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"Say the Word": What the Rohingya Struggle is Really About

By       Message Ramzy Baroud       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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From Palestine Chronicle

From flickr.com: Hopes for an end to the persecution of the Rohingya minority remain bleak. {MID-205655}
Hopes for an end to the persecution of the Rohingya minority remain bleak.
(Image by flickr.com)
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Pope Francis lost an historical opportunity to truly set his legacy apart from previous Popes. Alas, for him, too, political expediency trumped all else. In his visit to Burma (Myanmar) on November 27, he refrained from using the word "Rohingya."

But what's in a name?

In our frenzied attempts at understanding and articulating the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma, we often, perhaps inadvertently, ignore the heart of the matter: The struggle of the Rohingya is, essentially a fight for identity.

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Burma's Buddhist majority and its representatives, including the powerful military and the country's de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, understand this well. They use a strictly-guarded discourse in which the Rohingya are never recognized as a unique group with pressing political aspirations.

Thus, they refer to the Rohingya as "Bengali," claiming that the Muslim minority are immigrants from Bangladesh who entered the country illegally. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But historical accuracy, at least for the Buddhist majority, is beside the point. By stripping the Rohingya from any name affiliation that makes them a unique collective, it becomes possible, then, to deny them their rights, to dehumanize them and, eventually, ethnically cleanse them as has been the case for years.

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Since August, over 650,000 members of the Rohingya community have been driven out of their homeland in Burma by a joint and systematic operation involving the military, the police and various Buddhist nationalist groups. They call it "Clearance Operations."

Thousands of Rohingya have been killed in this grave act of genocide, some in most abhorrent and inhumane ways imaginable.

The United Nations Human Rights Council Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has recently referred to the purges in Burma as a "textbook example" of ethnic cleansing. There can be no other interpretation of this horrendous campaign of government-led violence.

But as thousands were pushed into the jungles or the open sea, the silence was deafening.

Only recently, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who visited Burma last November decided to label the massive human rights violations against the Rohingya as "ethnic cleansing."

Although his statement labeled the government-centered genocide as "abuses by some among the Burmese military," it was still a clear departure from past failure to even address the issue altogether.

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Still, it was a major disappointment that the Pope abstained from mentioning the Rohingya by name while in Burma. He only stated their name when he crossed the border to Dhaka. In Bangladesh, using the word "Rohingya" seemed like a safe political strategy.

It is understood that refraining from using the word "Rohingya" while in Burma was done as a "concession to the country's Catholics," reported the Washington Post. The logic goes: by challenging the popular narrative that cast the Rohingya as foreigners, the Pope would have ignited the ire of the Buddhists against the country's Christian minority, itself persecuted, at least in two Burmese states.

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Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold (more...)
 

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