Why Prejudice Runs Deep Against Rohingya Muslims Of Myanmar
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Here's how deep prejudice runs against the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. In newspapers in that country, it's not uncommon to see the Rohingya referred to as fleas or dogs. Now, Rohingya Muslims have faced oppression for decades. But they've never fled in numbers like we're seeing right now.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Hundreds of thousands of people are flooding out of Myanmar across the border into Bangladesh. The top human rights official at the United Nations calls it a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. And many are questioning why Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, hasn't done more to stop this. This is a question that intrigued our guest host Mary Louise Kelly.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
So I called on journalist Francis Wade to ask about the plight of the Rohingya. Wade is the author of "Myanmar's Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence And The Making Of A Muslim 'Other.'" Let me start you there. Tell me what you mean by other.
FRANCIS WADE: The current violence we've seen is the sort of latest iteration of a long campaign of persecution and violence towards Muslim minority in the west of the country. They go by the name of the Rohingya. And they are a stateless group. They number around 1 million in the state and a larger diaspora outside of the country.
KELLY: I'll just note here, you're saying Rohingya, I'm saying Rohingya. They're both acceptable pronunciations for the group?
WADE: They are.
KELLY: So are they integrated into society in Burma at all?
WADE: Not at all. They were after independence in 1948. There were Rohingya MPs, Rohingya were recognized as an ethnic group. Now they are utterly disenfranchised. They are denied citizenship. And since the first wave of violence in 2012, they have been confined to refugee camps, ghettos, villages from which they cannot move. They cannot access health care.
KELLY: Why? What changed?
WADE: Well, there's long been this narrative that Myanmar and particularly its majority Buddhist faith is under threat from Islamic cultures, particularly from the subcontinent. And the area where the Rohingya predominate is in the western part of the country that borders Bangladesh. And that's long had the moniker of the western gate. And there's a fear that if that western gate falls, there will be a tide of sort of Islamic crusaders who sweep into the country.
KELLY: OK, so you have a population of 1 million people who are, you're saying, not integrated into society in Burma at all. Do they consider themselves Burmese?
WADE: The Rohingya believe they should be recognized as an ethnic group. But because they are not considered to be one of the specifically 135 national races that was delineated by the junta, no one who identifies as Rohingya can be considered a citizen.
KELLY: And the junta that you're mentioning, this is the military that still effectively rules Myanmar.
WADE: That's right.
KELLY: What is the role of Aung San Suu Kyi here? She won the Nobel Peace Prize for standing up against human rights abuses. She is now in the government. And she's being criticized for not calling out the military attacks. Why hasn't she?
WADE: Suu Kyi, when she came to power, acquiesced in a very delicate power-sharing agreement with the Myanmar military. The military occupies 25 percent of parliamentary seats. It controls several key ministries, including the Defense Ministry. The sense that I get is that she fears that were she to criticize what the military is doing in that part of the country, they would interpret it as a bid by the civilian government to assert control over the military and therefore, the military might respond in kind by making life very difficult.
So she essentially feels sort of hamstrung.
KELLY: I mean, it sounds like you're saying she's making a political calculation.
WADE: I think this is political pragmatism of the coldest kind. She believes that by staying silent on this issue, she will retain her support base. But it's the action of a cold political pragmatist.
MARTIN: That's Francis Wade, author of the book "Myanmar's Enemy Within." He was speaking there with our guest host Mary Louise Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.