More From Alder's Ledge

May 17, 2013

Ethnic Purity

A Tyrant's Pipe-dream
(The Darkness Visible series)

(In Burma its the man with the gun that writes the law.)

When the Serbian nationalist launched their war against the other states that had once made up Yugoslavia the world sat on the sidelines and watched. We watched as radical nationalism led to the same sins that it had produced in Germany. We watched as the barbwire went back up. We watched as rape camps were established. We watched as men and boys were worked to death and starved till they became the walking dead. We watched as what we had called genocide in Germany was renamed "ethnic cleansing". All along we knew it was absolutely wrong. All along we sat silent as the sins of our past were marched back out for the world to see. 

Just as radical nationalism took root in Serbian extremists it can now be seen skulking beneath the surface in the Arakan State of Burma. Like a serpent it slithers just below the facade that the radicalized Rakhine mobs have crafted. The lies that hid for a short while in Serbia are building up the "cause" the Rakhine extremist monks claim to be fighting for. Those who deny it exist refuse that ethnicity lay at the root of the Burmese movement. 

For the past year many have claimed that the Rohingya are spreading Islam where it never existed prior to this outbreak of violence. They claim that the Rohingya are invaders. They claim that the Rohingya are the aggressors. Yet history refuses to back these claims. For lack of evidence, these pillars of the radical Buddhists' movement are left unsupported. 

Without religion to fall back upon, the Rakhine mobs can only rely upon the ethnicity of their victims to rally support amongst poor Rakhine communities. Slurs such as "kalar, ogres, and unclean" float the hate filled message of the true aggressors. These draw upon old ethnic bigotry that the monks were well aware already existed. Islam is just the latest excuse to be added to their arsenal of reasons to attack. 

Yet the Rakhine monks are far from the main reason for the apparently sudden outburst of ethnic violence in Burma. For decades the Burmese military junta have been pushing ethnic minorities toward the borderlands. Those who are not considered ethnically pure are mercilessly attacked. Villages are torched, the inhabitants driven off into the forest and mountains, and the scorched earth filled with landmines. This is a war for ethnic purity. It is a war that has been raging without relent every since the generals hijacked Burma's government.

The Rakhine mobs are simply the willing tools of the "reformed" government. Their targets are highlighted in the same way the Nazis spread across Europe, in a blitz. With government supported propaganda the communities to be "cleared" are highlighted for the mobs. The mobs build, the tension rises, and the stormtroopers come rushing in. All that is left is the lebensraum that the government of Myanmar desired in the first place. 

Radical nationalism is much like genocide in this way, it has patterns. You can check off its rise in stages. And yet we often overlook it's presence with every occurrence of its wretched growth.

In Burma we were shut off from what was happening behind the shroud that the Junta had created. However the moment the door was cracked we should have been able to identify the lies Burma's leaders were feeding us. Instead in the darkness of Burma's past we saw a glimmer of hope for its future.... however misguided that may have been.

The first step for radical nationalism to take root is for the political landscape to be divided into an "us vs them" scenario. If the radical nationalist cannot segregate a party and isolate its members they will resort to ethnic divides to isolate a group to dominate. Once under control the movement can begin to spread its cancer across the landscape.

Much like the Nazi movement and that of the extremist Serbian movement, radical nationalism is alluring to the impoverished and isolated. It offers a cause greater than themselves to which they can attach themselves to. It offers hope to a portion of society that has old scores to settle. And by offering a path forward, even the most extreme views can be swallowed.

When the extremist can seduce their followers to an ideology of "us vs them" they simply have to switch the bait to "you are the oppressed" and "this is your land". With this the extremist become more than just ethnically centered but create the myth that nationalism can be defined by ethnicity and ethnicity alone. With this the excuse for action to right the imagined wrongs can lead to acts previously unimaginable.

In Burma this has meant that select ethnic groups have been given the green light to "retake" lands that they were told were taken from them. Ethnic groups that find themselves on the wrong side of this rewritten history of Burma are pushed out. This has led to the Shan, Chin, Kachin, Kaman, Rohingya, and other minorities being driven to the edges of their homelands. Through being declared "invaders" they have been written out of Myanmar's existence.

We watched the same thing occur in Bosnia. When the Serbs needed excuses to retake their "homeland" in Bosnia they used the same excuse Hitler had for invading the Sudetenland. Ethnic purity and ethnic heritage had given them a perverted justification for genocide. And just as the Serbs and Nazis proved, there is always somebody who just doesn't belong. There is always another undesirable to be removed.

In this aspect ethnic purity is a dream of the radicalized mind. Even if the Rohingya were gone tomorrow there would always be another group that the Burmese majority would need to remove. For at the core of radical nationalism is the need for that "us vs them" mentality. Without it the need for radicalized nationalism ceases to exist.

So now we must ask ourselves; are we going to set on the sidelines in Burma? Will we watch as the same sins of our past are dragged out for the world to see? Are we to watch as the Rohingya are starved to death in camps as the barb wire goes back up? Or will we take this opportunity to learn from the lessons history is attempting to teach us yet again?

The blockades that existed prior to the cyclone still exist. Food, clean water, and medicine are still being withheld from Rohingya as they die in the squalor of Burma's version of concentration camps. With every passing day they perish from diseases that could have been easily prevented. With every passing hour they fall to starvation and thirst.

For my ancestors who suffered under the yoke of radical nationalism there were liberators in the form of resistance. Brave young men and women took up arms against a foe that appeared to be impregnable. Through their actions the blood of my ancestors was not lost to the pages of history. With their courage came freedom.

We may not be able to storm the beaches of the Arakan with guns blazing. Yet our resistance is just as dangerous in this modern age. As Stalin said, "ideas are more dangerous than guns...". Our voices are our ammunition.

So take this opportunity to resist. Take this opportunity to scream for those who have been made voiceless. Pick up your weapon and join the fight.

How to Scream:
  • Share articles like this one on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterist, Blogger, Tumbler, and other social media outlets.
  • Write your local and federal Representatives in government and ask that they stand up for the Rohingya.
  • Join "tweet storms" and other social media protest in support of the Rohingya. 
  • Share the plight of the Rohingya with your family and friends (maybe even the old fashion way, you know... face to face). 
  • Email your religious organizations the story of the Rohingyas' plight in Burma. 
  • Contact local leaders in your community and ask them to support the Rohingya in any way possible. 
  • And just get creative in ways to spread the message as far and wide as possible (please keep it legal though). 

Literally thousands of lives rely upon you, the free world, to speak up and join the fight. So use your freedoms in the way that they were meant to be used... to help others.

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