Seemingly devoted to making our country into the Divided States of America, the President who smeared and offended Muslims and Latinos is now doing the same for Jews. Speaking in the Oval Office, Donald Trump accused Jews who vote for Democrats of having “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”With those nine evil words, he deployed a vague but potent trope about Jewish patriotism. Accusations of “disloyalty” were flung at Jews in Nazi Germany and have been used to smear Jews around the world. Trump wasn’t specific about the loyalty Jewish Democrats were violating.
- To Israel?
- To Judaism?
- To America?
- To Trump?
He subsequently explained to reporters Wednesday that he had meant that those who support Democrats are disloyal to “Jewish people” and to Israel. He did not explain why he should be considered a proper judge of Jewish Americans’ obligations.The uproar over Trump’s remarks drew press attention away from rising evidence that the US is headed for an economic meltdown. The economy has been his main claim to presidential success. On the very day he shouted-out to anti-Semites, Trump also admitted that more tax cuts are being considered as a way to halt the slide into recession.Confusing and outrageous statements are key to Trump’s style of attention-seeking, which he refined over decades of manipulating the tabloid press in New York City. Back then he would make outrageous statements about
- his own wealth,
- plant stories about the famous women pursuing him for romance, and
- jump into controversies like the attack on a jogger in Central Park, which he exploited with signed advertisements calling for New York state to reinstate the death penalty.In the jogger case, Trump wasn’t so bold as to say the youngsters arrested for the crime should be executed, but the implication was obvious. (It should be noted that they were eventually exonerated of the crime.) The wording meant that Trump could exploit the dangerous anger people felt about the attack, but in an indirect way.By the time he began his 2016 campaign for president, Trump had perfected his method of attaching escape-hatch-caveats to inflammatory words about groups of people. So it was that he said that a few “good people” were among the immigrants from Mexico whom he described as rapists and people bringing drugs.With his “lack of knowledge” and “great disloyalty” smear, Trump again picked up his favorite playthings — dangerous words — and threw them around recklessly. Those who identify with neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” during the awful white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville would find in Trump’s comment confirmation that he is with them. He expressed a similar sentiment during the Charlottesville crisis when he noted there were “very fine people” among those who carried torches and shouted the Nazi slogan “blood and soil”Trump’s comments are of a piece with the white identity strategy he seems to be employing in his bid for reelection. With his brutal approach to immigration, references to “shithole” countries in Africa, and his consistent attacks on black and brown members of Congress — like his recent, and repeated, public disparagement of Muslim-American Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — Trump plays on white anxieties about a future when they are no longer part of a racial or ethnic majority.The big problem with Trump’s callous and destructive abuse of his office is that it requires regular renewal, intensification and amplification. Renewal comes when he simply repeats an ugly claim to remind us where he stands. Intensification comes when he raises the stakes to make sure he gets the attention he wants. Amplification comes when he adds a new group — in this case American Jews — to his hit parade of hatred. With three techniques he keeps drawing attention to himself, and away from serious problems.It’s difficult to say where all this will lead. The only certainty is that Trump will continue along this line. Proof came less than 24 hours after his Oval Office disgrace when he retweeted a notorious conspiracy theorist’s claim that Israelis regard Trump as “the second coming of God.”Jews do not believe in a concept like the “second coming,” but conservative evangelicals who largely support Trump do. The statement exploits their religious and emotional attachment to Israel in the crudest possible way. Of course, Trump endorsed it.
The publisher of the New York Times said Sunday that he recently warned President Trump that his attacks on journalists, including labeling them as the “enemy of the people,” are contributing to a rise in threats and could lead to violence.
Trump revealed Sunday that he met at the White House with publisher A.G. Sulzberger and said they discussed “the vast amounts of Fake News.” The president said he explained to Sulzberger why he was increasingly characterizing journalists as the “enemy of the people.”
.. Sulzberger said in a lengthy statement, based on his and Bennet’s notes, that he agreed to the meeting with Trump “to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.”
“I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” Sulzberger said. “I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people.’ I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”
.. “I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists. I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.”
.. I made clear repeatedly that I was not asking for him to soften his attacks on The Times if he felt our coverage was unfair. Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.”
.. he has long had a particular fascination with his coverage in the Times, dating to his many years of struggles to win the respect of Manhattan’s elite.
.. At various moments throughout his presidency, Trump has sought to punish journalists for the way they ask him questions, directing White House staff to bar those reporters from covering official events or to revoke their press credentials, The Washington Post reported this past week.
“These people shouting questions are the worst,” Trump has said, according to an administration official. “Why do we have them in here?”
He’s long-boasted of how his business acumen makes him fit for president. But, Kurt Eichenwald delves into the history of his deals and finds a catalogue of calamitous ventures
The year was 1993, and his target was Native Americans, particularly those running casinos who, Trump was telling a congressional hearing, were sucking up to criminals.
Trump, who at the time was a major casino operator, appeared before a panel on Native American gaming with a prepared statement that was level-headed and raised regulatory concerns in a mature way. But, in his opening words, Trump announced that his written speech was boring, so he went off-script, even questioning the heritage of some Native American casino operators, saying they “don’t look like Indians” and launching into a tirade about “rampant” criminal activities on reservations.
.. His words were, as is so often the case, incendiary. Lawmakers, latching onto his claim to know more than law enforcement about ongoing criminal activity at Native American casinos, challenged Trump to bring his information to the FBI. One attacked Trump’s argument as the most “irresponsible testimony” he had ever heard.
.. For opponents of Trump’s presidential run, this contretemps about Native Americans might seem like a distant but familiar echo of the racism charges that have dogged his campaign, including his repeated taunting of Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” because she claims native ancestry.
.. Trump, through his offensive tantrum, was throwing away financial opportunities, yet another reminder that, for all his boasting of his acumen and flaunting of his wealth, the self-proclaimed billionaire has often been a lousy businessman.
.. As Trump was denigrating Native Americans before Congress, other casino magnates were striking management agreements with them.
.. in his purposeless, false and inflammatory statements before Congress, Trump alienated politicians from around the country, including some who had the power to influence construction contracts –problems that could have been avoided if he had simply read his prepared speech rather than ad-libbing.
.. Lost contracts, bankruptcies, defaults, deceptions and indifference to investors – Trump’s business career is a long, long list of such troubles
.. arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion... He is also pretty good at self-deception, and plain old deception... “I’m just telling you, you wouldn’t say that you’re failing,” he said in a 2007 deposition when asked to explain why he would give an upbeat assessment of his business even if it was in trouble. “If somebody said, ‘How you doing?’ You’re going to say you’re doing good.” Perhaps such dissembling is fine in polite cocktail party conversation, but in the business world it’s called lying... And while Trump is quick to boast that his purported billions prove his business acumen, his net worth is almost unknowable given the loose standards and numerous outright misrepresentations he has made over the years. In that 2007 deposition, Trump said he based estimates of his net worth at times on “psychology” and “my own feelings”. But those feelings are often wrong – in 2004, he presented unaudited financials to Deutsche Bank while seeking a loan, claiming he was worth $3.5bn. The bank concluded Trump was, to say the least, puffing; it put his net worth at $788m, records show.
.. He personally guaranteed $40m of the loan to his company, so Deutsche coughed up. He later defaulted on that commitment.
.. Trump’s many misrepresentations of his successes and his failures matter – a lot.
.. He has no voting record and presents few details about specific policies. Instead, he sells himself as qualified to run the country because he is a businessman who knows how to get things done, and his financial dealings are the only part of his background available to assess his competence to lead the country. And while Trump has had a few successes in business, most of his ventures have been disasters.
.. When he was ready for college, Trump wanted to be a movie producer, perhaps the first sign that he was far more interested in the glitz of business than the nuts and bolts.
.. He applied to the University of Southern California to pursue a film career, but when that didn’t work out, he attended Fordham University; two years later, he transferred to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and got a degree in economics.
.. Almost all of his best-known successes are attributable to family ties or money given to him by his father.
.. The son of wealthy developer Fred Trump, he went to work for his father’s real estate business immediately after graduating from Wharton and found some success by taking advantage of his father’s riches and close ties to the power brokers in the New York Democratic Party, particularly his decades-long friend Abe Beame, the former mayor of the city.
Even with those advantages, a few of Trump’s initial deals for his father were busts, based on the profits.
His first project was revitalising the Swifton Village apartment complex in Cleveland, which his father had purchased for $5.7m in 1962. After Trump finished his work, they sold the complex for $6.75m, which, while appearing to be a small return, was a loss; in constant dollars, the apartment buildings would have had to sell for $7.9m to have earned an actual profit. Still, Trump happily boasted about his supposed success with Swifton Village and about his surging personal wealth.
.. in 1970, he took another shot at joining the entertainment business by investing $70,000, to snag a co-producer’s credit for a Broadway comedy called Paris Is Out! Once again, Trump failed; the play bombed, closing after just 96 performances.
.. The next year, he moved to Manhattan from the outer boroughs, still largely dependent on Daddy. In 1972, Trump’s father brought him into a limited partnership that developed and owned a senior citizen apartment complex in East Orange, New Jersey.
Fred Trump owned 75 per cent, but two years later shrunk his ownership to 27 per cent by turning over the rest of his stake to two entities controlled by his son. Another two years passed, and then Fred Trump named him the beneficiary of a $1m trust that provided him with $1.3m in income (2015 dollars) over the next five years.
.. In 1978, he boosted his son’s fortunes again, hiring him as a consultant to help sell his ownership interest in a real estate partnership to the Grandcor Company and Port Electric Supply Corp. The deal was enormously lucrative for Donald Trump, particularly since it just fell into his lap thanks to his family. Under the deal, Grandcor agreed to pay him an additional $190,000, while Port Electric kicked in $228,500. The payments were made over several years, but the value in present-day dollars on the final sum he received is $10.4m.
.. Despite having no real success of his own, by the late 1970s, Trump was swaggering through Manhattan, gaining a reputation as a crass self-promoter. He hung out in the fancy nightspot Le Club, where he was chums with prominent New Yorkers like Roy Cohn, the one-time aide to Senator Joe McCarthy who was one of the city’s most feared and politically connected attorneys. Cohn became one of the developer’s lifelong mentors, encouraging the pugilistic personality that showed itself all the way back in second grade, when Trump punched his music teacher.
.. Soon Trump gained the public recognition he craved. Through a wholly owned corporation called Wembley Realty, Trump struck a partnership with a subsidiary of Hyatt Hotels. That partnership, Regency Lexington, purchased the struggling Commodore Hotel for redevelopment into the Grand Hyatt New York, a deal Trump crowed about when he announced he was running for president.He failed to mention that this deal was once again largely attributable to Daddy, who co-guaranteed with Hyatt a construction loan for $70m and arranged a credit line for his boy with Chase Manhattan Bank.
.. The credit line was a favour to the Trump family, which had brought huge profits to the bank; according to regulatory records, the revolving loan was set up without even requiring a written agreement. Topping off the freebies and special deals that flowed Trump’s way, the city tossed in a 40-year tax abatement. Trump’s “success” with the Hyatt was simply the result of money from his dad, his dad’s bank, Hyatt and the taxpayers of New York City.
.. Despite the outward signs of success, Trump’s personal finances were a disaster. In 1978, the year his father set up that sweet credit line at Chase, Donald’s tax returns showed personal losses of $406,386 – $1.5m in present-day dollars. Things grew worse in 1979, when he reported an income of negative $3.4m, $11.2m in constant dollars. All of this traced back to big losses in three real estate partnerships and interest he owed Chase. With Trump sucking wind and rapidly drawing down his line of credit, he turned again to Daddy, who in 1980 agreed to lend him $7.5m.
.. All of these names and numbers can grow confusing for voters with little exposure to the business world. So to sum it all up, Trump is rich because he was born rich – and without his father repeatedly bailing him out, he would have likely filed for personal bankruptcy before he was 35. As his personal finances were falling apart, Trump got a big idea for how to make money: casinos... At the time, Trump was deep into plans to turn Bonwit Teller’s flagship department store into Trump Tower – a transformation achieved with the help of Roy Cohn, who fought in the courts to win Trump a huge tax abatement. Still, Trump jumped on the casino idea and had a lawyer reach out to the owners to negotiate a lease deal... Trump wanted to build a 39-story, 612-room hotel and casino, but the banks refused to finance his adventure. So, instead, he struck a partnership with Harrah’s Entertainment in which the global gaming company and subsidiary of Holiday Inn Inc put up all the money in exchange for Trump developing the property. In 1984, Harrah’s at Trump Plaza opened, and Trump seethed. He had wanted his name to be the marquee brand, even though Harrah’s had an international reputation in casinos and he had none. He even delayed building a garage because his name was not being used prominently enough in the marketing.
..According to court papers, Harrah’s spent $9.3m promoting the Trump name, giving the New York developer a reputation in the casino business he’d never had before. And Harrah’s quickly learned the price – now, with Trump able to argue he knew casinos, financing opportunities that did not exist before opened up, and he was able to use Harrah’s promotion of him as a lever against the entertainment company. Soon after that first casino opened, Trump took advantage of his new credibility with financial backers interested in the gaming business to purchase the nearly completed Hilton Atlantic City Hotel for just $320m; he renamed it Trump Castle. The business plan was ludicrous: Trump had not only doubled down his bet on Atlantic City casinos but was now operating two businesses in direct competition with each other. When Trump Castle opened in 1985, Harrah’s decided to ditch Trump and sold its interest in their joint venture to him for $220m... Still, he wanted more in Atlantic City – specifically, the Taj Mahal, the largest casino complex ever, which Resorts International was building. This made the Casino Control Commission nervous because it could have meant that the financial security of Atlantic City would be riding on the back of one man.
.. his argument went, he was Donald Trump. He would contain costs, he said, because banks would be practically throwing money at him, and at prime rates. He would be on a solid financial foundation because the banks loved him so much, unlike lots of other companies and casinos that used below-investment-grade, high-interest junk bonds for their financing. “I’m talking about banking institutions, not these junk bonds, which are ridiculous,” he testified... But Trump’s braggadocio proved empty. No financial institution gave him anything. Instead, he financed the deal with $675m in junk bonds, agreeing to pay an astonishing 14 percent interest, about 50 percent more than he had projected.
That pushed Trump’s total debt for his three casinos to $1.2bn. For the renamed Trump Taj Mahal to break even, it would have to pull in as much as $1.3m a day in revenue, more than any casino ever.
Disaster hit fast. As had been predicted by some Wall Street analysts, Trump’s voracious appetite cannibalised his other casinos – it was as if Trump had tipped the Atlantic City boardwalk and slid all his customers at the Trump Castle and Trump Plaza down to the Taj. Revenues for the two smaller casinos plummeted a combined $58m that first year... Trump introduced the airline with his usual style – by insulting the competition. At an elegant event at Logan Airport in Boston, Trump took the stage and suggested that the other airline with a northeastern shuttle, Pan Am, flew unsafe planes. Pan Am didn’t have enough cash, he said, and so it couldn’t spend as much as the Trump Shuttle on maintenance. “I’m not criticising Pan Am,” Trump told the assembled crowd. “I’m just speaking facts.” But Trump offered no proof, and others in the airline industry seethed; talking about possible crashes was bad for everyone’s business.
.. He was spending $1m to update each of the planes, which were individually worth only $4m. With those changes, he boasted, he would increase the shuttle’s market share from 55 to 75 percent. But just like with casinos, Trump was in a business he knew nothing about.
.. Customers on a one-hour flight from Washington to New York didn’t want luxury; they wanted reliability and competitive prices. Trump Shuttle never turned a profit. But it didn’t have much of a chance; even as he was preening about his successes, Trump’s businesses were falling apart and would soon bring the shuttle crashing down... At 1:40pm on 10 October, 1989, the four-blade rotor and tail rotor broke off of a helicopter flying above the pine woodlands near Forked River, New Jersey. The craft plunged 2,800 feet to the ground, killing all five passengers. Among them were three of Trump’s top casino executives... With the best managers of his casinos dead, Trump for the first time took responsibility for running the day-to-day operations in Atlantic City. His mercurial and belligerent style made a quick impact – some top executives walked, unwilling to put up with his eccentricities, while Trump booted others. The casinos were struggling so badly that Trump was sweating whether a few big winners might pull him under... executives at the casino were humiliated, since Trump was signalling that he was frightened customers might win... By early 1990, as financial prospects at the casinos worsened, Trump began badmouthing the executives who had died, laying blame on them, although the cause of his problems was the precarious, debt-laden business structure he had built... By June 1990, Trump was on the verge of missing a $43m interest payment to the investors in the Taj’s junk bonds. Facing ruin, he met with his bankers, who had almost no recourse – they had been as reckless as Trump. By lending him billions – with loans for his real estate, his casinos, his airline and other businesses – they could fail if Trump went down. So the banks agreed to lend him tens of millions more in exchange for Trump temporarily ceding control over his multi billion-dollar empire and accepting a budget of $450,000 a month for personal expenditures. In August, New Jersey regulators prepared a report totaling Trump’s debt at $3.4bn, writing that “a complete financial collapse of the Trump Organisation was not out of the question.”.. By December, Trump was on the verge of missing an interest payment on the debt of Trump Castle, and there was no room left to manoeuvre with the banks this time. So, just as he had in the past, Trump turned to Dad for help, according to New Jersey state regulatory records. On December 17, 1990, Fred Trump handed a certified cheque for $3.35m payable to the Trump Castle to his attorney, Howard Snyder. Snyder travelled to the Castle and opened an account in the name of Fred Trump. The cheque was deposited into that account and a blackjack dealer paid out $3.35m to Snyder in gray $5,000 chips. Snyder put the chips in a small case and left; no gambling took place. The next day, a similar “loan” was made – except by wire transfer rather than by cheque – for an additional $150,000. This surreptitious, and unreported, loan allowed Donald Trump to make that interest payment... Trump’s casino empire was doomed. A little more than a year after the opening of the Taj, that casino was in bankruptcy court, and was soon followed there by the Plaza and the Castle. Under the reorganisation, Trump turned over half his interest in the businesses in exchange for lower rates of interest, as well as a deferral of payments and an agreement to wait at least five years before pursuing Trump for the personal guarantees he had made on some of the debt... In 2004, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts – the new name for Trump’s casino holdings – filed for bankruptcy, and Trump was forced to relinquish his post as chief executive. The name of the company was then changed to Trump Entertainment Resorts; it filed for bankruptcy in 2009, four days after Trump resigned from the board... In his books and public statements, Trump holds up this bankruptcy as yet more proof of his business genius; after all, his logic goes, he climbed out of a hole so deep few others could have done it. He even brags now about how deep that hole was. Trump falsely claimed in two of his books that he owed $9.2bn, rather than the actual number, $3.4bn, making his recovery seem far more impressive... When challenged on the misrepresentation during a 2007 deposition, Trump blamed the error on Meredith McIver, a longtime employee who helped write that book. Trump testified that he recognised the mistake shortly after the first book mentioning it was published; he never explained why he allowed it to appear again in the paperback edition and even in his next book. McIver went on to garner some national recognition as a Trump scapegoat – nine years later, when Trump’s wife, Melania, delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention that was partially plagiarised from Michelle Obama, the campaign blamed McIver. But despite all this supposed sloppiness, Trump has never directed his trademark phrase “You’re fired!” at this loyal employee... In 2008, he defaulted on a $640m construction loan for Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, and the primary lender, Deutsche Bank, sued him. Trump counter-sued, howling that the bank had damaged his reputation... Trump has also based huge projects on temporary business trends. For example, for a few years during the George W Bush administration, wealthy expatriates from around the Middle East flocked to Dubai. In response, Trump launched work on a 62-story luxury hotel and apartment complex on an artificial island shaped like a palm tree. But, as was predictable from the start, there were only so many rich people willing to travel to the United Arab Emirates, so the flood of wealthy foreigners into the country slowed. The Trump Organisation was forced to walk away from the project, flushing its investments in it.Beginning in 2006, Trump decided to take a new direction and basically cut back on building in favour of selling his name. This led to what might be called his nonsense deals, with Trump slapping his name on everything but the sidewalk, hoping people would buy products just because of his brand... Trump hosted a glitzy event in 2006 touting Trump Mortgage, then proclaimed he had nothing to do with managing the firm when it collapsed 18 months later. He tried again, rechristening the failed entity as Trump Financial. It also failed.That same year, he opened GoTrump.com, an online travel service that never amounted to more than a vanity site; the URL now sends searchers straight to the Trump campaign website... Also in 2006, Trump unveiled Trump Vodka, predicting that the T&T (Trump and Tonic) would become the most requested drink in America (he also marketed it to his friends in Russia, land of some of the world’s greatest vodkas); within a few years, the company closed because of poor sales... In 2007, Trump Steaks arrived. After two months of being primarily available for sale at Sharper Image, that endeavour ended; the head of Sharper Image said barely any steaks sold... Amusing as those fiascoes are for those of us who didn’t lose money on them, the most painful debacles to witness were many involving licensing agreements Trump sold to people in fields related to real estate. There is the now-infamous Trump University, where students who paid hefty fees were supposed to learn how to make fortunes in that industry by being trained by experts handpicked by Trump; many students have sued, saying the enterprise was a scam in which Trump allowed his name to be used but had nothing else to do with it, despite his claims to the contrary in the marketing for the “school”... Particularly damning was the testimony of former employee Ronald Schnackenberg, who recalled being chastised by Trump University officials for failing to push a near-destitute couple into paying $35,000 for classes by using their disability income and a home equity loan.Around the country, buyers were led to believe they were purchasing apartments in buildings overseen by Trump, although his only involvement in many cases was getting paid for the use of his brand... In 2010, lenders foreclosed on the $355m project. Even though Trump’s name was listed on the condominium’s website as the developer, he immediately distanced himself, saying he had only licensed his name... A similarly sordid tale unfolded for Trump Ocean Resort Baja Mexico, a 525-unit luxury vacation home complex that Trump proclaimed was going to be “very, very special”. His name and image were all over the property, and he even personally appeared in the marketing video discussing how investors would be “following” him if they bought into the building. Scores of buyers ponied up deposits in 2006, but by 2009 the project was still just a hole in the ground. That year, the developers notified condo buyers their $32m in deposits had been spent, no bank financing could be obtained, and they were walking away from the project. Scores of lawsuits claimed the buyers were deceived into believing Trump was the developer. Trump walked away from the deal, saying that if the condo buyers had any questions, they needed to contact the developer – and that wasn’t him, contrary to what the marketing material implied... The same story has played out again and again. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, people who thought they were buying into a Trump property lost their deposits of at least $100,000, with Trump saying it was not his responsibility because he had only licensed his name.. Investors in another failed Floridian property, Trump Tower Tampa, put up millions in the project in 2005 believing the building was being constructed by him. Instead, they discovered it was all a sham in 2007, inadvertently from Trump, when he sued the builder for failing to pay his license fees. The investors lost their money, and finally got to hear Trump respond to allegations that he had defrauded them when they sued him. In a deposition, lawyers for the Tampa buyers asked him if he would be responsible for any shoddy construction; Trump responded that he had “no liability” because it was only a name-licensing deal. As for the investors, some of whom surrendered their life savings for what they thought was a chance to live in a Trump property, Trump said they at least dodged the collapse of the real estate market by not buying the apartments earlier.
“They were better off losing their deposit,” he said.
So said the man who now proclaims that Americans can trust him, that he cares only about their needs and their country, that he is on the side of the little guy.
Francis Wade, author of “Myanmar’s Enemy Within” explains the deep roots of the violence, and the long-term persecution of the Rohingya people.
This devastating violence follows several waves of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence to have hit Myanmar since its democratic transition began in 2011.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for her refusal to condemn the military’s campaign, which has emptied more than 170 Rohingya villages of their inhabitants.
.. Myanmar had always been depicted by observers in quite binary terms—
- of an oppressive military junta ruling over a
- stoic, peaceful, largely Buddhist population.
In the decade or so prior to the start of the democratic transition in 2011 the country only really made international headlines when journalists reported on the monk-led protests, or embedded with ethnic armies fighting wars of resistance against the military in the borderlands. So it was set up as “bad junta” versus “good society”, and the frictions within each camp, particularly the latter, hadn’t had much of a nuanced reading.
.. violence, largely communal in its expression, broke out in the west of the country in June 2012. Over four days Buddhist and Muslim mobs attacked one another in fits of frenzied violence.
.. Much of the violence was being perpetrated by Buddhists, goaded on by monks, and this greatly confounded observers.
.. The denial of citizenship to Rohingya means they lack state protections
.. Soldiers are seemingly free to execute civilians and raze entire villages without fear of legal recrimination. Once you’re legally cast as a pariah group it feeds local perceptions of you as an alien entity, of threatening intent—
- you must have been made stateless because to allow you to be a citizen would imperil our security.
- You cannot have the rights that would grant you greater political power, because that would be used to pursue whatever cause your group has set out to achieve—in the case of the Rohingya, the theft of resources, the Islamisation of Myanmar, and so on.
.. It is primarily fear, aided hugely by dehumanising propaganda and policies—tight restrictions on movement and access to healthcare; checkpoints at which Rohingya must show ID cards, and which reinforce this perception of them being a threat. That fear helps to justify the violence towards this community, and construe that violence as defensive. That’s how you sell a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
.. Hence a situation has arisen whereby those who criticise the military’s actions are rounded upon by the same people who for so long opposed the military. Now that it has ostensibly stepped back from power, a newer, even more menacing threat has emerged in the form of a Muslim group with apparently Islamising intentions.
.. Much of the present-day crisis has been stoked by the self-serving interests of nationalist leaders who dredge up historical conflicts in order to justify the exclusionary policies they support.
.. During British rule of Myanmar between 1824 and 1948 it imported vast numbers of Indian workers, as it did in colonies
This caused a sudden demographic change
But this demographic shake-up gave further wind to a budding anti-colonial movement spearheaded predominantly by Bamar Buddhists (Bamar is the majority ethnic group, and Buddhism the dominant religion)
those two identities became the pivot around which a national identity was forged against British rule. Indians came to be seen as stooges of British rule, given they’d often been privileged in professional hierarchies.
Nationalist groups accused them of diluting the “bloodline” by forcing Buddhist women to convert when they married.
.. after the military took power in 1962 it vigorously promoted Buddhism as the national religion (although that was never enshrined in law), and Bamar as effectively the master race. Later it decided, with no evidence provided, that precisely 135 ethnic groups existed in the country. British censuses don’t record any mention of a Rohingya ethnic group, although Rohingya claim a presence in the country going back several centuries and were recognised by the government after independence. Not being considered among the 135 indigenous groups, they gradually became a pariah community, denied citizenship and stripped of political rights.
. It goes way back to when the British took Myanmar in the early 19
century and imported its obsession with racial science. Colonial administrators set about carving up and codifying communities into distinct groups, and pinning attributes to them: some ethnic groups were gentle, others were wild, and so on.
It did this in its colonies across the world, and the results, as we know, have been toxic. What were fluid cultural differences between groups become sharp divides, and in Myanmar as elsewhere they have spawned competition and conflict—exacerbated greatly by a military that wanted control of every corner of the country—that seems intractable. This has become a permanent fixture in many post-colonial societies.
You’d be hard pressed to find any justification for violence in the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism, which is what the majority in Myanmar practice. But what’s always forgotten in these analyses of how certain religions are supposed to “be” is that people act primarily as human beings, with human fears and anxieties.
I was told that while Buddhism doesn’t support violence, those Buddhists who have perpetrated violence acted with the conviction that if Buddhism ceased to exist in Myanmar, the country would descend into anarchy. “If the Buddhist cultures vanish … there wouldn’t be the influence of peace and truth. There will be more discrimination and violence,” one person told me.
These may be Buddhists committing violence, but they’re also humans. I think its key to look beyond the religious element—it appears to me more an expression of nationalist-based anxieties, of which the fear of Buddhism’s demise is but one aspect.
.. they’ve been able to turn floating existential anxieties felt by many Buddhists into something more concrete by pointing to other former bastions of Buddhism—India, Malaysia and so on—where Islam is now predominant. Second, because a number of Buddhist nationalist movements have also functioned as providers of welfare to a population that has known only neglect. Monks carry huge social capital in Myanmar—for centuries and more they have served as the moral glue of society. Because they’re so venerated it’s difficult for those who don’t agree with their more recent expressions of xenophobia to challenge them.
.. There have been numbers of prominent figureheads of the pro-democracy movement who have issued inflammatory anti-Rohingya rhetoric. Again though, it shows a certain naivety on our part. We knew that they stood against military rule, and had used “democracy” as a powerful sign around which to mobilise a movement, but what exactly they stood for was less clear.
.. The Myanmar of today—and numbers of its pro-democracy luminaries-cum-chauvinists—proves how wrong it is to equate the concept of democracy with the principle of tolerance for all.
.. She seems to think it more constructive to keep the military onside than to leverage the moral influence she has to stop the cleansing.