The Burmese government is engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that has displaced more than 600,000 Rohingya civilians from their homes. Burmese military forces have burned dozens of Rohingya villages, raped women and girls, and murdered scores of people, according to an October report from Amnesty International. The government’s brutality against the predominantly Muslim ethnic minority has drawn condemnation from the United Nations, the international human rights community, and the U.S. State Department.
But in far-right media, it’s a different story. Some of the most influential figures of the far right have helped amplify voices that incite violence, and have even suggested that the Rohingya had it coming.
On Sept. 6, Ann Coulter retweeted a video from Voice of Europe, a right-wing account.
“Monk: Muslims want to make Myanmar an Islamic country and they are destroying Buddhism.. They breed rapidly,” the tweet read.
It then linked to a video featuring Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk who is infamous for his inflammatory anti-Muslim speeches. Burma’s top Buddhist leaders banned him from delivering sermons for a year—the ban will expire next March, according to Al Jazeera—because he “delivered hate speech against religions to cause communal strife.”
As one of the 45 accounts President Donald Trump follows on Twitter, Coulter is probably the most influential voice amplifying the hatred of the Rohingya.
But she’s far from alone. Pamela Geller, who Steve Bannon has called “one of the leading experts in the country if not the world” on Islam, regularly suggests the Rohingya are responsible for the violence in Burma.
“The jihad in Myanmar is widely misunderstood, due largely to the jihad-aligned media (not just in Myanmar but in Israel, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Russia etc),” she wrote in a blog post on Sept. 27 of this year. “Anywhere Muslims have immigrated, they are agitating for Islam (which is everywhere they immigrate), and the media’s knee-jerk narrative is their victimization. If the conflict were better understood, al hijrah (Muslim immigration) would severely restricted.”
For Geller, this narrative isn’t new.
In 2013, she wrote that the Burmese “have every right to be concerned” about Rohingya presence in the country. In another post that year, she directed readers to a book called The Rohingya Hoax, which calls the existence of the Rohingya people “an ethnological fraud” and “humbug.”
On June 8, 2015, she wrote that the Rohingya were at war with the Burmese.
“Muslims are waging jihad in Burma,” she wrote. “But the Buddhists aren’t having it. Burma is 90% Buddhist. These are a peaceful people. The Muslims have brought war to Burma.
“Anywhere Muslims immigrate, conflict follows,” she continued in that post. “And so it goes in Burma. To shore up their false narrative, Muslims are circulating fake pictures. They’ve learned well from the ‘Palestinians.’”
And conspiratorial right-wing Robert Spencer, writing for Geller’s site, made the same case in a blog post published on Sept. 10, 2017.
“Aung San Suu Kyi says that the claims of genocide are ‘fake news,’” Spencer wrote. “And she has an excellent case.”
Sites with larger readerships have pushed a similar narrative. On June 21, 2013, Breitbart ran an article arguing that Muslims were attacking Burma.
“With calls for Jihad against Myanmar as recent as last month, it is clear the Buddhists in Myanmar are trying to defend against an attack on their country, not just by the minority of Muslims who live there but among Muslims around the world,” the piece said.
“Perhaps the Buddhists are trying to maintain their own history and culture in the face of calls for destruction,” it concluded.
A month later, Breitbart published an article from the AP that undermined its own piece: “AP Wire: Massacre of Muslims in Myanmar ignored.”
PJMedia, another conservative site, ran a post on May 30, 2015, headlined “In Burma, the Sandal’s On The Other Foot as Muslims -- Surprise! -- Whine.” That post referred to Wirathu as a “gentle Buddhist monk.”
And WorldNetDaily, a site best known for promoting birther conspiracy theories, recently ran a piece indicating Burma’s government was handling the Rohingya crisis appropriately.
“The Buddhists get it,” anti-refugee activist Ann Corcoran told the site. “They are being very politically incorrect.”
They are also engaged in ethnic cleansing.