A concise and informative history of the Rohingya, an evidence-based denunciation of Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign, and an impassioned plea for recognition and human rights for the Rohingya.
Before reading this book, I knew little more about the Rohingya than that something awful was happening to them and that it had to do with Myanmar, wherever that is. I should be ashamed of myself; I know.
Instead of relieving my shame, this book has increased it. I am ashamed of what some of humanity is capable of doing, and what the rest of humanity is content to allow to happen.
This 69-page book offers a concise and informative introduction to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya by the state of Myanmar. Since August of last year, more than 10,000 Rohingya have been killed, and more than half a million people have fled across the border to Bangladesh. Even more disturbing than the scale of the crisis is the lack of awareness about it.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is located in Southeast Asia on the Indian Ocean between Bangladesh and Thailand. The Rohingya are a group of Muslims who have lived in their ancestral homelands of Arakan (now known as Rakhine, and located in the northern part of Myanmar) since the eighth century. Myanmar refuses to acknowledge the status of the Rohingya as a people with a history in Rakhine State, instead insisting that they are Bangladeshi immigrants who should return to Bangladesh. The government has gone so far as to refuse to use the word Rohingya to describe them (using “Bengal” instead).
The nine succcinct chapters in Abdul Bari’s book cover:
- the origin of the Arakanese Muslims;
- how Arakan thrived before colonialism;
- colonialism and its aftermath;
- Myanmar’s actions against the Rohingya;
- rape and crimes against women and children;
- the definition of genocide and an analysis of whether the Rohingya are the vicitms of genocide;
- geopolitical factors affecting support of Myanmar, the Rohingya, and others in the region;
- other factors; and
The author, Muhammad Abdul Bari, grew up in Bangladesh and went to university not far from the border with Myanmar. He first learned about the Rohingya as an Air Force officer in 1982 when he saw Cox’s Bazar (a massive refugee camp in southeast Bangladesh near the border). As a Bangladeshi, he feels that it is his responsibility to help raise awareness.
A few points that stuck with me are the failure of Bangladesh to help resolve the crisis, the historical role of colonialism and (as a result) Britain’s responsibility to the region, and the fact that the Myanmarese government refuses to allow the UN or other international organizations to conduct an investigation. (They have conducted their own investigation and found no evidence of systemic violence against the Rohingya people.)
The clear writing and careful organization of this book make a complicated topic easily digestible. The maps, which I desperately needed in a work such as this one, unfortunately lacked labels. Even when the title in the caption named the regions, cities, or bodies of water in the map, labels repeated on the map itself would have confirmed my guesses as to exactly what I was looking at. I’m simply not familiar enough with that area of the world to be sure otherwise.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know more about the history of the Rohingya and the current situation.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.