Rohingya Tragedy and Global Indifference

The Rohingya tragedy has been unfolding right before our eyes, in full view of the world with every major atrocity and attack being reported and documented by the world media and international rights groups

Aijaz Zaka Syed
Srinagar, Publish Date: Nov 19 2017 11:37PM | Updated Date: Nov 19 2017 11:37PM
Rohingya Tragedy and Global IndifferenceFile Photo

Reading about the Jewish holocaust in Hitler’s Germany, I often wonder how the world could have just stood around and allowed this catastrophe to happen on its watch.

More than six million innocent Jews are said to have perished in the organised mass slaughter in Germany and across Europe. Millions more were forced from their homes and lands of their ancestors.  Their crime? They simply belonged to a different race and did not fit in the crazy scheme of things of Hitler’s Aryan supremacist fantasies and delusions of grandeur. Just as the Rohginya Muslims do not in the yellow, Buddhist paradise of Burma today.  

The world, or rather the West, did eventually act to stop Hitler, largely when its own existence was threatened by the German juggernaut. The influential Jewish lobby also played its role in forcing the US to intervene in Europe, effectively turning the strategic equation on the side of allies.   

By then though it was too late for millions of persecuted Jews.  The mindless tragedy of the World War-II in general, which claimed more than 60 million lives, and the Jewish holocaust in particular, gave birth to institutions like the United Nations.  (The West’s failure to protect its Jews also played a decisive role in carving ‘Israel’ out of Palestinian and Arab land!)    

The world community committed itself to protect peace at any price, vowing to never remain silent in the face of genocide.  ‘Never Again’ remained the motto in years and decades after the Great War.  That promise has of course been repeatedly broken and continues to be broken even though today we have formidable institutions like the UN, World Court of Justice and International Criminal Court etc.   

Look at the Rohingya genocide – holocaust rather – that has been unfolding on the world’s watch for years now.  The latest phase in this long and deliberate genocide is the most decisive yet and is in its final stage, having nearly wiped out the tiny Rohingya Muslim community. Thousands have been butchered, raped and burnt alive. Even those fleeing the hell that Myanmar has become for its Muslims in one last desperate dash aren’t spared.  It is a clear, textbook example of ethnic cleansing, as the UN puts it.  

The clinical definition doesn’t quite convey the magnitude of the tragedy though. It is nothing but an open, full-scale war on humanity as the Burmese state and bigoted Buddhist mobs unleash their full lethal force on a defenceless, persecuted minority, trying to wipe it out from Myanmar and the face of earth.  You cannot even call it a minority, given their depleted numbers over the past couple of years and months. 

Nearly a million Rohingya Muslims have taken shelter in the neighbouring Bangladesh where they face another battle for survival, fighting disease, hunger and gangs of human traffickers. Young girls and children are being sold for as little as 5 pounds in Bangladesh as touts prey on a helpless people.   

UK’s Sky News reported this week that its teams witnessed harrowing scenes on the Burma-Bangladesh border including of babies being dumped and left to die on beaches as the desperate Rohingya run for their lives. 

Many of these atrocities and cruelties inflicted on the Rohingya by the peace-loving Buddhist soldiers and monks of Myanmar, being dutifully reported by Western and international media, are so graphic and spine-chilling in their detail that you can barely watch or read them.

And all this has happened and been happening on the world community’s watch. In the case of German and European Jews, the West at least had the excuse of waking up to the tragedy a little late in the day.  We did not have the blessings of 24/7 satellite media and the communication revolution of Internet.  Besides, Germany had been a mighty, unstoppable military force and it was not easy confronting it.  None of these pretexts apply in the case of Myanmar.

The Rohingya tragedy has been unfolding right before our eyes, in full view of the world with every major atrocity and attack being reported and documented by the world media and international rights groups. Besides, the Buddhist Burma is no Nazi Germany.  It could have easily been reined in and disciplined, using the enormous military and economic resources at their disposal if the world powers really had the will to do so.  One strong rebuke and firm ultimatum from Washington could have saved thousands of lives.  But who cares for Muslim lives? They mattered little even to President Barack Obama, suspected of being a closet Muslim by the likes of Donald Trump.  And it would be naïve to expect any better from his successor whose ‘love’ for all things Muslims is legendary. 

Not surprising then that the world powers attending the high-profile APEC summit in Vietnam this week did not even acknowledge the gravest humanitarian tragedy that has been unfolding in the neighbourhood, let alone explore ways of ending it. 

Leave alone taking steps to confront Myanmar on its genocidal war, the world has not even mustered the courage to call this a ‘genocide’! For doing so would require the world powers, including Burma’s Asian neighbours, to initiate economic and military sanctions against the junta.  And given the enormous business and investment opportunities that the largely underdeveloped and mineral-rich Myanmar represents to the West, that is clearly unthinkable.  As for the UN, for all its noble intentions, this ineffectual angel can do little to help controlled as it is by the so-called Big Five.

But why cry about the global powers when the Rohingya tragedy has attracted so little attention in the Islamic world!  With more than 1.6 billion population and enormous resources at its disposal, the Muslim world has done precious little so far to rescue the Rohingya. Even pundits and commentators in the Muslim world no longer talk about the tragedy.  After all, how long can you go on expressing your outrage and anger over a distant crisis? No one likes to be greeted by bad news and have their reveries disrupted by a never-ending tragedy.    

Of course, some Muslim countries have come forward to share Bangladesh’s burden of hosting more than a million refugees. Noble and much needed as the gesture is, it is not enough to save the Rohingya.  They do not merely need our pity and money.   

It is said that some 14 centuries ago Muhammed bin Qasim, the first Arab conqueror of Sindh, was dispatched to the subcontinent when a desperate woman on the edge of the Islamic empire under the Umayyad rule cried for help. His commander Hajjaj bin Yousaf is legendary for his ruthlessness.  But even he couldn’t help being moved by the pleas of a helpless woman, forcing him to send his 17-year old nephew to distant India.  Thousands of such Muslim women have been raped and killed in Myanmar but their cries for help do not reach the citadels of power.  

This is a burden on our collective conscience.  We have all failed in doing our bit for our brothers and sisters in Burma, both as believers and as fellow humans. When the time comes to account for everyone’s actions, as it soon must, I am afraid, we will all find ourselves in the dock for our collective failure. 

 

(Aijaz Zaka Syed is an independent journalist and former Opinion Editor Khaleej Times)