Is it Burma or is it Myanmar?
This week, North Carolina passed a law that, among other things, outlawed Sharia in the state. The racism and ignorance inherent in this is hard to ignore. Sharia is not one set of laws. There are several different systems, each called Sharia law. In the U.S., it’s mainly taken in consideration in family disputes such as divorce, as any individual set of family circumstances would be.
Meantime in Myanmar/Burma (depending on your political stance), a group of Buddhists burned a Muslim school to the ground just over a month ago. Dozens of people have died in the past few months in Buddhist-on-Muslim violence in Burma (or Myanmar). Meanwhile, small minorities such as the Rohingya (who are mainly Muslim) are being targeted disproportionately. The Rohingya are a special case in Burma/Myanmar. They are legally considered clandestine immigrants from Bangladesh although they have lived in Burma since long before Bangladesh existed. They are not allowed legal identification, and are thus barred from traveling or receiving an education. There are restrictions on their marriages and family sizes. Having no legal existence, they are treated as an enslaved underclass. Now whole families are being targeted for slaughter in this atmosphere of increasing distrust and social instability.
Westerners love to think of genocide as something that happens as a result of deep and abiding hatred, and Muslims as naturally violent. Muslim-as-victim does not have much space in the dominant narrative, especially not when Buddhists (hey, the Dalai Lama is Buddhist!) are the agressors. The truth is that genocide happens everywhere. Anyone can be an aggressor; anyone can be a victim. While the international community concerns itself with crises in Egypt, Syria, Brazil, and even Canada and Germany (where recent flooding has caused a lot of damage), Myanmar/Burma gets low priority. We are glad to see the government loosening its hold in institutions, and willing to overlook increasing instability.
What is truly needed is an automatic, independent task force that responds to allegations of genocide. Like the IAEA, the task force would be empowered to make inspections, penalize governments, and bring genocidal behavior to the attention of the international community. My feeling is that the international reluctance to do much about genocide has something to do with its universality. We, the international community, fail to stop atrocities because we all know ourselves to be guilty of them.
On an individual level, genocide becomes less likely when we show courage. We need to speak up against narratives that divide the world into natural villains and victims. We need to talk about what happens in places that the world has forgotten, like Burma/Myanmar (and really, it doesn’t matter which name we use, as long as we talk about it). We have to be the light in dark places, giving hope and speaking truth.