Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Reporting on genocide --- Syria and Myanmar, Vice News and PBS

There are many troubled places around the world --- North Korea, Yemen, Somalia, Honduras, Venezuela, the White House --- this list could go on, but there are two places where genocide is openly happening.

The most acute now is in Myanmar, aka Burma, where the Rohingya Muslim minority is being massacred by the country's military, and forced to flee into Bangladesh refugee camps or into boats to nowhere.  This is difficult to understand from afar and due to incomplete information, but that group has two strikes against.  The Rohingya's professed faith is Muslim in a Buddhist country.  That is difficult, but there are other Muslims in the country that are not so specifically being attacked and ostrasized.  The second attribute is that the Rohingya are a distinct ethnic group apart from their religion.  One way to relate to it is to compare them to Roma in Europe, a stateless minority that at times no one has wanted.  That analogy may be wrong but it works for now.  The genocide is exhibited in torture, gang rapes, murder, burning of entire villages(crops, animals, and people included),  and government support for this, at the same time that it is denied completely.  The Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi stays quiet.  Either she shares the prejudice or is dominated by the military.  Some hope that she is waiting to have a positive impact in ways that cannot be seen.  Too late.  The genocide is underway.  That the Pope showed up cannot hurt, but does it help.

The most comprehensive and persistent news coverage of the Rohingya genocide by the U.S. media is by PBS News Hour.  Through their own reporting and that of affiliates, they are on the subject several nights each week.  No one else on television news is.  The New York Times does cover the story regularly as it develops.

The other place where genocide has been ongoing is in Syria.  This is both a religious action and a political one. It is the indiscriminate slaughter of Sunni civilians who oppose the regime of Bashar al-Assad.  Entire areas of  cities are blasted to pieces if Sunnis or any Assad regime opponents are there.  Horrific barrel bombs are used, designed to kill and maim as many people as possible and not remotely designed to fight rebel combatants.  The use of chemical agents has been sporadic, and many suspect that it is much more ubiquitous than has been reported.  In recent months hospitals have become prime targets of Assad's air force, with Russia participating.  Iran supports Assad with weapons and money in his efforts to control the country with no regard for life, as long as his wife can continue to shop in Paris.

With 400,000 people killed, cities ravaged, and 5 million people living as refugees in other countries, the  atrocities have been reduced in public consciousness to "what's new" and to most media outlets to "what's news".  

This has been written about multiple times here in the past, but not recently.  The best news coverage, to repeat --- the most comprehensive and persistent ---, has been Vice News on HBO.  They have been all over this story, reporting events that are not seen elsewhere and maybe shouldn't be seen on network television given how horrific some of the footage is.  Vice News is staying with the story.

These particular events may seem hopeless.  Paying attention is still important.


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