About 655,000 people have crowded into refugee camps in Bangladesh to flee from atrocities committed against them in Myanmar: burned homes, destroyed villages, parents slaughtered in front of children (and children in front of parents), systematic and gang rape of women and girls. The exodus follows decades of denial of basic human rights to people whose ancestors — majority Muslim and minority Hindu — have lived in the Rakhine (Arakan) state of mostly Buddhist Myanmar for centuries.
Journalists and aid workers risk arrest and detention, and even their lives, to seek access to document and report on these scenes. Access is severely restricted by Myanmar’s government, and reports are scorned as “fake news,” yet sufficient proof has reached the world of crimes against humanity. An excellent account in words and pictures can be found in an article by the New York Times, “How the Rohingya escaped.”
The United Nations reports the Rohingya people are among the most persecuted minorities in the world, and the U.S. House of Representatives — in rare agreement — on Dec. 6 condemned the Burmese military’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya and called for an end to attacks and restoration of humanitarian access to Rakhine state. House Foreign Affairs Committee Royce declared that “For decades, the Burmese government has systematically oppressed the Rohingya, a Muslim minority living in the Rakhine State of Burma (Myanmar). A 1982 citizenship law denies the Rohingya citizenship, even though most have lived in the country for generations. They have been denied freedom of movement, access to health care, and education. The Rohingya have been marginalized by every level of the Burmese government, from top to bottom. Making matters worse, Burma’s military is now engaged in a new brutal crackdown on the Rohingya that the U.S. has rightly deemed ethnic cleansing…”
Calling it both a moral and a national security issue, he called for an end to persecution, and for perpetrators to face justice.
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Most ironically, the majority Buddhist nation of Myanmar is now led by figurehead civilian leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Sun Suu Kyi, whom worldwide human rights campaigns successfully freed from years of house arrest — seemingly only for Myanmar’s military rulers to pursue unhindered persecution against minority Muslims. Although religious differences exist between most Burmese and the persecuted Rohingya, all religions everywhere prohibit violence against civilians and innocent people, and Buddhism most especially. But appallingly, cynical nationalists use the label of Buddhist religion — a religion that supremely calls its followers to compassion toward all sentient beings — to divide people from one another, to label some as less than human and to incite unspeakable brutality.
An interfaith protest that included many people from State College took place outside Myanmar’s embassy in Washington D.C. in November 2015. There, historian Dr. David Schoenbaum noted that the persecution of the Rohingya people by the Myanmar government has item-for-item imitated steps of persecution of Central European Jews by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s. He rightly declared, “Never again!”
At 2 p.m. Jan. 20, at St. Paul UMC Education Building, 250 East College Ave., an event sponsored by Interfaith Initiative Centre County will welcome Dr. Wakar Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union, along with his wife Sarah Naeem, to speak on the humanitarian disaster facing this deeply suffering people. Please come to hear and understand the pressing need for worldwide awareness and pressure upon the conscience of the good people of Myanmar to bring an end to this horror.
Sarah Q. Malone is convener of Interfaith Initiative Centre County. For more information on the upcoming speaker event and more, email: InterfaithInitiativeCC@hotmail.com.