Pope Francis lost a historical opportunity to truly set his legacy apart from previous popes. Alas, for him, too, political expediency trumped all else. In his visit to Burma (Myanmar) on November 27, he refrained from using the word ‘Rohingya.’
But what’s in a name?
In our frenzied attempts at understanding and articulating the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma, we often, perhaps inadvertently, ignore the heart of the matter: The struggle of the Rohingya is essentially a fight for identity.
Burma’s Buddhist majority and its representatives, including the powerful military and the country’s de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, understand this well. They use a strictly-guarded discourse in which the Rohingya are never recognized as a unique group with pressing political aspirations.
Thus, they refer to the Rohingya as ‘Bengali‘, claiming that the Muslim minority are immigrants from Bangladesh who entered the country illegally. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But historical accuracy, at least for the Buddhist majority, is beside the point. By stripping the Rohingya from any name affiliation that makes them a unique collective, it becomes possible, then, to deny them their rights, to dehumanize them and, eventually, ethnically cleanse them as has been the case for years.
Since August, over 650,000 members of the Rohingya community have been driven out of their homeland in Burma by a joint and systematic operation involving the…