(Part of The Darkness Visible series)
(Organized Slaughter of Muslims in Burma)
Since mid summer the world has watched as the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state have been targeted and attacked by their Buddhist neighbors. For nearly half a year now we have seen countless cases of violence that are tantamount to ethnic cleansing. And yet the world has failed to do anything about it. Worse of all, most world leaders refuse to call these killings what they really are, genocide.
As the darkness of genocide has spread across western Burma the victims of these attacks have all but been forgotten. The reasons for their deaths have been pushed to the back of newspapers or websites so as to hide the conflict all together. And in doing this we have failed to stop the killings or even recognize those who are dead and dieing.
For those of us who are bearing witness to this tragedy it is hard to look past the Rohingya, who make up the majority of the victims. We have in a way made them our poster child in a campaign to halt the blood shed. And with some justification in doing so, we have focused on their plight with a sense of tunnel vision as the world passed us by.
In reality their are more than just Rohingya men, women, and children being targeted in the Rakhine. Their Muslim brothers and sisters who are not ethnic Rohingya are also being targeted. The Kaman Muslims in Myanmar are at risk of being targeted simply due to their religion. They too suffer from the wave of ethnic cleansing that has engulfed Burma. Yet the world has given little concern for their well-being or for their dead.
"We never fought with them before. We used to live together in the same village."
The Kaman are given citizenship in Myanmar. However this citizenship is often subject to obvious levels of discrimination. It can be taken away at any given time and the Kaman Muslim becomes stateless without any cause given or legal rights to refute the decision. In reality the Kaman are little better off than any other Muslim in the extremist Buddhist country of Myanmar. At best, they are second class citizens on the basis of their religion.
Racial slurs like "kular" (the equivalent of the slur 'nigger' in the West) are used for both Kaman Muslims and the Rohingya Muslims. When fighting broke out the Buddhist mobs operated on the mentality that "Kaman are kular too". There was no distinguishing between the Kaman or the Rohingya when it came time to attack and burn down Muslim homes or mosque.
When the Burmese government began to establish ghettos for the Rohingya the Kaman, who lived amongst the Buddhist prior, were forced into the squalor alongside the "illegal immigrants". Even though the Kaman are legal citizens the Myanmar military used the excuse that it was for their protection that they be removed.
Now the Kaman make up a small, but important, portion of the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced peoples within Burma. After all, a large majority of the Kaman do not want to flee the country and risk loosing their citizenship or papers that prove their nationality. And that is exactly what happens to a Kaman Muslim when they jump across the border or flee in a boat. Myanmar refused reentry legally and denies the Kaman citizenship. Putting them in the same boats as the Rohingya who are stateless.
In addition to clear cut discrimination in issuing the citizenship cards to Kaman, Rakhine police and Burmese military have the "right" to order Kaman to work without pay. Like the Rohingya, Kaman Muslims can be beaten without legal recourse if they do not fulfill their obligations to the Buddhist majority. This also means they can loose their citizenship if they can not pay annual and random taxes levied at the whims of the state. Any refusal to work as slaves can and does result in the loss of citizenship.
But this one little piece of paper has been all that has separated the Kaman from the Rohingya. Up until this latest bout of ethnic cleansing the fact that the Kaman had citizenship rights had put them above the level of discrimination the Rohingya faced. Yet it was the religion that linked the two groups that put them both in the same gun sights.
Today Myanmar announced that it will begin permitting Rohingya citizenship rights with drastic restrictions. This move in affect will level the playing field for Myanmar's Muslim minorities. All will now face the same level of hatred by both federal government and local government alike.
The religious war against the Burmese Muslim groups will continue for some time to come if nothing is done to stop it. For now the Kaman will continue to suffer alongside the Rohingya. Both will continue to face starvation and disease as they flee the wrath of Buddhist extremist. And when the season of boating comes, a record number of both groups will take to the ocean in search of hope. A search that often ends in tragedy.
It is important to end with the reminder that all this could have been prevented. Stronger UN action to prevent genocide is possible. Western governments, now set to profit from Myanmar's conflict, could have continued levying sanctions upon the genocidal regime in Rangoon. As a world community we could have begun speaking out much sooner than we had. And China, Russia, and ASEAN could all have waited before rushing in for Myanmar's wealth of natural resources. But instead, we have done nothing to stop it.