Posts Tagged ‘ethnic cleansing’

Realism, Egalitarianism, and Internationalism

October 11, 2021

These are my comments, presented on October 9, 2021, at the Ninth Biennial International Herbert Marcuse conference, on the panel “The Responsibility to Protect in the Twenty-First Century.” My co-panelist was Bill Weinberg.

Welcome to our round-table. We will focus on ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ethiopia and Syria, and present anti-authoritarian views on the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect” (or R2P). Just as the genocides perpetrated in the 1990’s in Bosnia and Rwanda did, so ongoing radical violations of international humanitarian law raise the controversial questions of R2P and humanitarian intervention today.

In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, since November 2020, Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has overseen a genocidal counter-insurgent campaign against not only the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), whom his administration has designated a “terrorist organization,” but also against the civilian population of the region, provoking mass-famine and -displacement. In parallel, Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies have drowned the Syrian Revolution in blood: over the past decade, up to a million Syrians have been killed (Salahi). Undoubtedly, such crimes follow from the authoritarian illogic of State sovereignty and the “non-intervention principle” in international society, both of which form part of what the critical sociologist Max Weber described as the “Iron Cage” of capitalist modernity (Wheeler and Bellamy 563).

In this presentation, I will begin by analyzing the political and intellectual support provided by many of the Frankfurt School Critical Theorists to the Allied war effort against Nazism, and consider the “neither Washington-nor Moscow” approach taken by most of these thinkers during the subsequent Cold War. I will then compare these concepts to anarchist ideals of internationalism. In place of the conspiracism, denialism, and anti-humanism that animates so much of what passes for “left” commentary on global issues of war, exploitation, and domination in our time, I will propose egalitarianism, (literary) realism, and anti-authoritarianism as important value principles for left internationalism. Lastly, I will consider the implications of such a position for the responsibility to protect (R2P) in the face of gross human-rights violations today.

The Frankfurt School, World War II, and the Cold War

As we know, most (but not all) of the Frankfurt-School theorists were German Jews who had to flee their homes in the early 1930’s, as the Weimar Republic collapsed and Adolf Hitler seized power. Most resettled in New York, where director Max Horkheimer had arranged for the Institute for Social Research to be relocated to Columbia University. Theodor W. Adorno and Franz Neumann initially moved to England, where the Fabian socialists Sidney Webb, R. H. Tawney, and Harold Laski had arranged for a London office to be opened for the Institute. Uniquely among the critical theorists, Walter Benjamin did not survive his bid to cross the Pyrenees Mountains in September 1940 and pass through Francoist Spain to reach Lisbon, where he was to take a steamer to New York and reunite with his comrades.

Once the relationship between Horkheimer and Marcuse soured in the early 1940’s, when Max suddenly announced he would partner with Adorno on Dialectic of Enlightenment, after having indicated to Herbert that he would be his co-writer—and encouraging him to move with his family across country to join Horkheimer in Los Angeles—Marcuse began working on philosophical studies of social change with Neumann, as well as his own investigations into Nazism. These included “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology” (1941), “State and Individual under National Socialism” (1941), and “The New German Mentality” (1942). When Neumann joined the U.S. wartime intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), in 1942, Marcuse was not far behind. Together with fellow exile Otto Kirchheimer, the trio proposed a radical de-Nazification program for the post-war U.S. administration to implement, but it was duly ignored. After the OSS demobilized at the end of the war, Marcuse went on to work at the State Department until 1951, at which time he entered academia. Two decades later, when the equivalent of today’s ‘anti-imperialist’ critics used Marcuse’s tenure at the OSS to question his radical credentials, the critical theorist proudly defended his work there, noting that “the war then was a war against fascism and […] consequently, I haven’t the slightest reason for being ashamed of having assisted in it” (Marcuse and Popper 59). After all, we must not forget that World War II, besides being an inter-imperialist war with global dimensions, was also a people’s war against foreign occupation, totalitarian dictatorship, and genocidal oppression, both in Europe and Asia (Price).

After the Allied victory, at the birth of the Cold War, Horkheimer and Adorno returned to what by then had become West Germany, while Marcuse remained in the U.S. to research and teach at different universities. After serving the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal as researcher for the chief prosecutor, Neumann died tragically in a car accident in Switzerland in 1954. Generally speaking, over time and space, the critical theorists maintained their anti-authoritarian critique of both Western capitalism and Stalinist totalitarianism, in keeping with the third-campist, Trotskyist slogan, “Neither Washington nor Moscow.” Nonetheless, Horkheimer slipped up, as we will see.

Marcuse wrote Soviet Marxism (1958) as one of the first critical treatments of the USSR from within the Marxist tradition, and in One-Dimensional Man (1964), he condemns the mobilization of stifling conformity on both sides of the Iron Curtain. He was a fierce critic of U.S. government policy toward Castro’s Cuba, and of the Vietnam War, as well as a supporter of the May 1968 uprising in France, “Prague Spring” in Czechoslovakia (1968), and the Vietnamese and Chinese Revolutions (Sethness Castro). The same could not be said of Horkheimer, who took a turn for the worse toward life’s end by resisting calls for the Institute to condemn the Vietnam War, celebrating “German-American Friendship Week” in 1967, and going so far as to support the U.S. war on Vietnam as an ostensible means of checking the propagation of Maoist political movements (Jay 13-16, 352-353n30).

Internationalist Principles: Egalitarianism, (Literary) Realism, and Anti-Authoritarianism

Franz A. Rombaud, detail of Sevastopol Panorama (1904)

Along these lines, Rancière’s political theory emphasizes the equal capacity everyone has to intervene in politics, while the literary realist style featured by Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy in such art-works as “Sevastopol Sketches” (1855), The Cossacks (1863), and War and Peace (1869) condemns the militarism practiced by States in a highly tragic and humanist light. Especially in the protest novel War and Peace, Tolstoy conveys his critique of inter-imperialist war, toxic masculinity, heterosexism, autocratic domination, and class exploitation. Such realism is effectively humanism. Rather than function to rationalize State abuses (in keeping with the “realist” school of international-relations theory), it remains true to Adorno’s concern for the “unbearable physical agony to which individuals are exposed” through atrocities (Adorno 365).

Historically, anarchist internationalism has involved coordination of and support for self-organized, autonomous movements of peasants and workers. This strategy has been used by anarchists of collectivist, syndicalist, and communist persuasions in the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA), otherwise known as the First International; the Anarchist St. Imier International; the Anti-Authoritarian International; and the International Workers’ Association (IWA-AIT), which continues organizing to this day (Graham). Anarchist internationalists have also supported armed struggle against oppression across borders in many different contexts, such as the nineteenth-century Polish uprisings against Tsarist domination; the Paris Commune of 1871; the popular Cuban struggle against Spanish and U.S. imperialism; the Mexican, Russian, and Spanish Revolutions; the French Resistance to Nazi occupation; both the Algerian independence movement, as well as those French soldiers who deserted their posts during the Algerian War (1954-1962); the neo-Zapatista struggle for indigenous autonomy (1994-present); and the Syrian and Rojava Revolutions of the past decade (Cappelletti; Porter).

On the one hand, in stark contrast to Marxist-Leninists, anti-authoritarian internationalists have typically striven to remain distant from “anti-imperialist,” national-socialist, and/or state-capitalist regimes, such as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or the People’s Republic of China. That being said, Noam Chomsky effectively supported the Khmer Rouge, who in the late 1970’s killed millions in just three and a half years, before hailing its ouster by the Vietnamese after the fact as a striking example of humanitarian intervention.1 However much Chomsky’s contrarian approach has harmed the left’s relationship to real-life atrocities, inspiring the denialism of today, it should be taken as anomalous among anti-authoritarians (Anthony; Chomsky). On the other hand, anarchists have also generally maintained our independence from liberal Western governments, although the track records of the German theorist Rudolf Rocker—who abandoned anarcho-syndicalism for what he called “libertarian revisionism” at life’s end—and of the French unionist Georges Sorel—who proposed a marriage of revolutionary syndicalism with ultra-nationalism as a strategy to destroy bourgeois society, but instead ended up inspiring Fascism—provide important lessons in this sense, for both reformists and revolutionaries (Bernardini 7; Sternhell).

Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Today

Solidarist international society theory proposes that, regardless of questions of legality, there is a moral duty to forcibly intervene in “situations of extreme humanitarian emergency,” whether owing to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity (Wheeler and Bellamy 559). Humanitarian intervention, in this sense, can be viewed as a delayed reaction on the part of global society to its guilt over the horrors of the Holocaust and WWII. At the 2005 UN World Summit, 170 States formally adopted the legal doctrine of R2P, which stipulates “collective action […] through the Security Council, […] should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” As such, R2P doctrine is a combination of solidarism and geopolitical (but not literary) realism: while a “incomplete and poorly defined concept,” it at least establishes a minimum standard against atrocious human-rights violations (Nahlawi). Non-compliance in this sense could then trigger a multi-lateral intervention designed to use proportional force to compel a halt to such crimes.

At the same time, the State actors that would be intervening are required to have humanitarian rather than strategic motivations for their effective violation of the otherwise overriding sovereignty principle—thus excluding the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq from being instances of “R2P.” In reality, R2P is understood as an exception to the fundamental principles of the UN charter, which ban the use of force between States. As a result, humanitarian intervention is reserved for “extraordinary oppression, not the day-to-day variety” (R. J. Vincent, cited in Wheeler and Bellamy 561). Even so, this begs the question of why poverty, patriarchy, and exploitation should be normalized as acceptable in this framing that claims to oppose ultra-violence. The confused answer would likely have to do with diplomacy and respect for value pluralism; after all, even in the rare instances on which it would be considered and operationalized, R2P is suppose to be based on “incrementalism and gradualism in the application of force,” rather than “defeat of a state.” Moreover, to limit the application of R2P to the whims of UN Security Council members hampers its potential, as these States are by definition often involved in the very atrocities that require redress. They rightly fear that any legal precedent for humanitarian intervention could be used against them (Wheeler and Bellamy 563, 570). For this reason, Yasmine Nahlawi champions the “Uniting for Peace” doctrine as an alternative, whereby the UN General Assembly can take up questions of R2P when the Security Council refuses or otherwise fails to do so (Nahlawi).

Humanitarian intervention can be forcible or consensual, violent or non-violent. Nicholas Wheeler and Alex Bellamy view “non-forcible humanitarian intervention,” like the work of Médecins Sans Frontières, as a “progressive manifestation of the globalization of world politics” (576). No doubt there. Yet, in the face of mass-atrocities being committed today in Syria and Tigray, pacific forms of intervention may serve more as band-aids than help to address the State oppression perpetuating human agony. For instance, “[t]he conflict in Syria has caused one of the largest humanitarian crises since World War 2” (Jabbour et al.). This is arguably due to global conformity with the principle of non-intervention, even and especially on the so-called “left,” particularly in the traumatic wake of the Iraq invasion. Paradoxically, then, the oppressive concept of sovereignty is being used by Assad, Putin, and their backers to shield accountability for the mass-atrocities they have carried out (Sibai). “Thus Hitler demands the right to practice mass murder in the name of the principle of sovereignty under international law, which tolerates any act of violence in another country,” write Horkheimer and Adorno (Adorno and Horkheimer 2003: 414). But perhaps, short of a global anarchist revolution, this dynamic should work the other way around: in other words, sovereignty could be canceled, in light of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity (Wheeler and Bellamy 561).

Applying principles of egalitarianism, literary realism, and anti-authoritarianism to left internationalism in the twenty-first century has a great creative potential. While we cannot entirely predict how this proposal might play out, support for R2P and humanitarian intervention could justifiably form part of the program. Of course, the idea that anarchists should compromise with the State, even on a question so pressing as international fascist atrocities, has a dire history: see the fate of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War.2 This risk of compromise and self-contradiction must, however, be balanced against the risk of violating one’s internationalism and even humanity, by ignoring and/or guarding silence about ultra-violence and other extreme forms of oppression happening elsewhere in the world.

Naturally, these do not have to be the only two options. For instance, in Rojava, volunteers have joined the International Freedom Battalion, echoing the fighters in the International Brigades who participated in the Spanish Civil War. I personally agree with the Afghan-American professor Zaher Wahab that UN peacekeepers should have intervened as US-NATO forces left Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from taking over, as it has. Moreover, though flawed, the UN humanitarian intervention in Bosnia in the 1990’s prevented the extermination of the Bosniak Muslims at the hands of Serbian ultra-nationalists, and a similar analysis could be made of the 2014 intervention by the U.S. and the PKK in Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains to rescue Yezidis from Islamic State forces.

Undoubtedly, these are all controversial questions. My perspective is that anti-authoritarian principles of egalitarianism, (literary) realism, and humanism represent much-needed “infusions” for left internationalism; that the responsibility to protect is direly needed to address political violence across the globe, whether in Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir, Ethiopia, Burma/Myanmar, China, or elsewhere; and that political radicals should reconsider their commitment, in many cases, to bourgeois principles of non-intervention. Let’s discuss.

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor W. 1973. Negative Dialectics. Trans. E. B. Ashton. London: Routledge.

Adorno, Theodor W. and Max Horkheimer 2002. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Redwood City: Stanford University Press.

Anthony, Andrew 2010. “Lost in Cambodia.” Guardian, 9 January.

Bernardini, David 2021. “A different antifascism. An analysis of the Rise of Nazism as seen by anarchists during the Weimar period.” History of European Ideas. DOI: 10.1080/01916599.2021.1963629.

Cappelletti, Ángel 2017. Anarchism in Latin America. Trans. Gabriel Palmer-Fernández. Chico, Calif.: AK Press.

Chomsky, Noam 1993-4. “Humanitarian Intervention.” Boston Review. Available online: https://chomsky.info/199401__02. Accessed 6 October 2021.

Graham, Robert 2015. We Do Not Fear Anarchy; We Invoke It. Oakland: AK Press.

Jabbour, Samer et al. 2021. “10 years of the Syrian conflict: a time to act and not merely to remember.” The Lancet, vol. 397, issue 10281. P1245-8.

Jay, Martin 1973. The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.

Le Guin, Ursula K. 1985. Always Coming Home. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Marcuse, Herbert and Karl Popper 1976. Revolution or Reform? A Confrontation. Ed. A.T. Ferguson. Chicago: New University Press.

May, Todd 2008. The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière: Creating Equality. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

Nahlawi, Yasmine 2020. The Responsibility to Protect in Libya and Syria. London: Routledge.

Porter, David 2011. Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria. Oakland: AK Press.

Price, Wayne 2015. “The Meaning of World War II—An Anarchist View.” The Anarchist Library. Available online: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/wayne-price-the-meaning-of-world-war-ii-an-anarchist-view. Accessed 6 October 2021.

Salahi, Amr 2020. “Will we ever really know how many people have died in Syria since 2011?” The New Arab, 28 January. Available online: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2020/1/28/how-many-people-have-died-in-syria-since-2011. Accessed 28 January 2020.

Sethness Castro, Javier 2016. Eros and Revolution: The Critical Philosophy of Herbert Marcuse. Leiden: Brill.

Sibai, Leila 2018. “How international law helps Assad and Putin.” Al-Jumhuriya, 22 May. Available online: https://www.aljumhuriya.net/en/content/-how-international-law-helps-assad-and-putin. Accessed 6 October 2021.

Sternhell, Ze’ev 1994. The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution.. Trans. David Maisel. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wheeler, Nicholas J. and Alex J. Bellamy 2005. “Humanitarian intervention in world politics.” The Globalization of World Politics, 3rd Edition. Eds. John Baylis, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 555-78.

Yalom, Irvin D. 1980. Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.

Notes

1As a side-note, China and the West condemned the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia as serving the aims of Soviet imperialism (Wheeler and Bellamy 563).

2Of course, we cannot blame the outcome of the Civil War on the CNT-FAI.

Gaza Massacre Marks 70 Years of Al-Nakba: We Demand Justice!

May 16, 2018

Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Today, May 15, 2018, marks 70 years since the founding of Israel and the parallel al-Nakba al-Mustamera, or “ongoing catastrophe,” which this has meant for Palestine’s indigenous Arab population. The ethnic cleansing of between 750,000 and 800,000 Palestinians and the destruction of an estimated 600 Arab villages required for the birth of Israel in 1948 continues to this day, as the Israeli military employs snipers to shoot masses of unarmed Palestinian youth protesters in the open-air prison of Gaza who have joined the Great March of Return to protest against their dispossession and oppression. Just yesterday, as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner celebrated the Trump Regime’s transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, an occupied city, the Israeli Army murdered fifty-nine Palestinians in Gaza, wounding 2,700 others. This brings the total casualties borne by Gazan Palestinians since the beginning of the Great March of Return on March 30 to 107 killed and 12,000 injured.

The list of names of martyred Palestinians shows that most of those killed yesterday were teenagers and young adults, with few even in their 30’s. As Al-Jazeera reports, “at least six are below 18, including one female. Of those wounded, at least 200 are below the age of 18; seventy-eight are women and 11 are journalists.” These statistics alone show the degree of dehumanization suffered by Gazan Palestinian youth due to Occupation and more than a decade of besiegement. They go out to participate in the Great March of Return en masse knowing well that the Israeli military will not hesitate to kill them for demanding their rights.

Across Occupied Palestine, a general strike has been declared for May 15, Nakba Day, both to commemorate and mourn those slain yesterday, and to lament and resist Israel’s accelerating settler-colonial project. Though the internationally accepted “two-state solution”—which has been made impossible by the vast Israeli settlements which colonize the West Bank and East Jerusalem—would leave Palestinians with less than a fourth of historical Palestine, even this demand is too great for the Israeli ultranationalists led by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Israel’s fascistic response to the protests in Gaza, which recalls Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and the Sharpeville (1960) and Soweto (1976) massacres in Apartheid South Africa, shows that the Jewish State, backed up by U.S. imperialism, has no intention of allowing the Palestinians even the most basic of concessions. This is the true meaning of Kushner’s announcement that protesters in Gaza are “part of the problem and not part of the solution.” The future faced by Palestinians at the hands of the U.S. and Israel amounts to worsening genocide and/or forcible transfer to Egypt, Jordan, or elsewhere in the region.

Dr. Abu Rayan Ziara, @Medo4Gaza

The Middle Eastern region’s ruling classes are also useless to the Palestinian cause. For decades, they have preached a hollow ethno-religious solidarity with Palestinian refugees, yet none have mobilized against Israel or the U.S. in a serious way; instead, they serve their own interests for profit and repressive stability. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who recently agreed to a ten-year $350 billion arms deal with Trump, and who imports three-fifths of all his weapons from the U.S., infamously declared that Israel has “a right to its land” just days after its military carried out the Land Day Massacre of 17 Gazans on March 30, the first day of the Great March. Land Day, or Yom al-’Ard, is in turn a Palestinian holiday that observes a 1976 massacre by Israel of protesters mobilizing against State expropriation of their lands. Though bin Salman’s enthusiasm for imperialism, as reflected in his war on Yemen and his war-threats against Iran, can be considered extreme, it is hardly distinct from other regional Gulf autocracies that increasingly accommodate the Jewish State; the Jordanian Hashemite monarchy, which maintains friendly relations with Israel; General al-Sisi’s dictatorship in Egypt, which effectively coordinates with Israel in besieging Gaza from the Sinai Peninsula; the Lebanese State, which systematically discriminates against Palestinian refugees; and even and especially the falsely ‘anti-imperialist’ Assad Regime of Syria, which just weeks ago was massively bombarding the Yarmouk refugee camp for Palestinians outside of Damascus.

Though the Islamic Republic of Iran has financed and armed Palestinian resistance movements against Israel for some time, and Hezbollah has posed as a regional counterweight to the Jewish State, defeating it militarily during the 2006 “Summer War,” both have mobilized to crush the Palestinians’ brothers and sisters across the border of the Occupied Golan Heights since the outbreak of the Syrian Revolution in 2011 by intervening in favor of Assad. Indeed, among the few countries that attended the opening of the U.S. embassy in West Jerusalem yesterday, one finds representatives from several corrupt African states with which Israel has consciously developed military ties to mitigate its international isolation; neo-fascist and Islamophobic central European governments; U.S. client states in Latin America; and the Burmese dictatorship, which last year ethnically cleansed over half a million Rohingya Muslims.

For these reasons, the Palestinian people’s self-emancipation against the horrors of al-Nakba—an urgent, burning task—can only proceed through global support for mass-movements to dismantle and decolonize the imperial, settler-colonial states of the U.S. and Israel. Palestinians have the right to resist colonization by any means necessary, and it is not for us in the West to dictate how people facing genocide should or should not resist. While Israel, Raj Shah, and Bernie Sanders would like to hold Hamas responsible for the mass-murders carried out by the Jewish State, thus mimicking Putin and the Assad Regime’s long-standing tendency to blame the victims of each new bombardment and chemical attack for staging their own deaths, we see this upsurge of resistance as a manifestation of the collective will of occupied Gazans. From our vantage point in the U.S., we see Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as an important tool to support the Palestinian struggle for decolonization. A two-way military embargo on the Jewish State would be an important first step toward justice in historical Palestine.

Finally, we would like to clarify that these murderous attacks by Israel against Palestinians in the Great March of Return and the protests against the embassy opening expose the hypocrisy of those who lecture Palestinians on being non-violent. They ask, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?”, when the reality is that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian resistance is nonviolent, and is still met with murderous repression. Palestinians are better than Gandhi, who was racist and misogynistic, in the sense that—being poor, brown, and mostly Muslim—they are despised by liberals internationally, yet they continue to resist without any of the kind of encouragement Gandhi was given by his moderate supporters across the globe, and against far worse odds. Even so, U.S. liberals continue to advocate arming and funding the settler-colonial State that murders Palestinians while hypocritically and condescendingly lecturing Palestinians about nonviolence. Liberals in the U.S. demand that Palestinians resist non-violently, but then won’t condemn Israel when it guns down peaceful, unarmed Palestinians. Mainstream liberal publications mention “clashes” and use the passive voice to report that Palestinians “have been killed,” or worse, that they just “died,” as though inexplicably, or through “natural causes.” In essence, what these colonial-Orientalist commentators are really saying is that Palestinians should passively let Israel exterminate them. We completely reject that gross illogic. Palestine must be free!

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Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

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Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

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Stop Rohingya Genocide!

October 18, 2017

Courtesy Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The Burmese military that effectively rules the Southeast Asian State of Myanmar is currently engaged in a campaign of intensifying genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority. Of the 1 million Rohingyas who were estimated to have lived in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine State before this newest episode of ethnic cleansing, approximately one thousand have been killed and over a half-million displaced in the past two months. These Rohingya refugees, many of whom are women and children, have fled the brutal scorched-earth tactics of the Burmese State for neighboring Bangladesh—although over 100,000 remain internally displaced in Rakhine in perilous conditions.

The Rohingyas of Burma

The dispossessed Rohingyas have confronted mass-murder, torture, and sexual assault and had their homes torched and their crops destroyed. Scores of villages have been burnt to the ground. In addition, the Burmese military has installed a series of landmines adjacent to the Naf River that divides Myanmar from Bangladesh, both to harm those fleeing and to dissuade their return. Why has this happened?

Many observers point to the ethno-religious aspects of this oppressive dynamic. Whereas the Burmese State is largely controlled by majority ethnic Bamars who are Buddhists, the Rohingya minority—considered by the State to be “Bengalis,” as from the region of Bengal that spans India and Bangladesh—are mostly Muslim, with a Hindu minority. While Islam and Buddhism are not mutually hostile to each other, such fault-lines as differing religious identities have been used in this case to prepare and ultimate rationalize the ongoing genocide. British colonialism—with its logic of racialization and bordering—prepared the groundwork for the atrocities unfolding today, as imperialists used Rohingyas during the war against Japan and even at one point promised them independence, a promise later revoked. Since its 1962 takeover in the early post-colonial period following Burmese independence from Britain in 1948, the military has promoted Buddhist nationalism as an ideal and excluded many of the country’s ethnic minorities, none more than the Rohingya. In 1974, the State identified all Rohingyas as foreigners; in 1982, it formally revoked their collective citizenship.

Military “Clearance Operations”

Over the past half-century, the State has systematically starved, enslaved, and massacred the Rohingya people. In response, between the 1970s and August 2017, an estimated 1 million Rohingyas fled Burma/Myanmar, with 168,000 refugees crossing State borders between 2012 and August 2017. In violation of international law, Rohingya refugees have been forcibly repatriated to Rakhine several times over the past 40 years. This time, however, the ethnic cleansing appears to be meant to be final.

In his report on an October 2017 meeting with the U.S. ambassador, General Min Aung Hlaing, the Burmese commander accused of ordering the ongoing atrocities, falsifies history by claiming that the Rohingyas are “not native” but rather foreigners who were introduced to the country by British imperialism. Such a self-serving account overlooks the historical presence of Muslims in Rakhine since at least the fifteenth century and conveniently erases the cosmopolitan past in which Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists coexisted without war. Ominously, Aung Hlaing has publicly declared that the ongoing “clearance operations” are meant to resolve “unfinished business” from Burma’s independence. For her part, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the former political prisoner and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, is entirely complicit in these crimes, given her guarding of silence on the current crisis and her past rejection of the idea that the State’s military campaigns in Rakhine constitute ethnic cleansing.

The “Last Asian Frontier” to Capital

Yet however much responsibility for the Rohingya genocide rests with the Burmese military and ruling class, capitalist and imperialist elements play important roles in the oppression of the Rohingyas as well. The power of the Burmese State and military has grown hand-in-hand with the expanding extraction of its fossil-fuel resources and the accelerating opening-up of trade and investment in recent years. Having been relatively unknown to global capitalism, Burma/Myanmar is sometimes considered the “last Asian frontier” for capitalist models of plantation agriculture, deforestation, mega-mining, and the super-exploitation of labor.

Over the past two decades, the State has dispossessed millions of Buddhist peasants of their land to make way for corporate-extractivist projects, and before the current crisis erupted, the State had already awarded a million hectares in Rakhine for “corporate development” schemes. In northern Rakhine, moreover, the State has plans to establish a “special economic zone” with Chinese investors to construct oil and gas pipelines to the tune of $10 billion. When one considers that all burnt land in Burma reverts to State property, the meaning of its military’s “clearing operations” against the Rohingyas becomes clearer. The ferocity of the State’s response to the coordinated guerrilla attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 40 Burmese police stations and a military base in Rakhine on August 25, which provoked the current wave of mass-displacement, shows that the ARSA attack is only a pretext for the State to implement its broadly genocidal designs.

Courtesy Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera

International Complicity in Genocide

Since 1990, China, Russia, Israel, and former Yugoslavian countries have been Burma’s major arms suppliers, while the UK provides training to the Burmese military. In fact, in September 2017, the Israeli State argued before the High Court of Justice that ethics have no place in business or international relations, and that no restrictions should be placed on Israeli arms sales to Burmese security forces. Although the U.S. and the European Union currently observe an embargo on trade in weapons with the country, recent meetings between EU leaders and General Min Aung Hlain suggest that this embargo may well be lifted soon in the interests of profitability.

Moreover, recently at the United Nations, the Trump Regime cynically used accusations of war crimes against the Rohingyas as leverage against the State’s allies, China and Russia. While it is clear that Trump has no actual interest in the Rohingyas as human beings, it bears noting that the Obama administration helped legitimize Suu Kyi and the military junta she serves by suspending sanctions against Burma following her party’s electoral victory in 2015. Of course, overcoming the “barrier” that such sanctions had represented to the expansion of capital serves U.S. imperialist interests as well.

In closing, we condemn the State Terror that has targeted Rohingyas for four decades, leading to the current genocidal catastrophe, and we express our solidarity with those displaced both internally in Burma/Myanmar and as refugees in Bangladesh. We denounce all imperialist and capitalist support for the Burmese junta, whether provided by the U.S., Israel, Russia, or China. We take inspiration from the mutual aid provided by Bangladeshis to the Rohingya refugees, even as that country confronts mass-inundation and disappearance due to rising sea levels that result from capital-induced climate change. We look forward to the potential unification of peasantry and working class across ethnic lines against the Burmese State, and we demand justice.

Never again! Stop Rohingya genocide!

For more information:

Message to the world from Nasima Khatun, a Rohingya (Al Jazeera, 17 Sept. 2017)

Message to the world from Noor Kajol, a Rohingya (Al Jazeera, 15 Sept. 2017)

Message to the world from Begum Jaan, a Rohingya (Al Jazeera, 12 Sept. 2017)

UN: Rohingya in Bangladesh need ‘massive’ assistance (Al Jazeera, 24 Sept. 2017)

Al Jazeera releases virtual reality project on Rohingya (Al Jazeera, 28 Sept. 2017)

‘No pictures, no words can explain Rohingya plight’ (Al Jazeera, 16 Oct. 2017)