By Uzair Khan, Staff Member, Center for the Study of Citizenship
Usually when we hear about genocide or ethnic cleansing, we picture someone who is a criminal, a person or group with little regard for others. Whether the victims are women, men, or children wouldn’t make the slightest difference to them. We imagine someone who has no concern for law, or those who risk their lives to enforce it. However we don’t think of a government being the offender and civilians being the victims. We don’t think of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate famous for their work as a non-violent freedom fighter. However these preconceived notions would be shattered if we took one look at the condition of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya population. A country that is led by a Nobel Peace Prize winning democrat, Aung San Suu Kyi. A leader who has silently presided over a nation’s using its military and law enforcement to unleash an onslaught of violence against the “world’s most persecuted minority” to a degree that the United Nations considers ethnic cleansing and genocide. The situation begs the question, why would an individual, renowned for their peaceful efforts, stay quiet on such a great violation of human rights? The answer is one that lies deep within the history of Myanmar (formally Burma), a history that intertwines religious and political pressure together to form a unified front of islamophobia that is understood by few, but motivates many to commit extreme acts of violence against a largely innocent population in the name of self-defense.
The history of Myanmar is complex from the first settlers who occupied the region to WWII. The political section of Myanmar’s past that concerns the Rohingya goes back to The Anglo-Burmese wars, a series of 3 wars from 1824 that resulted in Burma becoming a crown colony of the British Empire. Before these wars, Burma was a collection of kingdoms that had been ruled by different dynasties for millennia. Under British rule, Burma became a province of India. From 1824-1942 immigrants from India settled in Burma in search of work. To this day the Myanmar government considers this illegal and wrongly associates it with the Rohingya, inherently labeling them as Indian and foreign intruders. During the 1942 WWII Japanese invasion the British asked for Myanmar’s support in the war. The Rakhine state, specifically the Rohingya, complied, and the Buddhists and nationalists sided with the Japanese. During the attacks, approximately 22,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh (which was then part of Pakistan), with 13,000 more to Pakistan and India. When the British drove out the Japanese, the Rohingya refugees retuning were considered illegals, trespassing from Pakistan. For their aid against the Japanese the British promised the Rohingya a Muslim state within Burma (Myanmar). Unfortunately, that promise was never delivered upon, and when the war was over, and Burma gained its independence from the British in 1948, hostility began to build against the Rakhine Rohingya. Although they did not receive land for a Muslim state, they did get prominent positions as civil servants. This only made things worse, since the Japanese lost WWII, the Rohingya were seen as beneficiaries which angered the Myanmar nationalists, a predominantly Buddhist group. This is how the political aspects of the situation bled into religious groups, and that divide remains today.
More recently though, Myanmar has drawn global attention due to its abusive use of power, causing 400,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. However we know this terror-based mass migration is nothing new. Unfortunately, this time there is no war that the Rohingya are caught in between, it is plain genocide. This back-and-forth movement of the Rohingya between Myanmar and Bangladesh is so common that it has created a chronic refugee crisis, placing immense economic burdens on Bangladesh’s economy. In the past, humanitarian aid has been issued, however the ultimate goal is for the Rohingya to go back to Myanmar. This is a mixed problem; historically when the Rohingya are allowed to return they are considered foreigners, if they allowed at all. These “immigrants” are subjected to numerous human rights violations, including lack of identity/nationality, limits on employment education, and freedom of movement. Without citizenship the Rohingya are beaten and often killed by law enforcement, subject to discriminatory taxes and confiscation of property under the pretense illegal immigrants cannot own property. Religious freedom is another restriction the government has imposed on the Rohingya. During military raids and police beatings, houses of worship are damaged. Rebuilding them becomes a challenge; since the Rohingya are not considered citizens, requests to the government for reconstruction or new buildings are invariably denied. Other restrictions, such as permission to marry and a limit of two children per couple, make life in Myanmar next to impossible.
Finally, in an uprising during the 1950’s the Rohingya resorted to militia warfare against discriminant authorities who came to the villages. These fighters were known as Mujahids. In 1962 a military coup took over the Myanmar government and began disbanding the rebellion through the use of force. The army attacked civilians and children, killing them and raping women, forcing over 200,000 to flee Bangladesh. With a weak economy of its own, Bangladesh did not offer any support and urged refugees to return. The returning refugees were once again considered illegal.
The most significant legal blow came after the 1982 national census and the enactment of the 1982 citizenship law. The law spelled out 135 national races which were all eligible for Burmese citizenship. However, the Rakhine Rohingya (that is, Rohingya originating from Rakhine State in Myanmar) were not one of them. This further exacerbated the situation; now the Rohingya were legally defined as illegals and officially stateless. This caused conditions to worsen; as the Rakhine Buddhists’ hatred grew, government brutality increased and the law offered no protection. As illegal non-citizens they were given foreign identity cards, (known as “white cards”), however these only solidified their position as illegal immigrants. The cards were rejected by employers, schools, and almost every other formal institution, making life even worse for the Rohingya. In fact non-citizens have more rights than Rohingya do. The cards pinpointed which individuals had no basic rights and therefore could be abused by anyone.
In 2014 the UN conducted a Census in Myanmar. The Rohingya were finally going to be represented until Buddhist pressure coerced the government into forcing Rohingya participants to be registered as Bengali. This once again undermined their native Burmese heritage. In the following 2015 election the government rescinded the white card’s (foreign identity card) voting rights ability. Thus the Rohingya could no longer vote, resulting in a new “Democratically elected” government that harbored hatred for them. Just as in the 1950’s, a militia group by the name of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has taken up arms against police brutality. When accusations of a Rohingya man allegedly raping a Buddhist women came up, and the police took immediate action and began burning entire villages, the ARSA reacted and fought the police, injuring and killing officers. Now the group is seen as a terrorist organization, causing further violence in the region and against the Rohingya.
The military does not only fight ARSA, however. They want to kill all Rohingya along with the ARSA, and this is how Myanmar is engaging in ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Myanmar army has been accused of killing civilians by placing land mines on the borders and killing fleeing refugees. From August to September 2017 over 6,700 Rohingya were caught in the cross fire and killed. Conditions for those who flee are not exactly pleasant either. Often times, families are broken up. The women are sold as sex slaves, and men as indentured servants in the vast Thai human trafficking market. Those who survive and try to make a return to their homes usually find them destroyed and are met with hostility from border patrol agents.
Efforts to resolve the issue have been sparse and ineffective for the most part. The UN has initiated several repartition campaigns in agreements with Myanmar, only to have them back out and not accept any Rohingya back, and if they do return, to exact violence against them. The international community have condemned Suu Kyi for her lack of involvement and constant evasion of questions regarding the situation. Her main response has been that her country has “already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible”. Economic sanctions have followed from the U.S., and humanitarian aid from Canada, Norway, and South Korea have helped the situation somewhat. However, the only solution is a change of mindset. The cultural and religious issues of hatred between the Rohingya and Myanmar’s Buddhists runs deep, and until the Buddhists consider the Rohingya as people, the bloodshed will not stop.
One of the common term thrown around in our political sphere is “Gerrymandering”. Many are aware of its presence, but either don’t know what it means or don’t care. However, it has recently gained traction in the media and with the public due to its upcoming Supreme Court hearing. Some say this is a long overdue look at an unconstitutional practice, others say it’s just “politics”.
For the many who don’t exactly know what gerrymandering entails, here is a brief overview1. When a political party comes to power in all branches of government (executive/legislative/judicial) they control the redrawing of the lines of voting districts every 10 years in accordance with the U.S. Census. This can allow them to gain the upper hand in subsequent elections. For example, in current news the Republican Party has come under fire for abusing power this way in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina, although Democrats have done it in the past as well. This unconstitutional use of power can be done by splitting a heavily partisan area so that it is distributed among many districts of the other party, this practice is known as “cracking”. Another practice, “packing” helps the party in power to redraw districts so that the opposing party’s voters are all quarantined in one district, thus only giving them one representative. This allows the party in power to have more representation, despite having fewer voters. When it comes time to vote the weaker party is under represented, systematically eliminating their vote and their voice in government. That is the case in Ashville, North Carolina.
Regularly-scheduled redistricting began in the 1960’s when the Supreme Court ruled that each state should re-allocate the number of representatives to the population to allow for fair voting rights to all. However, it now has a bad reputation.
The term itself (and the negative connotations associated with gerrymandering) come from the new electorate district map of South Essex, Massachusetts in 1812. Then-Governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry redrew the district lines in favor of the Democratic-Republican Party, against the Federalist Party. Many newspapers found the shape and boundaries of the new district bizarre. Federalist papers of the time likened the shape of the district to that of a salamander. This, along with the governor’s last name, Gerry, created the term. In that instant partisan gerrymandering was identified.
Ever since its inception it has been silencing citizens’ voices. Political parties use it to their advantage to collect the population into different groups to do the exact opposite of the fair vote that was first intended in the 1964 Supreme Court ruling on redistricting.
There are other possible alternatives to gerrymandering and redistricting which still allow for a fair vote2. One of them being the Fair Representation Act proposed by Don Beyer, a U.S. Representative for the 8th District of Virginia. His plan is to increase district size or get rid of them altogether in states which have fewer than five congressional districts to begin with, without changing the number or representatives from that state. In this scenario a state that has four districts would collectively pick those four representatives, diminishing the chance for diluting and concentrating certain political demographics of the state. Beyer says this overhaul in the way we nominate our congressional leaders would also increase the diversity in the Senate and House of Representatives. He claims it would broaden opportunities for women and people of color, rather than the stereotypical middle-aged white man that we think of when we think of Congress. However Representative Beyer knows his drive for fair representation isn’t shared across the board, and knows his plan is optimistic in various aspects, admitting it “won’t be an easy sell and may not pass for decades”. Instead he hopes that it will start a conversation in congress and start the process of removing gerrymandering from our political spheres.
The deadline for abstracts is upon us! Please send abstracts to email@example.com by September 29!
The Center for the Study of Citizenship has been holding conferences since 2002 on a wide variety of topics relating to citizenship, such as Boundaries, Gender, Definitions, Governance, Age, and Violence. This year’s conference takes place April 12 – 14, 2018 in Detroit, MI and focuses on the role of Religion in Citizenship.
The Call for Papers is available at http://www.clas.wayne.edu/Citizenship/Call-for-Papers; information about the conference is available at http://www.clas.wayne.edu/Citizenship/15th-Annual-Conference-on-Citizenship—General-Information.
We look forward to hearing from you –
This post was written in response to David Leonhardt’s Op-Ed column in the New York Times on July 18th, “A Summer Project to Nourish Your Political Soul”.
In today’s paper, you make the wise suggestion that each of us recognize that we don’t possess the Truth and should be open to changing our mind about the “wicked” problems that we face today. You have identified several of those important and difficult issues. And you propose a kind of personal inoculation against “the coarsening of Trump-era discourse.” The disease, though, infects the body politic and needs to be contained by robust conversation across ideological divides. Please consider the effort to nourish the body politic and not only our individual political souls.
I believe that your prescription against the ills of contemporary political discourse does not go far enough. The coarsening that you refer to is the culmination of at least two decades of growing partisan polarization and intolerance. In 2010, James Leach, then Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former Iowa Republican congressman, spoke at the Center for the Study of Citizenship at Wayne State University to argue for “Civility in a Fractured Society.” Civic discourse, then at a depressing low, has become increasingly uncivil, and public conversations across partisan divides have become rare. I mention this not because you are unaware of it because it reveals a deeply entrenched view of the world that requires more than individual reflection.
Please consider the prescriptive imbalance in your newsletter. The first part praises grass-roots resistance to the Republican health care bill, and the second part (and your column) calls for individual open-mindedness. Grass-roots organizing is surely the powerful political force that you describe. The challenge posed by uncivil civic discourse, though, is in some ways a more intractable problem than health care because it is now embedded in the body politic. In my view, we need the same kind of grass-roots activism to advance a civil civic dialogue, giving voice to those who view themselves as voiceless, and giving all the opportunity to listen to those with whom they disagree.
The current political polarization and paralysis contributes not only to citizens’ disenchantment with the political process but also to their disengagement from public life. And the erosion of civic organizations in turn erodes the public entities and spaces that foster civic engagement. The result is a passive, if angry and fearful, electorate at a time in United States and world history when knowledgeable, active citizenship is essential to the well being of communities small, large and global. The Center for the Study of Citizenship proposes both to bridge seemingly unbridgeable divides and spur thoughtful, knowledge-based active citizenship through a series of civil civic dialogues on citizenship issues.
The Center for the Study of Citizenship has begun a program of Citizen Dialogues, which brings together people with passionately different points of view to speak to one another and a diverse audience about difficult issues. Last year, we began the dialogues with a debate about gun rights and gun violence (we decided to take on the easiest issues first!). We brought together the Director of the Michigan Coalition against Gun Violence and the General Counsel of the Michigan Gun Owners and a leader in the open carry movement. The debate itself was informative and civil though tense, but the more important work of the evening was the discussion of the issue at 8-person tables with a facilitator assigned to each table. The discussions were not spontaneous. Each person had the same amount of time to offer an argument, but each person was also listening 7/8th of the time. We followed that dialogue with one on U.S. refugee policy.
We will hold our first dialogue of the next academic year on immigration on October 18th. The moderator for the dialogues is Brian Dickerson, Detroit Free Press columnist and Deputy Editor of the paper’s editorial page. (Mr. Dickerson moderated both dialogues last year.)
The Citizen Dialogue is not the solution to the problem, but we seek to make it an important step toward nourishing the body politic first through dialogue and ultimately through deliberation. I invite you to Detroit on October 19th to join the discussion of immigration policy—to participate in the discussion as one of the panelists or as one of the citizen participants.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Marc W. Kruman
Director, Center for the Study of Citizenship
A quick reminder:
Per the CfP, “We provide a limited number of scholarships for international scholars. These funds will be distributed on a competitive basis. Scholarships include three nights of lodging and a discounted conference registration rate for the participant, but no transportation. If you wish to be considered for a scholarship, please indicate it in your email.
“For international scholars who submit proposals by September 1, 2017, the program committee will make early decisions about acceptance and scholarships by September 15, 2017.”
Although we will continue to consider abstracts and scholarships after that date, the scholarships available are limited, so send in your abstract ASAP to maximize the likelihood.
If you have sent in an abstract but have not received a response yet, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Amy B Bloom, JD
I have had the opportunity to work in the public school system in Michigan, as well as in state and federal governments. Over the years, there has been much talk about running schools and governments like businesses. While advocates point to the bottom line, detractors argue that these institutions deal with people and their goals differ (profit motive vs. service). However, there is one way in which schools should run like businesses that would benefit us all.
In order to stay at the top of their game, the most successful businesses support their workers and reward creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. They invest in their workers. They work hard to recruit, support, and grow their talent. Educators and administrators alike value developing students’ creativity and problem-solving skills, yet many schools are not designed to foster these attributes in their teachers. The result is that we all lose.
Great leaders recognize that great ideas can come from anywhere. They inspire and support their workers. Although most of my career has been in the public sector, I have been fortunate to work for great leaders – Rikki Klieman, Judge J. Harold Flannery, Jr., Judge Mel Greenberg, and the Honorable Patti B. Saris. They all shared the following characteristic – they believed in and trusted their employees. They demonstrated this by investing in and encouraging my professional growth. They provided wonderful intellectual challenges and trusted that I would rise to those challenges. They asked great questions, growing my knowledge and perspective. And, they listened to my questions and perspective on issues.
Innovation and creativity needs a certain environment to grow and flourish. Businesses recognize this. A look at Quicken’s “Isms” or a read of Nolan Bushnell’s book, Finding the Next Steve Jobs drives home this point. In this respect, schools and school leaders have much to learn from business.
Yet, our accountability system makes it difficult for school leadership to fully embrace and value the investment in teacher development and creativity out of fear that it might negatively affect the bottom line (as measured by standardized test scores and budgets). If we are going to improve our educational system, school leaders need to move away from a compliance-oriented and budget-centric approach and begin to value and trust employees, support innovation and creativity, and invest in deliberative democratic practices with their staff to develop a collaborative working environment. Google and Facebook clearly did not get to where they are by following outdated methods of leadership and human resource development. As described in the motion picture The Internship, with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, we are not allowing teachers to show their “Googliness”.
Deliberative democratic practices provide a means to develop a common vision and goals from an understanding of all perspectives involved. Everyone has a voice, and the process moves from discourse to action in support of those vision and goals. If we really want our schools to educate for democracy, these practices are essential. Deliberative democratic practices also support what great business leaders like Nolan Bushnell and Dan Gilbert already know: Great ideas can come from anywhere and by supporting workers and rewarding creativity, innovation, and problem-solving their businesses thrive. It is time for schools to take this page from the business world.
There is a European bibliography on Citizenship available at http://eudo-citizenship.eu/databases/citizenship-bibliography.