. So far, over 500,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have been driven out of their homes in the Northern Rakhine State and into unsanitary, crowded camps in Bangladesh, without adequate food and water. Soldiers and Buddhist fascist-like gangs have torched thousands of Rohingya homes; they have beaten, stabbed, gang raped and killed hundreds of defenseless Rohingya.
Those fleeing violence, mostly women and children, face land mines planted on the Bangladesh border, resulting in horrific injuries and death. Refugees tell of Rohingya being shot and thrown out of army helicopters. Helicopter guns mow them down in their own fields.
In an Oct. 4 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Rohingya refugees described seeing children executed. Khotiaz, 28, recounted the savage excecution of her nephew by a local army officer named Baju: “When Baju entered the room, there was my nephew, Mohammod Tofail. He was 10 years old. He was a student of class two. First Baju shot him in the head, his skull shattered into four pieces. Then he fell down. I saw there were brain and blood on the floor.”
In the report, Mustafa, 22, said: “There was a pit with [the bodies of] 10 to 15 children, all under 12 years old. They were all young children hacked to death. I recognized four of the bodies: Hakim Ali, 9; Naim, 8; one child from Pondu Para, who was about 10; and Chau Mong, who was 7.”
The HRW reported from Rakhine state that “in Maung Nu, several Burmese soldiers entered the compound while others surrounded it. They took several dozen Rohingya men and boys into the courtyard and then shot or stabbed them to death. Others were killed as they tried to flee. The soldiers then loaded the bodies—some witnesses said a hundred or more—into military trucks and took them away.”
The war crime of “collective punishment,” as during the Vietnam War or in Israel today, is being waged on civilians because some Rohingya exercised their right to resist. On Aug. 25, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya insurgent group, attacked police and army posts in Rakhine state, killing 12 offi-cers, according to the government. The poorly armed rebels attacked with mostly sticks and machetes. The attack resulted in savage retribution against Rohingya civilians.
The UN has called Myanmar, also known as Burma, a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Satellite photos show 214 villages destroyed by fire. Incredibly, the regime says Rohingya burn their own homes to gain sympathy, despite media reports of military responsibility.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto Myanmar leader, is known to millions as a Nobel Prize winner, an iconic “human rights” activist, and longtime prisoner of house arrest. But Suu Kyi the capitalist politician has shamelessly refused to criticize the military’s attacks on the Rohingya. After avoiding a scheduled address to the UN Assembly in September, Suu Kyi told a Myanmar press conference, her first since the recent wave of atrocities, that international reports of genocide were “fake news” and the “tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation.”
All the while, Suu Kyi has refused to even use the word “Rohingya,” repeating the military’s blatant lie that “terrorism” is responsible for the calamity. Amnesty International has called her response “unconscionable.” In disgust, several Nobel winners challenged Suu Kyi to support human rights, including anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu.
Capitalist “human rights” & Rohingya oppression
Before the most recent exodus, many Rohingya were herded into what is often described as “concentration camps.” Deprived of voting rights, they couldn’t vote in the sham 2015 election, which elevated “democrat” Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party to power. The NLD did not run any Muslim candidates.
The oppression of the one million Rohingya, who practice their own brand of Sunni Islam, is not new in this country of 53 million, which is 90% Buddhist and only 5% Muslim. Rohingya have lived in Burma for centuries, but are stateless like Palestinians.
Rakine has a poverty rate of nearly 80%, double the national average. They are usually of darker complexion than most Burmese and subject to the lingering racism of the British colonial mindset, which has not disappeared. Myanmar has the lowest life expectancy and the second-highest rate of infant and child mortality in Southeast Asia. It is estimated that an average worker earns about $1.76 a day. Poverty and exploitation creates excellent spawning grounds for racist hate under capitalism.
Although attacks on Rohingya voting rights and citizenship began earlier, the right to vote as a citizen was formally removed in 1982 with the Citizenship Law, with absurd exceptions like voting only for military candidates. The Rohingya are widely called Bengalis by chauvinist Buddhists and other bigots.
After the junta was “dissolved” in 2011, the country has seen a rise in fascistic Buddhist extremism. During WWII, reactionary Buddhist forces sided with Buddhist Japan during the Japanese occupation.
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. Racist leader Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk, said, “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.”
Wirathu and others have spurred a movement known as “969,” which calls for Buddhists to band together to defend their faith and to do business only with other Buddhists. The numerology of the “969” movement refers to the virtues of the Buddha, the practices of the faith and the community.
Military crackdowns on Rohingya in 1978 and 1991-2, prompted hundreds of thousands to flee to Bangladesh. Violence 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. Thousands died at sea trying to escape.
An example of Rohingya displacement for profit is the destruction of the settlement in Kyaukphyu, off the coast of Rakhine state. It will be part of a multi-billion-dollar Special Economic Zone (SEZ), built with the involvement of CITIC Group from China and Japanese engineering company Nippon Koei. During the 2012 riots, more than 14 hectares of the Rohingya settlement were burnt to the ground and cleared for private development. The SEZ, a five-year tax-free zone, is based around the Chinese-funded $2.5 billion energy pipelines that will transport oil and natural gas to Yunnan province, exploiting newly found gas deposits.
Change for the worse
The Rohingya enjoyed many democratic rights from 1948 to 1962 and played a role in post-colonial governments. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has endured decades of brutal military rule, especially after a 1962 military coup.
U.S. sanctions over “human rights violations” have been used cynically – as in Haiti – to impose neo-liberal austerity and to politically direct the human rights struggle into safe, i.e. pro-imperialist, channels. With the easing of sanctions in 2011-12, Myanmar passed a foreign investment law in 2012 designed to facilitate U.S. and Western economic penetration with big tax write-offs.
Myanmar’s rich assets include jade, rubies, teak wood and a major oil pipeline to China still under construction in the North—all made possible with cheap Burmese labor. Reports include youths forced into labor by the corrupt military.
To outflank China, Myanmar’s biggest investor and regional powerhouse, Obama’s imperialist “pivot to Asia” restarted U.S. “non-military” aid in Mayanmar, which saves the regime money on civilian projects, eases political pressure on the military, and frees up funds for repression. Since Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s photo-ops in Myanmar, the dictatorship received about $375 million in (supposedly) non-military U.S. aid through fiscal 2014.
The U.S. dominated World Bank has issued hundreds of millions in new loans on condition of maintaining a so-called “business friendly” (pro-U.S.) economy. Moreover, the U.S. has re-established the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the country, a giant funding agency and notorious CIA conduit. All that sent the regime a green light that it had Western backing, even after the 2012 massacre of hundreds of Rohingya (see July 2015 Socialist Action).
So far, despite regime propaganda, the Rohingya armed groups are not Islamic jihadists or anti-Buddhist. Resistance forces, encompassing the Rohingya and other ethnics, should unite on a working class platform to fight for self-determination. New U.S./UN sanctions or even U.S./UN so-called “humanitarian aid,” a la post-earthquake Haiti, will only tighten imperialism’s grip. A socialist strategy capable of smashing racism and imperialism is urgently needed.
In the U.S., antiwar, antiracist, and labor forces must step up to defend the Rohingya. Gaining support in the Muslim community is key. The Islamaphobic Donald Trump and the bigots in Myanmar can only be defeated by mass action!