If you’ve never heard of Myanmar, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard of it until about a month ago when The New York Times’ Snapchat Discover section featured a harrowing video depicting Rohingya men, women and children fleeing Myanmar. The Myanmar army has been participating in what constitutes an ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people from the country.
The Rohingya people are a predominantly Muslim population living in the overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar. Countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh have tried to claim that the Rohingya people claim ethnicity elsewhere to avoid assimilating them into their own nations, causing a sense of statelessness among the Rohingya people. The violence in Myanmar increased dramatically, starting in August, to the point where nearly 500,000 people fled in a single month. An exodus like this has not been seen since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
These figures are not just alarming; they’re horrifying. Our own domestic political spats consistently live on the forefront of our consciousness, making it easy to ignore what is going on in Myanmar. Every major news network is willing to address the latest political scandal. In a world where a tweet from President Donald Trump gets over 86,000 favorites in three hours, it would take minimal time for him to raise awareness for this worsening humanitarian crisis — and that’s the least he could do.
He could develop a policy position aimed at aiding the Rohingya people or bring it to the forefront of discourse on the world’s stage, but he hasn’t. It is worth noting that former President Bill Clinton, who held office at the peak of the Rwandan genocide, has said that not doing more to prevent and stop these acts of violence was one of the biggest failings of his presidency.
I believe the main reason he, and other world leaders, have not addressed the plight of the Rohingya people is because they are Muslim. Trump has demonstrated racism in many aspects of his public life, most notably against Muslims in which his colloquially termed “Muslim ban” is concerned. Myanmar is not one of the countries listed in the third iteration of the ban, which prompts one to wonder how aware Trump and our representatives are about this situation.
Refugees, particularly Muslim refugees, are a hot-button topic right now. After the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, many nations, including France, cracked down on typical physical indicators of Islam such as burqas and niqabs, or items that cover one’s face, banning them completely. Many would rather be rid of the Muslim people currently residing in their countries and thus are not likely to welcome more.
Now that you know about the situation in Myanmar, you’re probably wondering how you can help. Organizations like Save the Children and Islamic Relief USA are collecting donations to provide food, water and other basic necessities to Rohingya refugees.
If, however, like me, you can’t really afford to donate, then spread the word of your new knowledge of this horrific and meaningless loss of life. Call your representatives — Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Claudia Tenney, to name those in New York and the Binghamton area. Tell people in power that this is an issue that you care about and want to be brought to the table. Use your voice to help those who are screaming but cannot be heard.
Jessica Gutowitz is an undeclared freshman.