More From Alder's Ledge

February 6, 2013

Lebensraum And Burma

Living Space for the Kalar
(part of The Darkness Visible series)

In Buddhism the Swastika might be a symbol of luck and peace, the Nazi flag however...

Across the world societies have often turned to an ethnocentric version of their collective history by isolating a portion of their community from the rest. This willingness to segregate shows the weaknesses of the society in which they occur. To the outsider it is easy to identify how these chinks in the armor create a fatal flaw. However for those who are bound by the facade of morality these societies uphold this need to hate is almost unrecognizable. 

In many cases these flaws in the makeup of the society can go on for decades without incident. Both the isolated community and the rest of society can almost learn to accept their roles in the overall scheme of things. Little digs at the targeted community can even be tolerated for some time without much friction. Words such as "nigger, kike, and faggot" might even become popular amongst the majority. And given the frequency of the abuse both majority and minority might even become accustom to a situation that outsiders would find intolerable.

Then comes a group of antagonist.

With some effort a group or individual can exploit the rift that floats just beneath the surface. This occurred in Germany with the rise of the Nazis and in Rwanda with daily antagonism on the airwaves. Their persistence in pushing the minute differences between the majority and minority pushed their society to the edge of the abyss. And in the case of genocide... over the edge and into the depths.

Once the ball gets rolling it is nearly impossible to stop the tide.

In the case of the Germans the antagonist started the flow of hatred with the theory of lebensraum. This method exacerbated the differences of both race and religion that cracked the German society. It helped to give purpose to the rise of hatred in ways that even the pogroms had not managed. It justified a sense of hatred that not only isolated the targeted community but dehumanized them.

With Burma the antagonist have long implemented Hitler's old methods in their targeting and attacking of the Rohingya minority. Their use of ghettos mimics the SS in Poland. Their exploitation of "unruly mobs" recreates (over a much longer time scale) the SA's kristallnacht. But it was their pushing of lebensraum that made all that possible.

To understand how Burma pushes the theory of lebensraum we should first look at how it was created in the first place.

Lebensraum was first thought up long before Hitler's hijacking of it. Many historians accredit the social theory of lebensraum to the medieval Ostsiedlung or the spread of German settlements into Eastern Europe. Thus this recreation of past sins was of course founded on the same ideas the first spawned the spread of "German peoples" into foreign lands. These being that the German people were growing faster than their own territory could sustain. Therefore both the medieval and modern fascist came to the same conclusion... attack weaker societies and take from them what you need.

According to Hitler the German people needed "living space" to continue their inevitable growth. However unlike past expansions, Hitler did not believe that the "pure Aryan" should be diluted in his expansion by living with or mixing with the societies already living on the soon to be conquered lands. Slavs, Jews, Roma, and Poles all needed to be cleared along with the Russians and political dissenters. These were all of course threats to the confiscation of much needed territories.

In Burma today it is obvious that the map has already been drawn up. It is inconceivable that Myanmar could or would invade neighboring lands to acquire more territory upon which to build and expand. Yet the government of Burma has a portion within it that believes that the "pure" Burmese need more "living space".

Yet in Burma "pure" doesn't just mean a particular race, though that does play its role. Instead religion and language also play a role that race alone could not fill. With the Rohingya the fact that they are Muslims fills this role almost to its conclusion... forcible removal and extermination.

For decades the word "kalar" has long highlighted the fracture in Rakhine society. It's racial sting not only identifies the Rohingya as darker skinned but "unclean" as well. Unclean for the fact that they are not Buddhist like the Rakhine majority. Unclean because they do not speak, mostly amongst themselves, the same dialect of Burmese as the Rakhine.

In this sense the word "kalar" cracks Burmese society in ways that no other word can. After all, "kalar" is almost a legal definition of the Rohingya withing the Arakan. "Kalar" individuals are often denied standard documentation such as birth certificates and marriage licenses. "Kalar" people can be forced to do labor for the government and military without pay or any compensation. "Kalar" people do not have to be treated with dignity or respect while they are always expected to show it to the rest of society.

During the massive pogroms that occurred in the summer and fall of 2012 the "kalar" were openly targeted while the government offered military protection to the Buddhist majority. This showed the Rohingya that once again they were being targeted for removal from not only their land but the society as a whole. The one word that had separated the Muslims from the Buddhists was now being plastered everywhere like the old "Whites Only" signs in America's dirty south. All the while the Rohingya were being killed and driven out of their homes and villages.

Like Hitler, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) has used the differences between the two groups to further split up the Arakan community. Over emphasizing slurs such as "kalar" helps to further ingrain radical philosophies such as lebensraum. And once the ideals of the party become the default argument of the majority the start of the genocide begins.

There are already signs that the RNDP has succeeded at fully implanting their ideology into the majority of Rakhine society. With support of the religious leaders of the Arakan Buddhist community the RNDP has managed to bring in Rakhine settlers to "resettle" Rohingya villages. The monks have openly supported efforts by the RNDP to tighten the strangling grip of the barricades blocking aid to Rohingya villages and camps. And with support of government authorities the RNDP has been able to arrange launching points for Rohingya ships leaving Burma in an effort to ethnically cleanse the Arakan.

Had the cracks not already been present it is arguable that antagonist like the RNDP could not have pushed such radical beliefs such as the current genocide of the Rohingya. Yet no argument can bring back the dead already lost to this horrific tragedy. No what if this or that sort of debate can end the slaughter.

If the Rohingya are to be saved and the genocide is to be stopped the outside world must first take action and wait to talk after the bleeding has stopped. We can not talk or trade our way to a scenario where Rohingya aren't starving to death or drowning at sea. If Burma is to be stopped the world community has to find more meaningful ways to force Myanmar to a standstill.

Unfortunately that means that the world media must give up its narrative of a "democratic Myanmar" heading for reform and an open society. We all have seen just how much the media has enjoyed this love affair with Burmese leaders such as Suu Kyi and Thein Sein. But if we are going to live with ourselves after this genocide is ended then we must hold both responsible for their actions in this tragedy.

As for economics... well that is the portion of this struggle that is almost like hitting a brick wall. When dealing with genocide it seems that facing the reality of politics and ideology are nothing in comparison to getting governments to back away from easy profit. In the modern age it is nearly impossible to imagine a situation in which China, Russia, the EU, or USA ever back away from profit over stopping a genocidal regime.

How many more Rohingya have to die so that the West can profit off of Burma's need for "living space"?

Source Documents
(note not all sources are listed)
(image and content)

Human Rights Watch

The Nation

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