“Abdul was seven years old when he began to understand that the government wanted to exterminate him.”
I am coming to the embarrassing conclusion that I am oblivious of this world that I claim to be a citizen of. This week’s readings were about the Rohingya, a group who is often described as the “world’s most persecuted minority.” They are an ethnic group, majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived in majority Buddhist Myanmar for centuries. I am embarrassed to say that today was the first time I have ever heard of them or their stories. In November of 2016, the UN accused the government of carrying out an “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, or in other words, claimed a genocide was taking place right under our noses and we are doing nothing about it. In fact, one scholarly estimate stated that between 1956 and 2016, 43 genocides have taken place, causing the deaths of approximately 50 million people; however, only three of these genocides have been prosecuted. Once again, I am embarrassed to admit that before this class, I could probably only name those three as well. “Those three,” referring to the mass killings in Rwanda, Serbia, and Cambodia.
This made me start to wonder why that is. Why are millions of innocent people being murdered each year and here we are, sitting in what feels like a world away, completely blind to it? Why is this not something that is built into our academic curriculum? Why are teachers nailing the fact that a mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell into our heads, but neglecting to teach us about the millions of lost lives we are oblivious to? Why did it take until I was 20 years old for me to hear that nearly 40 genocides have gone unnoticed and not prosecuted? Granted, I am responsible for myself and my actions and I have had every right and possibility to make this known to myself, but I did not. Which begs the question what else am I ignorant of? What other injustices am I completely oblivious to?
In one first assigned reading, the author stated that government sources from the US and Europe that he spoke to referred to genocide as the “G word,” unwilling to speak of it, even in an informal conversation. I physically felt my stomach churn after reading this seemingly tiny statement, because I came to the realization that if we aren’t talking about it, nobody is. If we aren’t telling these people’s stories and educating ourselves, nobody will. There are genocides taking place right now all over the world and our government’s response is to bury their heads in the sand while simultaneously throwing it into their people’s eyes; hoping to disorient their vision long enough to form a tweet to distract them from the truth.
You see, if we aren’t doing anything, nobody is. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I can promise that I will no longer allow myself to be the ignorant bystander who lives comfortably in my own privilege. I cannot be that person anymore.
Our society tends to live by this statement of “ignorance is bliss.” Bullshit. Ignorance is ignorance. Ignorance is a lazy, unacceptable disease. But it is curable. Let’s do something about it.