Thousands are fleeing Myanmar in terror. Where's your hashtag for Rohingya Muslims?

More than 18,500 Rohingyas flee Myanmar in 5 days as unrest ragesNewsweek

The epic flood in Texas has left thousands homeless and distraught. Around twenty fatalities are confirmed thus far. The number will rise. Our media have given over hours and hours to this catastrophe. In fact, conscientious journalists have been so very busy in Texas, they've not been able to attend to the Monsoon deluges across India, Bangladesh and Nepal where over 1,200 people have died. Or to Myanmar where violence has erupted setting off mass migrations.

This manmade cataclysm is causing untold grief and distress. The victims are beleaguered, despised, savagely discriminated against, described by many international aid organisations as the 'among the most persecuted people in the world'. They have been in what was Burma for three generations, but have no rights, no citizenship, no protection under the law.

Should we be asking questions like 'Are Rohingya Muslims On The Path To Extinction?'

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Don't ever believe that Buddhists are all calm and humane, their monks, ethereal ascetics in orange. In Myanmar, the serene Buddha's extremist followers have been maltreating and intimidating the Rohingya minority forever. The army turns mortars and machine guns on these defenceless, stateless folk. Their villages are burnt.

India is about to expel the thousands who have fled there. The only place of safety is Bangladesh, a country with few recourses where almost 18,000 have fled to in the last five days. Kofi Anan, the erstwhile UN secretary has warned that the status quo cannot continue. The latest purge came after Rohingya insurgents attacked thirty police stations last Friday, killing 11 people. The state response was swift. The rebels were despatched.

Rohinga Muslims in Myanmar are part of ten million people who are stateless worldwideReuters

But it didn't end there. Civilians are being collectively punished for the insurgency. On that same Friday, Annan published a report commissioned by the Myanmar government which recommended equal citizenship rights for Muslims. Since then UN officials have been blanked by the political elite and hostility is being whipped up against reputable, neutral aid agencies.

This story has another shocking dimension. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel peace laureate, is the elected leader of Myanmar today. She has not only failed to protect the Rohingya minority from injustices, she now damns them all. To her every one of them, woman, child, baby, man, is an 'Islamicist terrorist'. Food can no longer be delivered to the starving.

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi Reuters

Tins of UN world food biscuits were found near the places where the recent uprisings took place, so the steely leader accuses aid agencies of treachery and supporting the enemies of her nation.' (This is a favourite Taliban ploy. The lady is all for learning from the worst of humans). Over a dozen Nobel Laureates have publicly condemned Aung San Suu Kyi for colluding with ethnic and religious cleansing.

How did this happen? She was (or seemed to be) a democrat and human rights defender. She spent fifteen years under house arrest when the country was under military rule, was adored by everyone from Popes to Presidents, Princes to pop stars. She wore flowers in her hair. She was honoured by universities, the BBC, Time Magazine. She is Bono's hero, Obama's inspiration, the Dalai Lama's idol. Was mine too.

We were neighbours in Oxford. She lived in Parktown, so did I just a few doors away. We spoke sometimes and once were at a dinner when she criticised the North Vietnamese for their 'cruelties'. She was poised, beautiful, electrifying. Her husband, Dr Michael Aris was a quiet, gentle academic. When he was dying of cancer, she decided to stay in Burma for political reasons. That was when I changed my mind about her. Love was sacrificed for power. Or so it seemed.

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45 year old Dilbhar looks towards the camera as she stands in the Shamalapur Rohingya refugee settlement on April 11, 2014 in Chittagong district, Bangladesh. She escaped to Bangladesh from the Bodchara village in the Mondu district of Myanmar. One day in November 2013 the authorities and Chakma people came in a mob to their village, killing people with machetes, burning houses, and opening fire on people at random. They went to the mosque and told people to stand in a line and opened fire on them. Dilbhar went to the hills and hid for 5 days with no food or water before escaping to Bangladesh with her husband and 3 children.Getty Images

Now she has the position she long craved, she turns viciously authoritarian. Freedom of speech is curtailed, so too democratic entitlements.

Westerners still find her irresistible, exotic, an embodiment of eastern stoicism. Besides, like Mandela, she is an an affirmation of their noble commitment to third world development. She makes them feel good.

Besides, the people she is going after are Muslims. Who cares about them? When Islamicist fanatics victimise and terrorise western civilians, there is global outrage. I understand why. What I can't accept is the general indifference that prevails when Muslims are victimised and terrorised by non-Muslim leaders, governments, militias, the military and the hard right.

Since 9/11, we have sunk appallingly low in the league of humans whose lives have value. Moral confusion plays its part too. Most Muslims are killed or maimed by fellow believers in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. After every terrorist attack, even good, white British friends of mine have less sympathy to spare for blameless Muslims.

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So Aung San Suu Kyi is well covered. She will not be stopped. And unlike the similarly threatened Bosnian Muslims in 1994, western allies will not intervene to save Rohingya Muslims. All we can do is weep for them. And call out the fragrant saint who turned into a brutal sinner.

Indian Muslims hold posters and shout slogans against the Myanmar government during a protest rally in Kolkata on December 7, 2016. The rally was organised to protest against the recent atrocities on Rohinga Muslims in Myanmar, and demanded this be stopped immediately.Getty Images

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a journalist, columnist, broadcaster and author.


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