“Never Again!”: Do We Mean It?

Image: Rohingya people at a clinic operated by the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). Health clinics operated by the Myanmar government are closed to them. Photo: © EC/ECHO/Mathias Eick., Myanmar/Burma, September 2013.

No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them. – Elie Wiesel




The Nazi Holocaust.

The Rape of Nanking.

Ukrainian Holodomor (Forced Famine).


Native Americans.

Each of the names above should give every decent person the shivers. Each is an example of genocide. If any of them aren’t familiar to you, click the link to learn.

Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the U.N. General Assembly on 9 December 1948 defines genocide as follows:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. 

One other thing that all genocides seem to have in common is that there are always some people who deny that it is happening or justify it with lies. Later on, they insist that it never happened, no matter how much evidence there is that it did indeed happen.

Right now most of the world seems to be in denial about yet another genocide, one taking place this very moment.

The United Nations human rights chief today lashed out at the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar which has led to more than 300,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh in the past three weeks, as security forces and local militia reportedly burn villages and shoot civilians.

“The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, noting that the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed since Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators. – UN News Centre, 11 Sept 2017

The Rohingya people of Myanmar have had a precarious existence for a long time. They were explicitly excluded from citizenship in Myanmar under the 1982 Burmese Citizenship Law. Since then they have been officially stateless. The government of Myanmar justifies this distinction with a claim that they are recent arrivals, illegal aliens. However, according to Human Rights Watch, the 1982 laws “effectively deny to the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality. Despite being able to trace Rohingya history to the 8th century, Burmese law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of the national races”.

For more in-depth information about the Rohingya people, see this article in the Lancet.

The international press has focused on the facts that most Rohingya are of the Muslim faith, and that some Rohingya people have fought back against their oppressors. As has happened in the past to other ethnic groups (Jews and African Americans, for instance) any effort to defend themselves is taken as evidence that they are bad people. If they don’t defend themselves, it’s seen as a sign of weakness and inferiority. This is right out of the genocide playbook.

Racism underlies Burmese attitudes about the Rohingya:

Ye Myint Aung, the Burmese envoy in Hong Kong, hoped to dissuade others from feeling sympathy for the Rohingya. His method for doing this was by revealing his shocking racism. The Rohingya, he said, “are as ugly as ogres” and do not share the “fair and soft” skin of other Burmese ethnic groups.

Therefore, the Burmese consul general concluded, “Rohingya are neither Myanmar people nor Myanmar’s ethnic group,” using the other name for Burma while trotting out his government’s long-standing contention that the Rohingya are interlopers in Burma and don’t deserve citizenship rights.

– from Why Does this Buddhist-majority Nation Hate these Muslims so much? – Washington Post, 2/15/2015

So what can we do, as a people who have vowed that this will “never again” happen to a group of people? Nicole Sganga wrote a wonderful article for the New York Times that covers the best options very well. I urge you to read the article and see what possibilities on that menu are open to you.

For those who worry about the fact that they are Muslim, let me suggest that the surest way to radicalize people is to give them no good options. These people have lived peacefully in Myanmar/Burma for centuries, and the surrounding states don’t want them. Nobody wants them. Compare that to the situation of the Jews in the 1930’s; it is no different.

Some may say that there is enough to worry about here in the United States. There is another assault underway on the availability of healthcare (at this writing, on Sept 18, 2017.) Many of us know and care about people who are threatened by the change in U.S. immigration policy. (At least one of my students is a DREAMer, and I am terribly worried for her – you may also know someone in that category and not be aware of it.) For Jews, there are ongoing worries about Israel.

But this is genocide. This is a deliberate effort to eradicate an entire ethnic group, and to drive any remaining remnant from the place that has been their home for centuries. For any of us who have said “Never again!” this is a situation we cannot ignore.

Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. – Leviticus 19:16

This article was amended to add the genocide against Native Americans, thanks to a reader who pointed out my oversight.