Western media has the power to highlight the injustices in Myanmar—if they pay attention
My sister was the first to inform me about the ongoing genocide happening in Myanmar. She only found out about it through an Instagram post. This revelation left me in complete shock. The fact that this unforgivable violence has been going on for more than three years is astonishing. But most shocking is that it has barely received any coverage in Western media, until now.
According to Al Jazeera, the Rohingya people are a Muslim minority living in a state originally known as Burma. There are currently 1.1 million Rohingya people living in Myanmar, and they are considered one of the most persecuted groups in the world. The Rohingya make up five per cent of Myanmar’s 53 million citizens, and mostly live in the state of Rakhine, which is described as one of the poorest states in Myanmar, “with ghetto-like camps and a lack of basic services and opportunities,” according to the same source. In addition, the Rohingya have been denied citizenship since 1982, making them illegal residents and stateless.
The majority of the population in Myanmar is Buddhist. This is a religion that honours life and is dedicated to living humbly, while doing as little harm as possible. Yet according to The Guardian, Ashin Wirathu, a nationalist Burmese Buddhist monk and leader of the country’s anti-Muslim movement, is allegedly parading across Myanmar spewing hate messages and inspiring violence against Rohingya Muslims. Labeled the “Face of Buddhist Terror” by Time magazine, Wirathu claims he is only “warning” his people about Muslims, when he is truthfully inciting hatred against them, according to The Guardian.
The civilian leader of Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi. She actually has a Noble Peace Prize, and according to the Washington Post, she’s a “democracy icon.” Yet, Suu Kyi has been criticized for refusing to acknowledge the violence taking place in her country as an actual genocide. When asked in interviews about the violence, she often claims the media is “exaggerating” and refuses to criticize the country’s military, according to the Washington Post.
In my opinion, labeling violence as a genocide makes it more urgent, and it takes us back to the horrors of colonialism, the Indian Act, the Rwandan genocide and, of course, the Holocaust. Discussing any kind of ethnic cleansing as genocide makes it more real because it reminds us of history, and of how many people have been murdered for being different.
For a long time, the violence in Myanmar has been considered a conflict of ideologies, a religious dispute between Buddhist Nationalists and Rohingya Muslims, without being labeled a genocide. It also wasn’t being investigated by Western media for a long time—I suppose Western media overlooked the issue because we’re so concerned with social justice, healthcare, President Trump and climate change in our own nations.
I don’t really blame us—we’ve got our own problems to deal with. But it’s sad to realize that it wasn’t until the conversation shifted and some outlets, like Al Jazeera, started using the word genocide that we suddenly became all ears.
Human Rights Watch has released a report criticizing Suu Kyi for doing nothing about the excessive violence against Rohingya Muslims. According to the Telegraph, a recent military crackdown caused almost 90,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh, where they are in desperate need of basic necessities. Not only are the Rohingya people unwanted in Myanmar, they are also unwanted in Bangladesh, according to TRT World.
In my opinion, this marginalized group needs a safe zone and international intervention. But this will not happen without global acknowledgement. On Sept. 16, Concordia alumnus Majed Jam, organised a demonstration protesting the treatment of the Rohingya Muslims. This was not only a way to protest the genocide, but a way to capture the attention of the world, or at least Montreal’s attention.
The Western world’s attention is an extremely powerful tool that can shed light on this ongoing violence, and it is our responsibility to make sure people pay attention.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin