Myanmar′s persecution of the Rohingya

Existentially naked

The campaign of ethnic cleansing now being carried out against Myanmar′s Rohingya confronts the world with one of those moments that seem to arrive unannounced. Surely, by now, we should be able to recognise in such episodes the accelerating pulse of genocide? By Bernard Henri-Levy

As is so often the case, it was an artist who sounded the warning. His name is Barbet Schroeder and the alert that he issued came in the form of his fine, sober film "The Venerable W.", a portrait of Myanmar′s Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu. Known as ″W″, Wirathu is the other face of a religion that is widely perceived as the archetype of peace, love and harmony. And behind his racist visage lies a broader Buddhist embrace of violence that takes one′s breath away.

Shown at the 2017 Cannes Festival, Schroeder′s film attracted an impressive amount of media attention. And, in a subsequent television appearance, Schroeder warned that the Rohingya, the Muslim minority in Myanmar′s Rakhine State, lay in the sights of Wirathu′s bloodthirsty ″969 Movement″.

That should come as no surprise. The Rohingya are a million men and women rendered stateless in their own country. Deprived of the right to vote, of political representation and of access to hospitals and schools, they have faced pogroms whenever the military that has tyrannised Myanmar for a half-century has tired of starving them.

The Rohingya′s unique status is stunning in its calculated cruelty. They are simultaneously rootless (officially unrecognised in a country so obsessed with race that it counts 135 other ″national ethnicities″, making them literally one race too many) and root-bound (legally barred from moving, working, or marrying outside their village of origin and subject to restrictions on family size).

From sub-human to hunted animal

So here we are, confronted with one of those moments that seem to arrive unannounced but that, by now, we should be able to recognise as the accelerating pulse of genocide.

Nearly 400,000 people have now been transferred from the realm of subhumans to that of hunted animals, smoked out of the villages to which they had previously been confined, driven out on the roads, shot at, tortured for fun and subjected to mass rape. Those who survive are arriving at makeshift camps just across the border in neighbouring Bangladesh, which, as one of the world′s poorest countries, lacks the resources, though not the will, to offer proper shelter to the swelling ranks of refugees.

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