The Material World Column from the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
The plight and persecution of the Rohingya have featured in the columns of Material World previously. Like so many problems thrown up by capitalism, the topic slips out of the headlines only to return later with greater tragedy.
Tens of thousands are fleeing Myanmar as best they can, driven from their homes by the violence of Myanmar government troops and accompanying vigilante Burmese mobs inflicting massacres and atrocities, in what now appears customary practice in ethnic cleansing operations. Yet the Rohingya in search of sanctuary find it thwarted by Bangladesh and India border guards,
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, the unofficial leader of Myanmar, congratulates her army and condemns the Rohingya for exaggerating their suffering. She accuses the international aid organisations of complicity in giving the Rohingya 'terrorists' support and succour. Fellow Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai has criticised Aung San Suu Kyi for turning a blind eye to the arson and murder. Myanmar has blocked humanitarian aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to the desperate civilians. Each day seems to bring new brutalities and expulsion of Rohingya families.
The violence has drastically escalated the sectarian strife. The Myanmar army, the Tatmadaw, who had never really yielded their power to the civilian government, engaged in the brutal repression of dissent, pushing some Rohingya to call for an armed uprising to stop the oppression.
The problem, therefore, became exacerbated by the arrival on the scene of armed groups such as the Arakan Rohingya Salv (ARSA) – who launched violent attacks against Burma's military. In October 2016, hundreds of fighters attacked border posts which prompted a massive army crackdown, with troops accused of rape and indiscriminate killings. In August 2017 attacks on police posts across the north of the state killed 12 members of the security forces and the fully to be expected backlash was swift. ARSA naturally style themselves as 'freedom fighters' yet some analysts such as the International Crisis Group describe them as jihadists financed, recruited and trained by private individuals in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who have campaigned to enhance ARSA’s religious legitimacy further by obtaining fatwas from senior clerics in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere. The stated aim of ARSA is to secure the rights of the Rohingya as citizens within Burma, however its choice of violent resistance may well have set back that cause. It has fuelled the regime's claims that the Rohingya are not peaceful, and that they are foreign interloper, not truly deserving of national recognition and must be expelled.
What is to be feared by authoritarian states most is non-violent protest. Non-violence is neither passive nor a way of avoiding conflict. A non-violent movement that challenges a well-entrenched dictatorship must be prepared for a long struggle and numerous casualties. After all, only one side is committed to non-violence. However, the alternative entails even larger casualties and holds fewer prospects of success. Peaceful resistance does not mean no resistance. It does not mean non-action. It may invite the other minorities such as the Christian Karen and Chinese Shan to support the Rohingya.
As soon as you choose to struggle with violence you're choosing to fight against opponents who are on their own terrain and in possession of the best weapons. The state's police and army are better trained in using those weapons. And they control the infrastructure that allows them to deploy their might. To fight dictators with violence is to cede to them the choice of battleground and tactics. Using violence against experts is the quickest way to defeat.
Socialists are always spontaneously on the side of the oppressed against the oppressors. As world socialists, we are repulsed by the needless and mindless violence going on in the Rakhine state. We sympathise with our fellow-workers, the Rohingya. We condemn and denounce the senseless killing. But let us be frank, as we presently stand, there is little that can be done by the world socialist movement except our constant campaigning for socialism – as the hope of humanity in ending just another one in a series of slaughters taking place within capitalism.