Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma, is struggling with a great number of challenges as its transitions from a socially oppressive dictatorship to a democracy. Like many democratizing cultures defined by strong ethnic identities, such as those in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere, Myanmar is experiencing violence against a minority, yet appears to have found a solution by silencing the victims of racism in ways that are even support by international aid organizations and the Administration of America’s first black president. Not only does the Myanmar Constitution refuse to grant citizen rights to anyone whose ancestors’ did not live in Myanmar prior to 1823, i.e. the beginning of British colonial rule, the Myanmar government bans the use of the Rohingya Muslim ethnicity's name.
Facing brutal attacks at the hands of violent Buddhist supremacists, 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims are taking a back seat to Myanmar’s greater challenges in the name of stability. Although the simple act of not recognizing someone’s name and/or assigning them a new destination seems little more than a sign of immaturity to be indulged when trying protect the welfare of such a group as the Rohingya, there is an argument to be made that such behavior is actually a Human Rights violation as stripping someone of their identity is a means of dehumanizing them. In turn, dehumanization a person, and/or a group of persons, is one of the first steps toward genocide.
Despite strong opposition to illegal immigration, the American view that a person born and raised in the United States, or the child of American citizen, is an America citizen, thoroughly contradicts Myanmar’s view that only the descendants of individuals living in Myanmar prior to 1823 are full citizens. Even though democracies can have different qualifications for citizenship, the use of partial citizenships and the national Constitution by governments to legitimize discrimination against minorities undermines the need of a sustainable democracy to protect minorities from majorities.
That said, the United States was able to address the bulk of our state sponsored issues with racism during a time of relative stability, so setting the name issue aside, as John Kerry suggested, does reflect a certain degree of wisdom. On the other hand, ignoring the root cause of any problem means dealing with the symptoms instead of the actual problem. Clearly, humanitarian groups face a real conundrum, because their mission usually hinges on an apolitical mission that requires aid workers to respect the laws and customs of the nations they serve. The United States, international governmental organizations like the UN, and other governments are far from apolitical, thus they have no excuse for submitting to and supporting policies that threaten the long-term physical and broader social wellbeing of the Rohingya.
Quite frankly, If uttering the name of People ends in mass violence then mass violence is on its way. The only solution is, therefore, for the Myanmar government to either face racialist inspired violence by public statements/policy or risk losing the support of the International Community in their broader democratization efforts. Moreover, the lesson of Myanmar is that governments cannot avoid racism and ethnic violence by suppressing even the name of a group. Stable societies are built by sufficiently balancing the interests of all Peoples. Suppressing a People only leads to festering violence as seen in the Iraq Sunni-Shiite conflict, Syria, Egypt, apartheid Africa, and so many others.
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