You know you’re in trouble when Nobel Prize winners take part in carrying out genocide. For years, the Muslim Rohingya population of Myanmar has been suffering at the hands of its government, led now by famed Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. They have been subject to mass murder and widespread rape, and have had their villages burnt down, with little attention paid by the rest of the world.
The Rohingya are an indigenous population in Myanmar and have been there long before the country gained its independence. The government, based on generations-old political grudges, revoked their citizenship and accused the Rohingya of illegally coming into Myanmar. For decades the Rohingya are being stripped of their identities, their culture, and their very existence and they are now the subject of a violent crackdown by the government. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the violence and now have nowhere to go. For years, the Rohingya have faced persecution on one hand, and a world that has been slow to respond, if at all, on the other hand. The Burma Task Force is setting out to change that.
The Burma Task Force USA held a rally at the Federal Plaza in Chicago on Saturday September 16th to stand in solidarity and demand justice for the Rohingya. Education, action, and solidarity were the words of the day as speaker after speaker gave profound speeches, educated the crowds, chanted, and shared their own experiences.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy, shared his knowledge of the Rohingya people, explaining the origin of the genocide and the horrific lives that face today. From describing their suffering at the hands of the government to the inhumane conditions of refugee camps, Dr. Ibrahim painted a grim picture of the world that the Rohingya live in.
Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of CAIR-Chicago, encouraged everyone to educate themselves and to get involved, but most importantly, reminded everyone that “Buddhism is not the villain in this equation.” Demonizing an entire religion by invoking a few extremist representatives is ludicrous – whether you are doing so to place blame or to serve as an excuse to persecute.
Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, president and executive director of the Syrian Community Network, explained the importance of getting involved and taking steps to contribute to an important cause. She stressed each person’s ability to do their part on the local level to make a global difference.
Gregory Abdullah Mitchell, the executive director of CIOGC, reminded the crowd of two very important things. First, that “silence is deafening to the Rohingya.” And second, that this fight has nothing to do with religion or politics. This is a crime against humanity and we must stand in solidarity because the Rohingya are humans and are facing genocide.
Elane Siegel, a representative from the Buddhist community, stood in solidarity and called for “us to join our voices with those of the people around the world,” to demand justice. Ms. Siegel educated the crowd about real Buddhist principals, primarily of all people being “one in universal brotherhood.”
Other speakers at the protest included Aqsa Tahir, an organizer from the Burma Task Force, as well as individuals from Myanmar, all of whom shared narratives of the life that the Rohingya live. They shared stories of children facing discrimination at the hands of their teachers and of the escalating violence and of the horrors that the Rohingya face.
All of these speakers created one clear message: Education. Action. Solidarity. Know what is happening to the Rohingya people of Myanmar. Get involved, whether it is by donating your time, your effort, or your money. Stand up against the injustice and show the Rohingya that they are not alone. Most importantly, demand justice, and keep demanding it until we see change.
To donate and to learn how to get involved, please check out https://www.burmamuslims.org/
Mahira Musani is a second year law student in Chicago, IL.