The Rohingya and Syria

I read the article because of the title. “Rohingya see glimmer of hope in Suu Kyi’s election victory.” I never heard of Rohingya and was curious why his name popped up in my news feed. Turns out that it was not a person. The Rohingya are a minority group in Myanmar. The article came from The Arab News, a paper I hardly ever read (and only when I click on a headline in my news feed that seems interesting). The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar long enough that their origins are in question (probably from the Bengal region). What is for certain is they are not Burmese and are not an officially recognized ethnic group. Because they are mostly Muslim, the majority Bengali population does not like them.

Today they are considered by groups that pay attention to this stuff to be one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world. Many now live in refugee camps that are reportedly better described as prisons. They have high hopes that Suu Kyi’s NLD party, that just won the national election in a landslide, will deal with their perilous situation.

I am quite frankly worried about all the anti-Muslim and anti-Syrian rhetoric that has become so chic in the U.S. There are even those that want to put Syrian refugees into internment camps. Granted, there is a certain risk in allowing any stranger to live next door. But I think we might do well to pause and try to learn a lesson from the Myanmar debacle. It would be far more dangerous in the long run to dehumanize hundreds of thousands of legitimate refugees and other immigrants from Syria. If we were to do that, we would have a decades-long disaster on our hands similar to Myanmar and the Rohingya. (France’s historic tendency to ghettoize immigrants, and especially Algerians, and the result of that policy is both tragic and instructive in this case.)

And, aside from the policy debate, I am horrified that we, as a society, are so quick to relegate a whole nation to this not-quite-human status. Given the rhetoric, it might be best if we dismantle and melt down the Statue of Liberty. The metal could be use to build fences to imprison the nation of Syria


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