The Suffering of the Rohingya

Smoke and flames in Myanmar are seen from the Bangladeshi side of the border near Cox’s Bazar, Sept. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Two recent videos caught my eye, one from Al Jazeera, the other via the New York Times. They both pertain to the massive number of Rohingya refugees forcibly displaced from Myanmar into Bangladesh, in what the United Nations is calling “ethnic cleansing.” There are many reports of deliberate targeting of Rohingya Muslims by the largely Buddhist Myanmar military, police, and militias.

 

However, only a few voices have been willing to call this a “genocide,” in part because the charge is so serious and the burden of proof is onerous. According to Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy, this reluctance may stem in part from a mental image that a genocide requires “one huge act of frenzied violence,” rather than a steady, slow drip of purging. Another factor may be because of legal obligations required to counteract such atrocities once genocide is declared. For example, the U.S. was hesitant to declare the events in Rwanda and Darfur a genocide partly because a finding of genocide might have required the Clinton and Bush administrations “to actually ‘do something.'”

Images from satellites and on the ground confirm that hundreds of Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground in a scorched earth campaign, as a deliberate strategy to deny the Rohingya a home to return to after they are expelled. Refugees have reported that soldiers have killed villagers, gang-raped women, even thrown babies into fires, burning them alive. Despite denials from the Myanmar government, the refugees’ reports seem consistent, corroborating each other. In the video below from the New York Times, the reporter says that “It seems like everyone in the camp has a horror story to tell.

 

Among the survivors, the suffering is not likely to go away any time soon. The distribution of food seems inadequate, overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees. As a form of therapy, children in camps are drawing some of their traumatic experiences in order to cope with them. Several depict soldiers killing civilians and burning houses. 

In a 2009 study of 1,500+ elderly Germans, Philip Kuwert and colleagues found that even after 60 years had passed, people who were forcibly displaced as children during WWII were significantly more likely to suffer from current anxiety, lower life satisfaction, and lower resilience (Kuwert et al 2009). Whether this pattern will recur in the Rohingya is to be seen. There is also a possibility for post-traumatic growth, where individuals can experience positive changes “as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.”

But it seems clear that the Rohingya at least face the potential for a multi-generational trauma. If a high-income nation like Germany, with all of its resources, can be still be affected six decades later, then how much higher are the odds for that same effect in the Rohingya now living in Bangladesh, as well as those who stayed behind in Myanmar. This suggests the need for the world to pay more attention to the plight of the Rohingya to prevent more suffering from occurring.

 

Reference

Kuwert P, Brähler E, Glaesmer H, Freyberger HJ, Decker O. (2009) Impact of forced displacement during World War II on the present-day mental health of the elderly: a population-based study. Int Psychogeriatr. 2009 21(4):748-53. Link

Inspiration of the Day

Don’t let anyone tell you that there is nothing more to humanity than aggression and destruction.

Human Family (We Are More Alike, My Friends, Than We Are Unalike)

Human Family, by Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.
Continue reading

U.S. Attitudes Toward Refugees

Generally speaking, U.S. attitudes toward the idea of accepting refugees have not been very generous over time.

From Drew DeSilver at the Pew Research Center:

Pew Poll

And from Jeffrey Jones at Gallup:

Gallup.png

 

Alcohol, Coffee & Sex: Keeping the Revolution at Bay

To alcohol… the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” – Homer J. Simpson

 

I read this essay by Adam Cole on NPR yesterday, titled: “Drink Coffee? Off With Your Head!” Cole explained that in the past some societies viewed the widespread acceptance of coffee drinking as a threat to social order. This was true of England and the Ottoman Empire during the 17th century, as well as in 18th century Prussia.  

The threats came in different forms – in terms of health, spirituality, and political upheaval. Cole reiterated that sometimes coffee was blamed for draining a person’s vigor, at other times painted as “poison for the bodies and souls.” And it was also seen as a sort of lubricant for revolution, since it was consumed in coffee houses where people could discuss a range of subjects, including possibly getting rid of the current social and political status quo.

Continue reading

Compassion at the Crossroads

Robert Kennedy, on the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

I know posting this won’t matter much. A few people will watch the video below (thank you). Fewer will care. It’s not very anthropological, or analytical. I have little to add to it. Some, in the Jonathan Haidt school of thought, could take umbrage that citing RFK and MLK is just more evidence of the liberalism of academics.

It just feels like a time when social divisions continue to grow. Injecting a little bit of compassion into the blogosphere simply feels right.