ANALYSIS: From Syria to Myanmar, first denial then terror-tag for dissenters
The terror bluff is real. Throughout the most horrific crackdowns in recent history, there have been several instances of terrorism being employed as a manipulative smokescreen.
This “hiding place” of sorts has long-provided room to breathe for some of the world’s most powerful leaders to bolster dissent and prolong their stints in office.
For many observers of the Middle East, when the phenomenon of dictatorship denialism in frail countries is discussed, Syria and Libya provide two of the most recent examples. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now notoriously known to have labeled anti-government protesters as terrorists back in 2011 and described the rebel fighters and internationally-recognized opposition as “enemies of God and puppets of the West.”
Another moment from the Arab Spring also saw the embattled Muammar Qaddafi of Libya refer to those who rebelled against him as terrorists. Decades from now, there will be groups who still repeat Assad and Qaddafi’s words, as dictatorship denialism is in no way limited to the dictator.
An example of this was seen last year, in news that was under-reported in the Middle East. Argentina’s president was accused of using denialist rhetoric to say that a Nazi-style genocide that took place between 1976 and 1983, believed to have killed around 30,000 repressed people, was an internal battle between the dictatorship and terrorists.
It is no secret that world leaders who push terrorism into their mainstream political discourse aim to influence, mostly banking on an obedient military and inner circle.
The Rohingya crisis
Similar to how Assad’s denialism has prevailed, the government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar has also dealt the “terrorism” card over a wave of recent Rohingya attacks.
Again, we see a familiar debate over the terminology: terrorists or freedom fighters? Regardless, a military counter-offensive is clearly aimed at pushing the Rohingya out of the country. Trapped between Myanmar and Bangladesh, the 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims have frequently been described as the most persecuted minority in the world.
Much analysis on the topic has championed the belief that Myamnar’s dictatorship denialism has trickled down into an Anti-Terrorism Committee headed by the Minister of Home Affairs, who in Myanmar is chosen by the military. This has been seen in a recent designation of an alliance of ethnic armed groups.
The move was described as highly controversial because of a new anti-terrorism law that many analysts believe has been created to compliment a “terrorism trend” in Myanmar.
Business of transition
Dr. Melissa Crouch, the author of The Business of Transition: Law Reform, Development and Economics in Myanmar, notes that Committee members or members of the public stand to gain financial rewards if they ‘dob in’ a terrorist.
“There are also blanket immunity clauses for the military and for Committee members. Committee members cannot be prosecuted for any wrongdoing,” Crouch writes.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who appears to be shrugging off her fall from grace, continues to utilize a tactic that has now resulted in a displacement crisis worse than what occurred in 1978, 1991 or even 2012. The politics of terrorism appears to be evergreen and provides “convenient explanations,” as Crouch says.
It is why other parties in this particular conflict, such as radical Buddhists, are not labeled terrorists. The same narrative employed in Myanmar will seemingly continue to be chewed up and swallowed elsewhere.