I am a graduate of The Ohio State University and I watched in horror when our campus was attacked Monday morning. I walked those grounds for years; sometimes going to class, at others to a lady’s dorm room hoping for a kiss. This was personal. I just knew the attacker would be a white male and yet it was a Somali immigrant, a Muslim. That discovery made this piece harder to write. The Trump crowd will welcome this as a validation for their xenophobia and anti-Muslim crusade; that makes me uncomfortable. The reality is Islamic terrorists do pose some threat to us. It is also true that America has done quite a bit to create terror by its actions and at times, inaction. The OSU attacker expressed some of those grievances and the question we face in this age of Trump is whether we can be empathetic to a Muslim and hear him out.
The suffering of Muslims in Myanmar apparently pushed the attacker, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, over the edge. With support from the United States, drug lords turned Myanmar’s corner of the world into the largest opium producer by the 1970’s. Since at least 2012, the military government in Myanmar has refused to acknowledge Muslims as citizens. Waves of religious violence forced hundreds of thousands of them into overcrowded camps where they are denied basic freedoms and have little access to food or healthcare. Some see these conditions as tantamount to genocide. Many Muslims have fled the country, becoming easy targets for human traffickers.
According to Amnesty International, the government continues to uphold restrictions which are blocking humanitarian aid from reaching those impacted. A new democratically-elected government is in place now but nothing has changed and the military still wields great power. The U.S. had been aiming economic sanctions at key individuals and companies in Myanmar which supported the brutal military regime in an effort to curb some of the abuses. The Obama administration recently lifted them, effectively removing any leverage we had to stop the human rights abuses in the country and allowing the corrupt elements there to enrich themselves even more. By lifting sanctions which targeted the brutal military power structure and other shady characters in Myanmar, the U.S. has effectively turned a blind eye to the suffering of Muslims there.
In a Facebook post, Artan said that he was “sick and tired”of seeing Muslims “killed and tortured.” He also expressed concern over the role the U.S. plays in international affairs, especially as it pertains to Muslims. Artan is a Muslim and he expressed grievances over the suffering of Muslims. Are we able to sympathize? People are starving while subject to rape and murder. Is it harder to care because they are Muslims? No one will dare justify Artan’s actions but the question is, would we have paid attention otherwise? As a country we will have to decide what suffering is worthy of our sympathy and concern. We were told that the brutality of Saddam Hussein (a longtime U.S. ally) justified invading Iraq. Does the suffering of Muslims in Myanmar warrant such an invasion also? I think we know the answer.