The genocide that took place during the Holocaust is impossible to forget. It still haunts our memories, still evokes pain and fear, still remains a chapter of our global history that we reflect upon with utter shame and disbelief. We hope that similar tragedies will never occur again. But even in this enlightened and humanistic age, we seem to have forgotten the lessons we learned from the Holocaust. In a distant corner of the world, in a country called Myanmar, history repeats itself.
Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar has resulted in minority religions like Islam being marginalized, to such an extreme degree that the two million Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar have been denied existence. The government has stripped them of their citizenship and they are dubbed illegal ‘Bengali immigrants’, although they have been part of the country since its independence from British Rule in 1948. Conflict between the Rohingya and the Buddhist majority have escalated into a series of massacres, in which military men indiscriminately shoot at the Rohingya, including infants, and also rape women, then kill them.
As the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi has resiliently fought for a more free Myanmar. The country was previously heavily controlled by a long term military dictatorship. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for nearly twenty years and couldn’t see her husband even when he died. In 2015, her party won a landslide election, with a majority of people voting for NLD, a major accomplishment for Myanmar.
Despite being an advocate for peace, Aung San Suu Kyi remains silent in the face of the Rohingya crisis. She flatly denied any ‘clearance operations’ and called one woman’s gang rape testimony ‘a fake rape’. People demand that Aung San Suu Kyi be stripped of her Nobel Prize because her actions contradict the humanitarian rights that the Prize seeks to reward.
So far, a number of fellow laureates have spoken up about the atrocities. “Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same. The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting,” said Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Prize for encouraging girl’s education.
Despite how outrageous Suu Kyi’s silence is, we must seriously ask ourselves if she is the only one to blame. Her inaction may be partially explained by military pressure and political complexities. If she opposes the violence against the Rohingya people, there is a chance she will lose national and governmental support, which are the only forces keeping her in power. This would not stop the genocide in the long term because then the military can regain their authority and continue their rampage. While her perceived indifference is not a viable option for either the Rohingya’s rights or her international reputation, it seems to be the most political way for Suu Kyi to maintain her democratic leadership. Therefore, taking her Nobel Peace Prize might just be what the military wants for Suu Kyi: to lose support from both the national and international communities. The calls for her to be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize are important, insofar as they are pressuring Suu Kyi not to forget the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, and it is important that Suu Kyi makes a more concerted effort to assist the Rohingya minority. Suu Kyi’s response has been much too reserved, and thousands of Rohingya have died as a result. But what’s the alternative? It very well may be a military dictatorship that will continue to launch attacks on the Rohingya, with even less accountability. The situation is even more complex when considering that the military in Myanmar still has the authority to reverse decisions made by Suu Kyi.
Then there comes the question of whether the global community’s focus should even be on her Nobel Peace Prize. The Burmese military’s dominance comes from the weapons and resources provided by other world powers. While there are weapons embargoes in the EU and US against the Burmese military, India, China, and Russia and Israel still send weapons and assist in the training of soldiers. Moreover, although Suu Kyi is deliberately avoiding the issue, she is nonetheless one of the most reasonable political leaders within the country. Thus, if we want to really halt the atrocities, our world leaders might need to withdraw support for the military, negotiate immigration solutions, or push Suu Kyi to collaborate. Another seemingly difficult, but not altogether impossible approach, is to diplomatically persuade the Burmese people to be less hostile toward the Rohingya. After all, should true Buddhists not preach and show compassion toward living beings?
One of the mistakes made during and before the Holocaust was misunderstanding the political situation in Germany, specifically the factors that led to such a brutal and inhumane genocide. We mustn’t make the same mistake in Myanmar. Ending the Rohingya genocide must be a global effort, and it must involve fully understanding the political situation in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence is reprehensible, but our inability as a global community to end the atrocities in Myanmar might say a lot about our own silence.