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Eric Freedman

Eric Freedman

Raising Our Voices

January 12, 2018

The genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar seems remote. The crimes against humanity, the rapes, the destruction committed by the military in that South Asian country should make us shudder and weep and wail but they’re happening so far away from us.

The capital of Myanmar, Naypyidaw, is 8,174 air miles from Detroit. The shortest travel time on commercial airlines is 35½ hours from Detroit to Naypyidaw and 25+ hours coming back. Most itineraries are much longer and involve three or four stops in each direction.

More than 620,000 Rohingya refugees have fled their homeland for neighboring Bangladesh since August, Doctors without Borders reports, but they’re not streaming over the U.S.-Canadian or U.S.-Mexican borders.

Should we care?

U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, is the lead sponsor of a bipartisan House resolution “condemning horrific acts of violence against Burma’s Rohingya population and calling on [Nobel Peace laureate] Aung San Suu Kyi to play an active role in ending this humanitarian tragedy.” To their credit, U.S. Reps. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, signed on as cosponsors. Not the other 10 members of the Michigan congressional delegation.

Both of our two Democratic senators from Michigan, Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, have signed onto a similar resolution sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois.

Resolutions are only symbolic and have no legal impact. They merely express the sentiment of the federal or state chamber that passes them.

Here in Lansing, resolutions are as abundant as pigeons and potholes. Many are relatively minor – some even sound trivial: Think of World Sleep Day, Snowplow Driver Appreciation Day – not that we don’t appreciate their work this time of year – and Craft Beer Month.

But we’ve seen resolutions in 2017 on international human rights issues. Among them are those by Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, “to condemn the horrific treatment of gay men in Chechnya and to call upon the President and Congress of the United States to take action without further delay”; by Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, to declare April 24 “as a Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923”; and by Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, to declare November 25 “as Holodomor Memorial Day,” commemorating the Ukrainian famine and genocide of 1932.

Yet there’s been nary a resolution introduced to damn the damnable events in Myanmar. Not even a symbolic tip of the legislative hat.

Michigan should be a state of compassion and a vocal advocate for the victims of human rights and civil rights abuses, whether they happen in Flint, Finland or the Philippines.

After all – and despite the national political vitriol centering on refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and on immigrants from Central America and Mexico — we are a state that welcomed escaped slaves from the South before the Civil War, Holocaust survivors after World War II, Lost Boys of Sudan displaced and orphaned during civil war in their own country and Chaldeans escaping religious persecution in Iraq.

We should raise our voices about the plight of Rohingya in Myanmar and of victims elsewhere of genocide and human rights atrocities.

Eric Freedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is professor of Journalism and director of Capital News Service and the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University.

January 11, 2018 · Filed under Freedman



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