In northwest Myanmar, there is an area called Rakhine which is the home of the Rohingya, a minoritized Muslim population. There has been a long history of violent conflict between the Buddhist majority, who hold government power, and the Muslim minority in Myanmar; the Muslims are only a majority in Rakhine. This history reemerges as another conflict arises, targeting the Rohingya.
It all started with acts of terrorism on August 25th, 2017. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) targeted 30 police stations and a military base, killing 12 officials. ARSA is a terrorist group based in Rakhine that fights for the rights of the Rohingya. They aim to establish an Islamic state in Myanmar but are not supported by the 1,000,000 Rohingya that have been living in Rakhine. After the attacks, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, and numerous militias went into Rakhine for revenge. The problem arose when the Buddhist armed forces failed to differentiate between the ARSA and the innocent civilian Rohingya, whom they falsely considered enemies. People were restrained inside their homes as their villages were set ablaze. Survivors told of showers of bullets raining at them, seemingly out of nowhere. The old and the young, the men and the women, the terrorists and the civilians: bullets came for them all. Survivors could only watch as their loved ones were riddled with bullets until the corpses that were left were almost unrecognizable. The attackers came in close to finish off their foes; children were decapitated in front of their families. For those that survived, all that was left to do was run and hope their loved ones were running close behind.
Of the 1,000,000 Rohingya that lived in Rakhine, over 625,000 fled into Bangladesh in the three months that followed the attack. Those seeking asylum and pre-existing residents struggle to find adequate food and shelter as the local population spikes to 1,200,000 people. As Bangladesh tries to cope with the massive influx of refugees, it attempts to keep the interests of the citizens residing in the same area in mind as well. Not everyone made it out of Rakhine with their lives though. While attempting escape, around 80 people drowned in boats as crowded as the home that awaited them. Though the exact number killed by the Tatmadaw and the militias is unclear, reported numbers have been in the hundreds to thousands, and the UN said that “it may be extremely high.” The Myanmar government has said that only 400 ARSA members have been killed, but every eyewitness account on record says differently. Thousands more refugees escape to Bangladesh every week. ARSA is forcing some Rohingya still in Rakhine to stay in the hope of the civilians will distract the military. As more people watch the developments in Rakhine, ARSA plans to use the civilians as protection.
As the bloodshed continues, many people wonder why. The answer is not only found in contemporary news but in the deeply problematic history of the country, leaving wounds yet to bet healed. Not only do the Rohingya lack citizenship, but the myth that they are all immigrants from Bangladesh still persists, though Bangladesh is the only place the majority of the population has ever known. The history of the devaluation of the Rohingya can be traced back to the extremist Buddhist teaching of their reincarnation from insects. This deep-seeded indoctrination of their worthlessness has led to the apathy from the general public of Myanmar.
All it would take for the tide of public opinion to turn is condemnation from the leader of the country, Aung Sun Suu Kyi; she is a nobel peace prize winning humanitarian who has a legacy of standing up for those that have been mistreated. The most likely reason she has not spoken out is fear of the military, who hold more power than shei, and could thus put her life in danger if she came out against the military action. The military wants the Rohingya taken care of because the Rohingya is seen as a problem for those in power, and the Rohingya could all be in Bangladesh or killed, and the military leaders would be content.
Internationally, nothing has been done mostly due to China, who is building infrastructure in Rakhine for its new silk road project. China avoids Myanmar’s domestic affairs, and they get easy access from the government into the country. The majority of countries in the UN have denounced what Myanmar is doing to the Rohingya, but China has enough power in the UN to stop anything involving Myanmar from happening.
Due to the current climate of wanting equal and fair reporting (which are two separate concepts that can go against each other), people in western countries look for the other side of every issue. That demand has been supplied with articles filled with Islamophobia and a hidden agenda. They blame the Rohingya for the deaths in Rakhine, and they have failed to differentiate between the Rohingya and the ARSA. They generalize Islam and spread a fear of Muslims. Jihad Watch, an openly Islamophobic group, posted the most popular of these articles, which has been reposted on countless websites. The group masquerades as an intellectual and fair news source while spouting xenophobia. They fail to say that religion is not the reason for the newest version of this conflict. Religion is a tool being used. Buddhism is the tool being used by the military and the extremists within Buddhism to hide the want to consolidate power and get rid of a minority with differing views. Islam is the tool the ARSA use to try to excuse the goal of creating an Islamist state with the ARSA in power. Power is the issue, not any religion.