On 16 July 2012, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the Myanmar Opposition leader stood in front of a huge audience at the Oslo City hall in Norway. The wait was over for her and, it seemed, for Burma for she was to finally accept the Nobel Peace Prize that had been awarded to her 21 years ago. The moment of triumph was long overdue and victory had been gained after years of the despairing isolation of house arrest. As she spoke about how the prize had succeeded in dispelling the sense of isolation, Suu Kyi steered her speech towards the issue of war. She spoke of how the first world war had represented ‘a terrifying waste of youth and potential’ and how even today we cannot help but wonder what so many young men fighting in that battle really died for.
Are we not still guilty, if to a less violent degree, of recklessness, of improvidence with regard to our future and our humanity? War is not the only arena where peace is done to death. Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.
Her words are certainly touching and fitting for a Nobel speech. But it seems that fate has a sense of irony and a rather cruel one too; today amidst the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Suu Kyii’s silence is speaking louder than any words she ever uttered. Up till now she has not criticized the Burmese president for questionable policies that are reflective of ethnic cleansing, and critics suggest she also sees the Muslim group as immigrants rather than citizens.
In Pakistan, the reaction appears to be mixed. True, there is growing resentment towards the Burmese government but there are also those who question if the massacre really is taking place or the reports are exaggerated and that the numbers of the victims are not high enough to provoke an outburst. Others also believe that it would be better if we were to pay attention to the problems of our own our own country. For the skeptics, let’s examine the facts; It is certainly true that the Burmese government has denied any violence any security forces against the community. However, what is also noteworthy is that since the riots began, the Burmese authorities have ordered all international NGOs out of the region. Scores of NGO workers staff have been arrested while others are missing.
According to a report by Amnesty International, the situation of ethnic minorities in Burma is grave and violence against the Rohingya community in the western state of Rakhine is on the rise.
These facts speak for themselves. But lets assume for a moments that the reports are exaggerated. Well, what then? Should we wait for the numbers to rise to a million before we protest about the unjust killings of innocent people? The thought seems cruel and harldy one I would like to put to words but then we gone down this road before, haven’t we? Don’t there exist, even today, people who staunchly maintain that the Jewish Holocaust never took place? That the numbers of holocaust victims were not as high as deemed to be? Once, and for all, it doesn’t matter, whether one person is killed or six billion! If they are killed just because they belong to a particular religion, cast, creed or colour, we need to rise up against whoever is committing such atrocities because anyone who can take away innocent lives out of hatred, no matter how many, is capable of just about anything.
As for the opinion that we might be better off worrying about atrocities being committed in our own country, yes, I certainly see where that is coming from. After all, aren’t we also guilty of silence while our borders bleed and thousand meet their deaths in the face of drone attacks? Maybe so, but the thing is, we cannot handpick and choose. There is always going to be a battle between the oppressed and oppressor. Wherever we see that kind of suffering, it is our duty and the rights of the victims that are voices be raised for them. Read about it, understand what is happening, write, talk to people and educate them about the need to spread the word of all the massacres taking place in the world today. Who knows, maybe these small acts may just be the step towards the end.
The history of the Rohingya people is extensive. Is Myanmar really their home? There is a score of literature on the net and books are being published by historians to answer this very same question. But is this really something we need to be focusing on? Does the world need a reminder about the longest war in history, one that is still going on today, namely the Israel-Palestine conflict? After over 60 years what has this questioning achieved? Nothing but the slaughter of innocents and the eviction of so many from the land they once called home. While we continue to bicker over this, we might as well be asking for another Palestine.
There was a time, centuries ago, during the golden period of their history, that the Rohingya people knew what it was like to live in peace. They have waited far too long for their golden age to begin again. Let’s not be embittered by our own divisions to forget their suffering. Because if we do, we are no better than someone who holds a trophy for a life-long struggle for human rights, only to grow silent over the anguished cries of a people waiting for justice to be served.
First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.