On the Rohingya Crisis, Or “Contra The Federalist”

Like Sumantra Maitra, I too have decided to become the Internet’s worst person. See how you like it.

The Chechens are a tough people. Persecuted by various empires, historically stateless and mistreated, they remain in their homeland. For the uninitiated the Chechens are a Muslim people from the North Caucasian region of Eastern Europe. They are the victims of repeated Russian aggression  dating back to the 18th century. In more recent history, they suffered ethnic cleansing from the Soviets and two wars of repression from the Russian Federation. Naturally for them claims of Christian oppression ring fairly hollow for them.

Which brings us to the latest inflammation of the Christian problem in the Middle East. During the conflicts arising out of the Arab Spring, inter-communal violence has become common. Needless to say, the Islamist forces of are extremely brutal, although in the fog of war accusations of genocide and massacres are often uncorroborated, with virtually zero truly independent media sources present in the field.

The Narrative is One-Sided

However, a quick glance through the media would show the lament of the Christian right-wing ideologues in full force, presenting a one-sided narrative of persecuted coreligionists. Reality is rather more complicated. New York Post and Christianity Today weep that this is a crime against humanity, as CNN joins Donald Trump, the Vatican and Vladimir Putin in denouncing “a massacre” going on in Syria and Iraq, almost completely ignoring that this is a vicious, multi-sided conflict.

Some random religious prelate even advocated a humanitarian intervention to “save” the Christians. Others took to Twitter to signal their virtue, and suggest to the standard fallback option of taking in thousands of refugees. The question is, is the media narrative regarding Christians nuanced enough for discussion? And why are Christian ideologues suddenly so hysteric about this one particular problem?

The False Narrative of Anti-Christian Violence

The narrative of Christian persecution in the Middle East is more nuanced than the media will allow. The violence arguably goes back to the Crusades. In a typical example, Lebanese Christians murdered over 1,000 Muslims a brutal massacre in 1982. In places like Syria and Algeria, Christian powers like France and Germany killed thousands of Muslims in wars of conquest. Even now the famously Christian United States of America, has killed nearly a million Muslims all over Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.

This latest crisis is simply a brutal reaction to the continual drone attacks on Muslim civilian populations, a fact increasingly lost in the repeated argumenta ad passiones in Christian media. The Muslims in the Near East have seen what fate befell Chechens in Russia and Bosnian Muslims in the Balkans.

Enough of that tripe

If you didn’t grasp the point of this piece of satire, and you got upset, then good. You should. If some black rimmed intellectual wrote this for the Guardian or Le Monde we would call this for what it is. Genocide apologia. The good ol’ Law of Merited Impossibility: It’s not happening and if it were, they deserve it.

If Mr. Maitra’s piece was simply that there is violence on both sides of the ethnoreligious divide (true) and therefore calls to liberal humanitarian military intervention are foolish (also true) and that we ought not be in conflicts that have no discernible path to victory or strategic goal (wise), there would be no controversy. In fact I’d say it would be quite a good piece of truth-telling.

But it wasn’t that. Saying that the Buddhists of Rakhine don’t want to suffer the fate of Copts or Kashmiri pandits, openly denying the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya, calling the killing “hysteria” and putting the massacres in scare quotes was not just unnecessary but absolutely disgraceful. If you can’t see the insinuation, then read my “piece” about the Christians in Iraq and see if you can see it then. It’s the classic genocide apologia that we see in northern Ireland (anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant, take your pick), in Turkey against the Kurds, or in Russia against the Ukrainians.

The Persecution is Real

Mr. Maitra senselessly asserts that it is all hysteria. That is ridiculous to say the least. In 2012, we saw communal riots after the lie spread that Rohingya teenagers raped a Buddhist woman. Leaked Burmese government documents from 2015 found that the government had openly planned the, “ghettoisation, sporadic massacres, and restrictions on movement—amounts to a longer-term strategy by the State to isolate, weaken, and eliminate the group.”

Maitra bemoans the lack of independent reporting in active war zones, are the shallow mass graves enough verification? Taking his idea at face value one would think tens of thousands of Rohingya just upped and left their villages for basically no apparent reason or simply to annoy Mr. Maitra. Fast forward to this current crisis, one imagines he thinks that thousands of Rohingya refugees in neighboring countries are just bald faced liars.

 “They beat and killed my husband with a knife. They went into my house. Five of them took off my clothes and raped me. My eight-month-old son was crying of hunger when they were in my house because he wanted to breastfeed, so to silence him they killed him too with a knife. I thought I would die, but I survived.”
The piece over at The Federalist leaves one to assume that such stories are planted by Islamists or liberal ideologues.

Mr. Maitra’s piece was ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst. If one is going to claim that there is massacre, that it is in fact hysteria or propaganda, then one better corroborate these fairly fantastic claims in light of the evidence. He does not.

Skepticism over the usefulness of liberal humanitarian intervention is good thing and probably would have saved us all a lot of trouble lately. However it should not be tainted with winks and insinuations regarding an ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign. The Federalist should not retract the piece as its monument to editorial imbecility should be maintained for posterity.

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