The Rohingya People and Our Common Sense of Humanity

by Christopher Ryan Maboloc

        Hungry at sea, without water or medical provisions, and pushed from territorial waters, the fate of thousands of Rohingyas fleeing Burma who are stranded in decrepit wooden boats, once again emphasizes that the claim that sovereignty above all else define for any country the meaning of justice. This discussion all brings us back to Hegel and Hobbes and what the meaning of an “imagined community” as coined by Benedict Anderson is all about. For Anderson, a nation is a politically constructed concept. It points to a perceived commonality and belief that people share in terms of their identities which determine for them the very terms of their association – social, political and economic. Self-realization, in this respect, depends on a set of values that citizens in an associative relation share with each other. National solidarity, which dictates how people frame national and foreign policies, is grounded on those things that we think we owe only to our fellow citizens.

       What the above means is that the common good is tied to the idea of belongingness. Out of this sense of belongingness, people begin to carry out their roles in the formation of the life of a nation. The design of the state only has one aim in mind and that is the efficient distribution of rights, duties and obligations that the sovereign power of the people confers upon the government apparatus. What is real but not visible is that the moral obligation of people is tied to a sense of identity which serves to strengthen the meaning of the social bond. This bond does not extend beyond national borders. Justice, in this respect, is based on a very tight or restrictive moral claim – the right to citizenship.

       Every year, thousands of young men from the poorest countries in the African region die at sea or in the desert in their desire to reach Europe. Although, the most affluent countries in the world are trying to lure the best young minds from poor nations in order to equip them with an education meant to advance their people’s progress, such has not been enough to avert the tide of migration. In the issue of global justice, it has been argued that the First World should open its borders to citizens from poor countries on the basis of a moral claim – the moral duty to extend to all nationalities the opportunity for human development. Thomas Pogge has argued that it is a matter of human right on the part of the people in the Third World to be able to enjoy the goods that citizens of rich nations have as a matter of rectifying the uneven global distributive schemes which disadvantage the poorest nations in the world. Pogge mentions historical injustices like colonialism and the unfair global economic order in the world.

       The above complicates the matter with respect to the problem of the Rohingya people most especially if they do attempt to enter the territorial waters of poor countries. Lifeboat ethics has been used to justify depriving these people entry. Some countries contend that they do not have much in terms of resources. But this position is rather simplistic and bereft of any moral foundation. The basic point herein is that at present, the Rohingya minority in Burma are suffering from abuse, exploitation and political persecution. The military regime in Burma, reports say, is into ethnic cleansing. The urgency of the situation then in this regard legitimizes the point that we must appeal to a common sense of humanity more than anything else if we are to do the right thing.

       Aung San Suu Kyi has been accused in her country of not speaking about the issue of the Rohingya minority. It stems from the contention that some political interests on the part of her party tie her hands from making that moral assertion on behalf of an oppressed minority population. The critique states that her struggle and fight for the freedom of her people is sullied by an obvious political agenda. While there is a point to the sentiment of civil societies around the world that being on the right side of history in the Rohingya issue means making a bold moral stand at home, to demonize the democratic icon in view of the suffering of the Rohingya minority is misplaced. Aung San Suu Kyi did not create this problem. It is the military regime in Burma that excluded the Rohingya’s from mainstream Burmese society by denying them the equal right to citizenship.     

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