Condemnation of the brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing being carried out against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is growing around the world, with the Dalai Lama, the Pope, Nobel Laureates and world leaders from many countries calling for an end to hostilities.
There is no easy way to end the suffering there, but it is imperative that the world speaks out as one against such atrocities, yet the UK government’s voice has barely been heard at all. Of all the countries that should be playing a role in protecting the vulnerable Muslim minority people in Myanmar, the UK should be leading efforts, as blame for the conflict in those lands is very easily traceable back to British Colonial times.
Even without knowing the dark secrets of British involvement, people are horrified about what is happening in Myanmar, with hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes by violent vigilantes, either led by or with help from the army and stories of rapes and murder commonplace, alongside the dramatic footage of burning villages. The hatred which has been stirred up by nationalists is all too obvious in the TV reports and the Islamophobia that has been created by (among others) Ashin Wirathu, a monk who calls himself the ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’, is truly frightening.
If the UK and other western countries do not tackle this and condemn the attacks on a Muslim minority people, this inaction will again be seized upon as evidence of the West’s hatred of Islam by extremists with another agenda. They will do nothing to help the Rohingya but will use their name for propaganda and recruiting more fighters for their cause, just as they have with previous examples of Muslims being persecuted.
The Rohingya have been living in those lands for over two hundred years, but resentment over the internal displacement of Buddhists stems back to 1826 when Britain annexed the part of Myanmar where most Rohingya Muslims live today. Bengali Muslims arrived in large numbers to become labourers and administrators for the British, but it is not the colonists who are blamed for this in today’s nationalist narrative, but the descendants of these migrant workers.
Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948, but the position of the Rohingya Muslims has become ever more perilous. The United Nations has described the Rohingya Muslims as the most persecuted minority in the world. Attempts at creating an independent state for themselves have failed, and they have been denied citizenship in their own country since 1982 and with it the right to education, healthcare or even property ownership.
Far from speaking out against the violence, Aung San Suu Kyi has hidden behind the same language of having to fight terrorists as was used by Bosnian Serbs in the 1990s, Western leaders in the ‘War on terror’ in Iraq and Libya, Israel’s persecution of Palestine.
Although she is not alone in her hypocrisy, as a Nobel Laureate, expectations of her are much higher. Yet her response so far has been mealy-mouthed, and the British government have not held her to account when they most certainly have the opportunity to do so. Last year the UK sold weapons worth half a million pounds to the government in Myanmar, which could very well be used against the Rohingya now. GBP 250k was taken from the UK’s aid budget to train the army there, which in this climate of violence is completely inexcusable.
Aung San Suu Kyi has personal as well as political ties with the UK, having a British husband and two sons born and raised in the UK. She not only graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, but returned to live in the UK after working briefly at the UN.
This article has been excerpted from the article, ‘The very least the UK owes the Rohingya is protection’.