In recent weeks, world attention finally has focussed on the desperate situation of the thousands of Rohingya refugees stranded on rickety boats in the Andaman Sea, the horrific remains of staging camps in Malaysia and Thailand and the unbearable conditions at home in Burma that forced them to flee in the first place.
Their plight is by no means a new story, but it has been ignored by those wishing to paint a rosy picture of the new democratic Burma, ripe for foreign investment and support.
Rohingyas in exile, and their supporters, have for years been documenting the increasing abuse. Their status and rights as one of Burma’s formally recognised ethnic groups have been stripped away – to the point that they are labelled “Bengali immigrants” and forced into squalid and overcrowded refugee camps.
The majority of the country’s Rohingyas are not in camps, but in neighbourhoods that have been described as “vast open prisons”. Their movement severely restricted by armed guards. The government says that this is “for their own protection”. George Soros, who escaped from Nazi-occupied Budapest in 1944, visited one of these neighbourhoods. He described it as “a ghetto”.
Rejected and oppressed by the Burmese government, about half the Rohingya population, more than one million people, have fled to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia. Some also have made it to Canada, the UK and Australia.
Successive military governments since the 1970s have demonised the Rohingyas – the only Muslim community with its own ancestral geographic pocket along Burma’s colonial borders – as “a threat to national security”.
While earlier generations often found acceptance in other countries, such possibilities are becoming ever more remote, as countries in the region adopt the barbaric anti-refugee policies instituted by both Liberal and Labor governments in Australia.
Indonesian, Thai and Malaysian governments have now taken minimal steps to allow for the temporary settlement of those Rohingya currently at sea. But they are doing nothing to challenge the Burmese government to address the horrific conditions that continue to force Rohingyas to risk their lives fleeing the country by boat.
In Oslo, Norway, on 26-27 May, a major international conference called this crime by its name: genocide, an intentional destruction of a people as an ethic group
In a pre-recorded address, Desmond Tutu, a leader of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, called for an end to the persecution.
Tutu’s appeal was amplified by six other fellow Nobel Peace laureates: Mairead Maguire from Ireland, Jody Williams from the USA, Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, Shirin Ibadi from Iran, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel from Argentina.
They said: “What Rohingyas are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese government”.
The evolution of this genocide was described in chilling detail by representatives of the Rohingya community and was further analysed by scholars Penny Green, Maung Zarni and Amartya Sen and by Tomas Ojea Quintana, former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country (2008-14).
The conference called on the Burmese government immediately to end its policies and practices of genocide; to restore full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas; to institute the right of return for all displaced Rohingyas; to provide the Rohingyas with all necessary protection; and to promote and support reconciliation between communities in Rakhine state (which is home to the majority of Rohingyas).
During the conference, three leading monks who have saved Muslim lives in Burma and opposed Islamophobia were given awards by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a 120-year-old interfaith organisation. “These extraordinary monks challenge the widespread perception that all Buddhist monks clamour for violence against the Rohingyas”, said the parliament’s chair, Imam Malik Mujahi.
The Dalai Lama now has added his voice to those of a number of speakers at the Oslo conference calling on Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to come to the defence of the Rohingyas.
She apparently has decided that her electoral fortunes will be aided by staying silent on this issue, thereby retaining the support of racist anti-Rohingya voters. Many who came to her defence while she was under persecution and house arrest by the Burmese government are dismayed by the moral bankruptcy displayed by such electoral calculations.
There has been a vigorous argument over the direction of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) industrial campaign at Sydney University this year. Most recently, those who have been reluctant to argue and organise seriously for frequent enough and long enough strikes are now leading the charge for a “smarter” strategy of administration bans.
In late August, around 50 union members at Knauf plasterboard held a meeting in their Melbourne factory to discuss recent EBA negotiations, which had begun a few months earlier. A new HR manager insisted on attending the meeting and wasted people’s time explaining the wonderful job that company management had done taking care of the workers, in particular their recent and significant safety concerns. As he spoke, one after another the workers turned their backs on him. Soon, they began challenging the manager about a worker who had just been sacked.
Minoo Jalali was among those who resisted Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran. In the early months of 1979, she joined a mass women’s protest against the compulsory wearing of the hijab in public. “That revolution was inevitable”, Jalali recounted 40 years later in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Nobody could have really stopped the force of it. We hoped that we could steer it [but] we were wrong. And the clergy hijacked it ... and deceived many people.”
While student radicalism is most often associated with 1960s Paris or Vietnam-era US campuses, there is a similarly rich history of university student rebellion outside of the advanced capitalist countries. One of these rebellions took place in Indonesia in 1998, when students led a movement that ended the 30-year rule of General Suharto. The movement involved hundreds of thousands of ordinary Indonesians in a fight for democracy, encapsulated by the slogan reformasi total (complete reform).
Protests and riots have spread across Iran after a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, was murdered by the morality police. Amini was visiting the capital, Tehran, on 13 September when she was arrested for allegedly breaking mandatory veiling laws. Police beat her into a coma and she died three days later. Amini was buried in her hometown of Saqqez.
The international working-class movement has long been divided between two strategies to win socialism: the reformist and the revolutionary.