Believing lies: the Politics of controlling human thought

Have you ever questioned why you believe what you believe?  

Why, for instance, do some believe the claims of Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals of Myanmar that a genocide of the Rohingya simply did not take place in August 2017…

that it was ‘not the only hypothesis’ that thousands of women were raped, babies were thrown into fires, entire villages were  razed by the Tatmadaw with more than three quarter million Rohingyas fleeing into Bangladesh.

Or, why do some believe  the Israeli Defence force’s claim that it had ‘mistakenly’ targeted the home of the  al-Sawarkah family in the Gaza Strip on Novemeber 14, 2019, killing 5 children as young as 7 and 12 years of age;

a ‘mistake‘made by the domestic intelligence agancy, Shin Beth, of carrying out an air strike in one of the most densely populated civilian areas of the world, Gaza….

A mistake that Gideon Levy refutes unequivocally :

‘The notion that the IDF’s Intelligence Corps, which knows the color of the underwear of every Iranian nuclear scientist in Fordow, doesn’t know to check who is inside a shack in Deir el-Balah before bombing it is of course ludicrous”.  ( Haaretz, 28 November 2018) 

Are such unwavering beliefs in State sanctioned meta- narratives grounded in —

ignorance, naivete, indifference or sheer conviction that the ‘realities’ portrayed for us by those who know better are true ….

There are those who are quick to justify the infallibility of their beliefs in State policies or political rhetoric by invoking official statistical data….

others point to the persona of politicians or the charisma of religious leaders as the anchor for their unwavering faith in the political narratives they’ve  internalized ….

that pogroms against the Rohingya that continue to be led by the Myanmar army in the Rakhine State do not exist ,

that Israel continues to act in self-defence whenever it carries out lethal air strikes in Gaza, or

shoots dead children at the Gaza fence who protest against the more than decade long siege within the world’s largest open air prison,

since no distinction is to be made between Hamas and the nearly 2 million civilian population in Gaza…. 

We may intuitively ask ourselves:

To what extent are our convictions about whether a person lives or dies, is incarcerated or liberated, maimed or protected–

the product of State engineered narratives…

narratives that infuse propagandistic ideas in ways that blur the distinction between —

empirical reality and a socially engineered  ‘reality’  masterly woven by State ideologues….

As Arendt argues in ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism‘:

ideologies pretend to know the mysteries of the whole historical process – the secrets of the past , the intricacies of the present , the uncertainties of the future – because of the logic inherent in their respective ideas.’ ( Hannah Arendt,  quoted in Cohen, p. 552)

Exploiting the presumptive power of such ideologies, State Politicians privilege themselves in claiming a form of omniscience;

Omniscience in knowing what’s best for their polity when they introduce :

State security laws targeted at ‘terroristic’ threats posed by ethnic minorities or foreign immigrants against a ‘law abiding’ majority 

Preemptive killings/ assassinations, extra- judicial torture and detentions,

Intrusive State surveillance of every facet of social existence ….justified in the name of national security 

Such State engendered ideologies are construed in ways that claim preeminence to what is presented as ‘truth’ or ‘social reality’,

a perception of ‘reality’ intolerant of alternative interpretations or outcomes.

Such a contestation of ideas, takes place in the minds and hearts of individuals; a discursive battle fought by those in political power to control our thoughts, convictions and the possibility of social change.

A battle, one might argue, in which the people exist for the State and its officials…. rather than the State for its people….

‘Realities’ construed  by Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi

In response to accusations of killings and genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar by the Tatmadaw, Suu Kyi testifying before the ICJ responded that-

the ‘violence had been triggered by terrorist attacks from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa)’ ( The Guardian, 14 December 2019)
“Genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis,” ( NYT , 11 December 2019) 

What makes Suu Kyi’s denials that a genocide was carried out by the Myanmar army shocking is the implication drawn from her defence of the very generals who held her under house arrest for 15 years–

the idea that the violence of a handful of members of the ARSA justified —

the killings , rapes , expulsion of thousands of civilians men, women and children documented variously by the UN and various human rights organizations ,

with the displacement and expulsion of nearly three quarter million Rohingya fleeing for their lives into the squalid camps of Bangladesh ,

Suu Kyi’s testimony not only contravenes the international criminal law doctrine of proportionality associated with self-defence against an unjustified threat , but defies logic —

As Antonia Mulvey, a British solicitor who served on the UN’s fact-finding mission on Myanmar, argued:

”Aung San Suu Kyi and her lawyers were silent about the use of sexual violence,” . “They will never be able to justify widespread rapes as part of a military campaign [against terrorists].”
That justificatory label, ‘terrorists’–
so often invoked by hegemonic and autocratic States against non-State entities to deflect attention away from their own monopolistic use of violence against oppressed,  marginalized ethnical  groups—

was once again conveniently employed by Suu Kyi to characterize the Rohingya ….

a politically expedient characterization of ”whipping up nationalism simply to become more popular,” as  U Maung Tun Khin, a Rohingya who was present at the Hague during Suu Kyi’s testimony asserted. ( NYT, 11 December 2019)

Additionally, the fact that Suu Kyi at no time during her testimony before the ICJ in the Hague referred to the victims of the genocidal killings and rape as the  Rohingya  people is also telling…..

The inference one might make is that –

a ‘non-existent’ people group is in need of no political and legal protection from the State

Suu Kyi’s use of the term ‘Muslims from the Rakhine State’ in her speech before the ICJ essentially limits the identity of the Rohingya to a religious one,  stripping them of any national identity and political rights associated with being a recognized ethnic group in Myanmar –

rights  to, for instance,  security , liberty  (note Art. 9 of the ICCPR) , education , medical treatment…..

As Ro Nya San Lwin, a Rohingya activist and co-founder the Free Rohingya Coalition present at the ICJ hearing stated:

”This is first time a Nobel Peace laureate has defended genocide at the world’s highest court.” ( Al Jazeera, 13 December 2019) 

As an apologist for the her State’s ongoing brutality against the Rohingya, Suu Kyi has  ‘chided foreigners for not having an adequate understanding of Myanmar’s complex ethnic and social history’ ( NYT, 11 December 2019)

It’s as if, only she, as the de facto head of State, is privy to and privileged in comprehending the socio-political, historical intricacies of the communal violence in the Rakhine State…

And yet, the ideological ‘colonial era myth’ ( Ibrahim p.4)  that the Rohingya are interlopers, illegal immigrants, ‘Bengalis’ from Bangladesh, who encroached into Burma during the British rule is rejected by scholars such as Azeem Ibrahim.

Ibrahim cites available documented evidence that:

‘a group speaking an Indo-Aryan language migrated from northern India to Arakan in around 3000 BC… a group identified with the modern day Rohingyas….

with substantial evidence that an Ethnic group, now known as the Rohinyas, lived in Arakan before the Burmese invasion of 1784′ ( Ibrahim, p.4)

The implications of such documented evidence is that an ethnic group known as the Rohingya existed even before the First Anglo Burmese War, when Britain annexed Arakan in 1826.

Such an ethnic group known as the Rohingya arguably lived in the Arakan with ‘a distinct language and identity’  even before the Burmese conquered it in 1784 (Anthony Ware, Costas Laoutides, p.92);

Francis Buchanan, a Scottish surgeon travelling with the British East India Company to Burma who met with Arakan representatives stated:

I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan” ( Buchanan 1799, p.237, quoted in Anthony Ware, Costas Laoutides, p.91)  

Buchanan’s writings suggest that a significant number of Muslims, including the Rohingya,  were already living in Arakan or what is today known as the Rakhine State, even before the first Anglo Burmese war of 1824…

Yet, the nationalist tendencies of the major political parties in Myanmar, the USDP and Suu Kyi’s NLD have been to exclude those who are non Buddhists, the Rohingyas, as ‘outsiders’;

‘Outsiders’ since they are:

”visibly ‘alien’ in the color of their skin, in their language, and most of all in their religion…’ ( Ibrahim, p. 4).

 Their differences marked them out for destruction; As Walton and Hayward explain:  

” For the ruling military – led governments, religious difference, like ethnic difference, marked individuals and groups as outside the national community and as potential threats to the integrity of the country.
Partly as a result of this, Burmese nationalism became increasingly conflated with Buddhist religious identity, conveying a sense that to be authentically a citizen of Myanmar was to be a Buddhist ( and ethnically Burman) ( Walton and Hayward, p. 6,  2014) 
We are what we believe……
hands above water
Photo by Arun Kr on

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