The following invited letter is my reply to Moshe Yegar’s recent article “The Plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar”. The letter was published in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (2019; doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/23739770.2018.1589710; pp.3-4)
On February 7 2019, a post of mine on the Rohingya was republished by the American Anthropological Association. It was previously included in their Human Rights blog, but was eventually moved to the association’s main blog site to attract more readers.
In the post I argue that while the main debate in both local and international media as well as scholarly discourse has been whether to call the Rohingya by their very name (“the R-word”), which the Myanmar state rejects (prefering “Bengali” to emphasize a putative “foreign” origin), there is another debate going on: Should we call the atrocities that have been committed against Rohingya a genocide (which I call “the G-word”)? The post argues in strong favor of using “genocide” over available euphemisms or qualifications. Specifically, I take issue with approaches that seek to categorize unimaginable suffering by “taking stock” through quantification. I argue that
counting and accountability are intrinsically connected. There lies an ethical dimension within the numerical and the representational that has less to do with numbers and more to do with how we reach a judgment or a decision, how we come to value and ultimately understand a social situation. The atrocities are what they are the moment they are committed, but the labelling shifts over time and depends not only on quantification, but also on public pressure. As scholars, we first of all have to hold ourselves accountable to keep this pressure up.
Our accountability requires us, in the face of the overwhelming evidence, to not only say the R-word but also the G-word, and to continue to raise awareness.
Here is a link to the post The R-word and the G-word.