Burma's ongoing persecution of its Muslim minority may not be dominating the world's attention like other conflicts, but it should be. If the world was to look closer, it would find an ongoing genocide that only international pressure and intervention can stop.
Review recent history: Burma/Myanmar recently emerged from under the boot of a ruthless and erratic military junta. However, as representative government is taking hold, vicious ethnic and religious hatred is resurfacing. Burma is about 90% Buddhist, but the western state of Arakan has a significant population of Muslims known as Rohingya.
Although they have lived in Burma for centuries, the Rohingya have never been accepted as Burmese citizens by the former military government or by the current "democratic" one. Various media reports describe them as "stateless" or "refugees." They are despised by the majority, who often revile them as murderers, rapists and terrorists. They are prohibited from owning land or even from marrying without government permission. Most Burmese politicians are unwilling to defend this beleaguered minority. Even the nearly-sainted Aung San Suu Kyi finds it difficult to admit that the Rohingya are actually citizens of Burma.
Deprived of legal protection, Rohingya villages have been attacked by mobs that are often backed by the police. These mobs have pillaged Muslim villages, forcing the survivors to flee to squalid refugee camps along the Bangladeshi border. Human Rights Watch has called this a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
But the persecution of this vulnerable minority population has not stopped there. Last week news hit of a new Arakan policy, which was approved by the central government, that makes it illegal for Muslim families to have more than two children. Buddhists living in the same area are exempt from this restriction. The penalties for violating the policy are fines and jail time. Muslim women have reportedly resorted to unsafe, illegal abortions to avoid punishment.
Any time birth restrictions are imposed on a minority group you know something has gone very, very wrong. From the biblical King Herod's massacre of Bethlehem's innocents to the Australian campaign of stealing Aboriginal babies, history is littered with shameful examples of attempts to destroy a people by taking away their children. But it's shocking to realize that it is still happening in 2013, especially in a country that is being widely feted as a democratic success story.
Article II Section D of the UN Treaty to Prevent Genocide clearly identifies limiting births of a targeted people as a genocidal act. Stopping this ongoing catastrophe in Burma won't be easy, but the first step is to describe it accurately. We must call Burma's actions what they are: genocide.
Saqib Ali is government relations director for the Maryland chapter of CAIR.