Genocide is not a term to be used lightly. However, reading the reports coming out of Myanmar’s Rakhine region, one has to wonder whether the language of alienation that surrounds the Rohingya people is what makes them outsiders.
The language used by the ethnic Burmese people when referring to their Rohingya neighbors stands out as alienating them. Even though the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, they are referred to as ‘Bengalis’ and viewed as illegal immigrants in Myanmar, rather than legitimate citizens. For this reason, they are denied citizenship and basic services and are regularly the victims of violence. For those who have studied twentieth-century European history, this may ring an alarming bell in the tune of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, when the Nazis officially stripped German Jews of their citizenship and turned them, along with other racial minorities, into second-class citizens of the Third Reich.
The Rohingya people have been ‘marked out’ and turned into the ‘them’ in the ‘us versus them’ of Burmese society.
In his 1996 publication ‘The 8 Stages of Genocide’, Gregory Stanton used his analysis of the genocide in Rwanda to outline the steps taken by governments and nations to set up and carry out genocide. Myanmar has already plowed through the first and second steps, classification and symbolization – the Rohingya people have been marked out. The third step, dehumanization of the targeted group, is all too clear in the national media of Myanmar, which has referred to the Rohingya people as ‘human fleas.’
Stanton’s further steps, like preparation for genocidal activities involving the drawing up of lists of victims, do not seem to be on the cards for the government of Myanmar yet — and we must hope that they never reach that step, either due to the lack of a serious wish to eradicate a subset of humanity from the face of the Earth, or due to serious intervention on the part of other nations.
The dominant side believes that their supposed opponents are lesser, perhaps responsible for all the problems facing their society. Does this not seem familiar even in supposedly ‘progressive’ countries?
But it is in times like this that we need to step back from the specific situation and focus on the specific method of how genocide comes about. It’s the division of society into competing teams, where one group is more entitled to privileges than the other. After all, famed DNA researcher James Watson theorizes that Africans are less intelligent than Europeans and religious leaders blame homosexuals for natural disasters. These are both examples of members of groups that have historically held power in the West blaming minorities for societal problems. This is not to say that an organized genocide of all ethnic minorities is looming; it is only a reminder that sometimes, atrocities are not so far out of reach as they may seem.