Over the past two weeks, we have watched with sadness the unfolding crisis in Myanmar. The country’s military is currently conducting operations against the nation’s Rohingya Muslim minority, 390,000 of which have now been driven to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Many more have been killed, a fact that the UN has labelled ‘textbook ethnic cleansing.’
Prior to the humanitarian crisis, there were at least one million Rohingya people living in Myanmar, most of them Muslim, some Hindu. Although the Rohingya have lived in the region for centuries, Myanmar does not recognise the ethnic minority as one of its ‘national races’, meaning they are effectively denied citizenship.
Myanmar has justified the military operation as a campaign to rid Rakhine state, the region where the majority of Rohingyas lived, of insurgents, after Myanmar police were attacked on 25 August. However, their historical maltreatment of the minority – as well as the images of the displaced and starving on the news – suggests this is a brutal exercise to drive them out of the country.
Recent reports of Myanmar security forces burning Rohingya villages and shooting people who fled has led Amnesty International to describe the acts as ‘crimes against humanity.’
Last week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu added his voice to those of fellow peacemakers Malala Yousafsai and the Dalai Lama, calling on the leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, to cease the military operation against the country’s Muslim minority. Many others from the international community have asked the same.
In an open letter, Archbishop Tutu implored his fellow Nobel peace prize winner to intervene:
We know that you know that human beings may look and worship differently – and some may have greater firepower than others – but none are superior and none inferior; that when you scratch the surface we are all the same, members of one family, the human family; that there are no natural differences between Buddhists and Muslims; and that whether we are Jews or Hindus, Christians or atheists, we are born to love, without prejudice. Discrimination doesn’t come naturally; it is taught.
Tutu finished the letter with this powerful statement:
My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep. A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country.
When we see atrocities like this play out before us on our screens, we are given a stark reminder of our shared humanity. Were it not for the pure accident of where we’re born, any one of us could be facing a similar situation. ‘We are,’ as Tutu says, ‘all the same’; and it is a tragedy that any human being should have to endure such persecution.
Such empathy and support is what is needed right now. The UK have just pledged £25m to help the Rohingya, and there are many local and international charities working to alleviate their suffering. We know that a lot of Ummahsonic readers will want to contribute to the cause. Please ensure that if you want to donate, you do so safely. Médecins Sans Frontières are a charity who are doing great work in the region, and you can check out the charities on the Disasters Emergency Committee if you want to work out where to donate. Head to their website for more information.