My latest post was going to be titled “What Drugs is the US on Now?” or “Dear Hillary: Have You Lost Your Mind?” but since I learn something new every day about the Rohingya crisis (and very little of it is good) I have revised my opinion of the presumed freewheeling permissiveness of the US Administration towards Myanmar human rights violations and seen it for what it is: business as usual. And not business in a vacuum. The “democratization” of Myanmar has created a veritable love-fest, a pajama party of the highest order, between nations near and far who want a piece of that fairly lucrative and certainly untapped market.
week that cagy government-sanctioned media outlet Myanmar Breaking News reported that “the US
has denied Saudi Arabia allegations that an ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim community is taking place in Myanmar,with the complicity of the authorities.”
Of course, this is designed to convey
US approval, or at least tolerance, of the way the Myanmar government is
handling itself. No problem here!
Myanmar can say. Those pesky
Saudis—always trying to throw money at stupide things like mosques, poverty,
starvation. Who needs ‘em when we have
Coca Cola and Pepsi on the way?
But I digress.
Now, I am not giving my
Administration a hall pass on this, but the fact that I and others like me saw
nothing to counter this story tells me a bit about how either we really don’t
care that much, or how tired the world is, how truly worn out, from all these
hate-based calamities. There just aren’t
enough column inches to cover everything.
Witness last week’s parallel incendiary activities in Assam, India,
where an alleged attack on the Bordo by Assam Muslims from (surprise!)
Bangladesh led to retaliatory violence, over 70 deaths, and a mass exodus of
Muslims back into among other places (double surprise!) Bangladesh, from whence
they came after being encouraged by the Indian government to resettle for the purposes
of increasing voter rolls during crucial elections and, of course staying and
straining the social and economic infrastructure.
sidebar: “The Indian government has blamed unidentified groups in Pakistan for
uploading images of what appear to be massacres of people in Myanmar and
Thailand and passing it off as [the Assam area in] Northeast India.” http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/southasia/view/1221106/1/.html
mistake about it: this is a universal issue.
imagine my confusion when last week I asked a former top-ranking US official in
Myanmar if there appeared to be a trend in the region of persecuted groups following
the Rpohingya’s lead and making a break for it in the hopes that the global spotlight
would finally expose their situations as well.
I asked this to learn what the experts thought the political and social
landscape of southeast Asia would look like over the next two years. The response? “I don’t know anything about
those other countries; that’s not my area.”
Which is precisely the mindset that got us into this position ijn the
first place. Pardon me while I slit my
crawl back to Myanmar for a moment and examine the US’ rather Suu-Kee-ish
response to the crisis.
of stating, as the Myanmar press claimed, that human rights violations are
certainly not happening in Myanmar, State Department spokesman Patrick
Ventrell’s August 10th press brief had the familiar blandness of a
damp dishtowel: “ . . . we continue to urge all parties to exercise restraint,
to refrain from further violence, and to uphold principles of
non-discrimination, tolerance and religious freedom. We obviously have some
concerns about making sure that [the displaced] get humanitarian aid.”
Not a battle cry, but not a
Saudi-bashing disavowal, either.
So . . . why is the US, in the body
of the State Department, being so circumspect when in the last 3 weeks
practically every human rights organization and media outlet has amassed enough
information, despite government-staged visits of refugee camps, to be pretty
sure that the Myanmar government, especially the Myanmar local governments (state leaders, military, police) are taking this
opportunity to join their regional neighbors in passively (if you can call it
that) exterminating this group?
Let’s go to the bedroom, and see
who’s crawled under the covers so far.
Well, there’s the US, of course, a
little late to the party but still trying to take up as much space as possible
via lucrative Pepsi and Coca-Cola contracts, there’s the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and
Turkey, and they’re all trying to be quiet as
mice about talk of genocide because that tends to shut the old door when you want to
get in a country and start making money.
The US can “loosen” but not “lift” embargos on Myanmar that will appease
human rights watch groups while at the same time put a toe firmly in the door
for corporate interests to slide through.
Myanmar, for its part, welcomes this attention because in addition to
not being able to pay its expenses (including its army), this friendly interest
from large countries presents the semblance of things “getting better.” In
The Disunion of Myanmar in the August
18 Latitude, Swe Win writes that
contrary to trying to alleviate ethnic issues, “the government has been
exploiting the situation: rather than intervene to ease communal tensions and
finally clarify the murky legal status of Rohingyas, it is further stigmatizing
them in order to ingratiate itself with the [Buddhist] majority.”
So things haven’t gotten better;
they’ve just gotten different. From a
militarily-ruled closed system, a democracy emerged that by definition had to
at least pay lip service to sunshine. "Politically,
[Parliament member] Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from
opening her mouth on this," Maung Zarni, a Burma expert and visiting
fellow at the London School of Economics, told the Associated Press. "She
is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She's a
politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority." (the Independent)
So the “progress” that the world sees in Myanmar is not so
much the changing of anyone’s beliefs or ideology so much as the actual
presentation of tiny bits of information where there had only been our
imagination. So sure, they’re starving
and oppressed and treated like animals but look! We’ve decided to feed them! Next step (of course): human rights for all.
China's also in on the sleepover. According to the August 12 Express Tribune (Pakistan), “China had
earlier warned Pakistan on the Burma issue by imposing restrictions on Ramzan
fasting. They have also worked behind the scenes or may even have warned Saudi
Arabia. With this aid and not blaming anyone, Saudis keep their good name with
Muslims and also obey China. Burma, China and Japan have a sizable Buddhist
population. With US oil and gas production increasing and the US reducing its
oil imports, no oil exporting country can afford to alienate China, Japan and
India. Burma has strong Chinese support. Even Bangladesh has no sympathy for
the Muslims in Burma. This gesture [the $50 million in aid from Saudi Arabia]
will make the Burma issue forgotten in no time. The substantial Buddhist
population in China, Japan and Burma have not forgotten the Bamyan Buddhas [destroyed
in Afghanistan] and they do not blame the Taliban for the destruction. They
blame the forces behind the Taliban that incited and influenced [them]”. http://tribune.com.pk/story/421139/saudi-arabia-gives-50-mln-aid-to-myanmar-muslims/
Funny thing, one can think that
media and global pressure have led to today’s AP announcement that “Burma's
government said today it would no longer censor local media outlets, the most
dramatic move yet towards allowing freedom of expression in the long-repressed
nation.” Or one can be cynical like me
and wonder if this is not a first step in the allowing of these commercial
global markets to be able to be more successful in the country via the use of
media, and that it has nothing to do with honoring any kind of idea of freedom
of speech or expression. AP adds that “reporters
will still have to send their stories to the Press Scrutiny Department after
publication so government monitors can determine whether their work violated
any publishing laws.”
The official with whom I spoke made it quite
clear: if the Rohingya continue to demand minority nationality status, they
will never make any gains. The only way that
they may ameliorate their current situation is to accept citizenship status—not
minority status, but just citizenship status.
(and that isn’t even offered yet.) Swe Win’s article also reports that “[the
Burmese government] has announced that it will place any “illegal” Rohingyas — meaning, in its view,
any Bengalis who settled in Myanmar after independence in 1948 — in detention
camps to be run by the U.N.’s refugee agency or send them away to other
One would conclude that this might give pre-1948 “citizens”
(ie anyone over 64 years old) a country, but no compensation for generations of
abuse, no ability to seek asylum as a persecuted minority, and no recourse from
what will most likely be a continuation of human rights violations by local
militia and citizen hate groups.
But at least Pepsi will be able to sell soda, and Hillary
will be happy.