I leave it to one of our colleagues here to write about the recent Wisconsin Sikh Temple incident as I focus on something I find myself disgusted over, an unforgiving disgust directed mainly at myself for not speaking up about this sooner. With bastards like Assad in Syria getting media attention in between copious London Olympics coverage (ironically and unfortunately occurring during Ramadan), I have to ask why as my Twitter feed and Facebook feeds did not match up. Am I surrounded by a thousand names who have the misfortune of not knowing what’s going on in Burma/Myanmar? I give them the benefit of a doubt that they don’t know but would absolutely care if they did. But as I sit here hearing neighbors make prayers and thanks to god and hoping that he will help their brothers and sisters in Burma, I am compelled to get off my feet and plant my ass into the chair to relate this ongoing crisis and the problems I see with this silence.
The basics of the history and situation: the Rohingyas are an ethnic group who migrated to Burma as early as the 8th century, and are based in western Burma in the Arakan region. However, they are not recognized as citizens of predominantly Theravada Buddhist Burma, and have faced oppression that includes forced labor, violence against women, restrictions on movement, marriage, and reproduction. Even a few pro-democracy activists are unsure if they are Burmese, and some share the sentiments of the military junta (whose power was gained by Burmese nationalism and Theravada Buddhsim) that they don’t belong there and aren’t wanted, and seems to have been the case since the first recorded Muslim in Burma (the Pagan Kingdom) was summarily killed with extreme prejudice.
As of June of 2012, the occasional clash between Buddhist Rakhine and Rohingya peoples broke out when a mob of Rohingya extremists ignited several houses in Bohmu Village on 8 June, which led to some riots and reactionary burnings by Rakhines. Riots spread on 9 June, with 494 houses and 17 shops destroyed, and people whose homes were burnt already being set up in refugee camps. On 10 June, a State of Emergency was declared, and the government declared martial law, giving the military a chance to use its historical violence and brutality to quell the rioting, effectively making recent efforts towards democracy deemed a failure by some cynics. on the 11th, United Nations staff were relocated to Rangoon, 12th-14th, more buildings were burned, and as many as 30,000 refugees were displaced. From the 15th-28th, there have been at least 80 recorded casualties, as many as 90,000 are displaced, and 1,500 attempting to seek refuge have been turned away by Bangladesh.
The United States, United Kingdom, and European Union have all indicated concern and are monitoring the situation, Pakistan and Iran have condemned Burma and are actively urging the UN (currently banging its ambivalent and indecisive Hydra heads against the wall over Syria) to take action. So until they can take action, they remain preoccupied, and that’s one problem.
The second problem is mainstream media’s limited attention span for news in Asia. If they aren’t flipping coins to decide whether to label the attacks on the Wisconsin Sikh Temple as terrorist or extremist and confusing Sikhs for Muslims, they’re focused on cheating and scandals with the Olympics. It’s been said by Noam Chomsky that the media picks and chooses crises, the 1970s focusing more on Cambodia’s killing fields and virtually ignoring Indonesia’s invasion and annexing of East Timor from 1975-76. Not much is different now, but to be fair, how much international media can get through Burma, let alone how much information can get out? Definitely a lot more than we’re getting now, at the very least.
The biggest problem we have though is not just the apathy, but the various other media outlets–especially social media–lying about it. Few will talk about this crisis, fewer will talk honestly about it, and much fewer will do anything about it. Yet the only people who lose are not just the Rohingya Muslims, but the rest of Burma, because democracy is compromised by allowing martial law just months after very public efforts to move towards it.
So in short, we’ve got political powers who can do something, but are tied up or are unwilling to act (yet). Mainstream media is not covering it as much as it is Syria. Social media is promoting it more, but hurting the cause by making lies about the situation, which turns away or confuses civilians (passive news watchers). Does this sound like a problem to you? It does to me. Do I have a solution? Besides being a concerned human being and taking a journalist’s prerogative to report, report, report, I’m waiting for the rage that is necessary to incite change, a rage that that is closed away by apathy from both media misinformation and disinformation. Will I sign actions if Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and similar groups have campaigns that need signatures in order to call attention and to take action? Yes, goddamnit, and my next destination for work may just be Burma, near the border of Thailand. Now what will you do?