Human Rights

Who Are the Rohingyas and Why Are They Fleeing Myanmar?

Photo via REUTERS / Beawiharta / RNS

A Rohingya migrant woman inside a compound for refugees in Indonesia’s Aceh Province. Photo via REUTERS / Beawiharta / RNS

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims live in squalor in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State. That number has been falling fast as thousands flee by land and sea in search of better lives and basic survival. Here’s a look at who the Rohingyas are and why they’re leaving Myanmar in droves.

From the Archives: June 1990

I WAS just 15, and as the eldest I had to do something to help my family. When the captain of our local army squadron introduced a recruiter to my parents, I was ready to go anywhere. He made it sound so nice! I would go to Japan and work in a famous hotel as a professional dancer. It would mean lots of money to send home to my poor family in the Philippines. Of course, I would have to go to Manila first to be trained, and I would have to change my name to fit my new life.

So I became Mami! My recruiter was from a Philippine entertainment production group. They “train” their girls mainly in the clubs and bars on Mabini Street in Manila. My recruiter wanted me to go to Japan as a prostitute, but I demanded to go as an entertainer. ... I was told that if I learned Japanese songs and took dancing lessons I could get an entry visa for show business—in six months. He let me work in his bar while I was waiting, but after two months I asked him to get me a fake passport and visa as I was worried about my family. Later on I learned that all these kindnesses were deducted from my earnings in Japan. By the way, the Aquino government claims it prohibits its people from being engaged in “shameful work,” but while I was in Manila, my Japanese recruiter alone interviewed 20 new girls like me—every day! n

Naoko Iyori, MMB, worked with the Japanese Catholic Council for Justice and Peace in Tokyo when this article, a composite of the actual experiences of several women from the Philippines, appeared.

Image: Girl at a window,  / Shutterstock 

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5 Takeaways from the New Report by U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

A man in the Central African Republic shows a bandaged arm after an attack in the violence. Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

Despite much gloom and doom, there were a few silver linings in the report. Religious freedom and harmony have improved in Cyprus, resulting in greater access to houses of worship across the Green Line separating north from south. Nigeria witnessed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power earlier this year when Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari ousted Christian southerner Jonathan Goodluck at the polls. And Sri Lanka’s new government has taken positive steps to promote religious freedom and unity in the face of violent Buddhist nationalism.

Love Is a Piece of Cake

Image via Goran Bogicevic/shutterstock.com

Image via Goran Bogicevic/shutterstock.com

A cake shop has been in the news lately. Sweet Cakes in Oregon made national headlines when a same-sex couple levied a lawsuit against it for refusal of service.  

This is where the story gets interesting.   

In the state of Oregon, same-sex marriages are legal. The couple went to the cake shop to order a wedding cake for their upcoming union. The cake shop said no on the ground of their religious beliefs — or as they put it, "standing on the word of God." 

This sparked raging debates on whether a business has the legal right to discriminate solely based on their religious beliefs. Investigations have been held, feelings have been hurt, Scripture has been quoted and misquoted, and Facebook rants have been posted. 

Franklin Graham has now added his two cents, starting an online donation campaign to help with the bakery’s looming legal fines — its actions violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which states that persons cannot be denied service based on their sexual orientation.  

In Graham's plea he stated that the shop owners were being "persecuted" for their religious beliefs. But this is not called persecution — this is called being held to a standard of decency, tolerance, and love. These are tenants Christ wanted his followers to imitate.   

Most Christians would throw a fit if a bakery, store, or other business denied them service because of the owner’s religious beliefs. There would be lawyers on the phone, news crews outside the establishment, and more Facebook rants about how our society is slowing losing its “Christian heritage.”   

Isn’t interesting that some Christians are ok with denial of service to this same-sex couple in the name of business/religious liberty, but wouldn’t want to the tables to be turned on them?   

Just because 78 percent of Americans identify as Christian does not mean we all see eye to eye. But is Christianity truly “persecuted” if it comprises more than three out of every four people in a society?  

What people are mad about is that their version of Christianity is not the norm or the most accepted one anymore. Many Christians see same-sex marriage as a nonissue.  Many church denominations have had intense and productive conversations about homosexuality in the church. Some are still divided.  Many people, churches, and denominations need to hold more conversations, prayer, and discernment. The United States and the Church have a long way to go until full equality is achieved. 

The issue with regards to this bakery is not their religious liberty, Christian persecution, or even the right to practice one’s faith. It is the notion that discrimination is wrong.  

In this war of words many are not seeing the real issue, which is this — discrimination, even under the guise of religion, is still discrimination, and it is against the most basic and fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ.    

Mormon Couple Doesn’t Want to be Part of Supreme Court Gay Marriage Case

Josh and Lolly Weed and their three daughters. Image via RNS/courtesy Josh Weed.

Josh and Lolly Weed and their three daughters. Image via RNS/courtesy Josh Weed.

A Mormon man and woman in a mixed-orientation marriage are objecting to their inclusion in a U.S. Supreme Court case filing because it argues that legalized gay marriage would demean marriages like theirs.

Josh and Lolly Weed’s names and statements are referenced in a “friend of the court” brief ahead of the April 28 arguments in a consolidated 6th Circuit Court of Appeals case, which many expect will legalize gay marriage nationwide.

The brief was filed April 3 on behalf of couples in mixed-orientation marriages — unions in which one partner is gay and the other is not — who oppose marriage equality.

The Weeds told The Salt Lake Tribune on April 14 they didn’t consent to be included in the filing, nor do they share its view.

Among the filing’s arguments: Constitutionally mandated same-sex marriages can exist only by “erasing, marginalizing and demeaning the same-sex attracted who live in man-woman marriages” and would send a “harmful message that it is impossible, unnatural, and dangerous for the same-sex attracted to marry members of the opposite sex.”

“What does that have to do with us at all?” asked Josh Weed, an openly gay man who has been married to a woman for 12 years.

“I feel no devaluation of my marriage status by having marriage equality.”

The Weeds, of Washington state, became the public face of Mormon mixed-orientation marriage in 2012, when they posted their story on Josh’s blog, joshweed.com. They do not advocate mixed-orientation marriages for others.

“My wife and I support marriage equality,” Josh Weed said.

Who's Watching? Brave New Technology, Same Old Fears

Image via scyther5/shutterstock.com

Image via scyther5/shutterstock.com

In 1990, my father and pregnant mother packed up their life in suburban Illinois, bundled their four young children (including me) onto a plane, and landed in Romania to teach on a grant at the University of Bucharest.  

The country was in the throes of revolution following the execution of ousted dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, and the transfer of power was by no means tidy or complete. The Securitate — one of the most brutal secret police forces in the world — proved difficult to shut down. All our neighbors operated under the assumption that their every move continued to be watched (one friend had taken apart his typewriter by hand and hid it so he could answer honestly that he did not keep a typewriter in the house). Being American, my parents were told to expect our apartment to be bugged.

Freedom had come, but the systems of omnipresent control proved psychologically hard to shake.

The specter of surveillance is an insidious tool. In the 1790s, British philosoper Jeremy Bentham developed a centralized prison model called the panopticon, in which every occupant is visible to a single guard. Most models, since adapted by prisons and schools around the world, leave open the possibility that there is no supervisor watching after all. Whether there is isn't the point — the mere promise of one is enough to coerce significant behavior change. Being constantly observable is the trap.  

These days, Americans don’t need a formative year spent in post-soviet Romania to feel uneasy about omnipresent surveillance. Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive secret surveillance programs operating under the NSA, with enormous access to private data from citizens not suspected of terrorism or criminal wrongdoing, rocked our understandings of data privacy and civil liberty. Now, as then, it’s reasonable to worry that we’re being watched.

And if it’s not the state watching us, it’s corporations after our money. Uber tracks our movements and fires drivers for sharing links to bad reviews on their personal media, unless it doesn’t. Facebook uses emotional manipulation to collect behavioral data, but insists it’s no big dealGoogle compiles secret profiles through wiretapping but swears it would never.

So are we being watched or aren’t we? And do we care?

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence: ‘Not Going to Change’ Religious Freedom Law

Demonstrators gather to protest the religious freedom bill signed by Gov. Mike P

Demonstrators gather to protest the religious freedom bill signed by Gov. Mike Pence. Image via RNS/Nate Chute/Reuters

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defended his state’s new religious freedom law March 29 while refusing to say if it would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Facing a rising tide of criticism and business boycotts against his state, Pence said he would consider a second law that “amplifies and clarifies” the first one but added, “We’re not going to change the law.”

“We have suffered under this avalanche for the last several days of condemnation, and it’s completely baseless,” Pence said on ABC’s This Week.

“This isn’t about disputes between individuals. It’s about government overreach. I’m working hard to clarify this. We’re reaching out to business leaders.”

The law Pence signed Thursday prohibits state or local governments from substantially burdening a person’s ability to exercise their religion — unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least restrictive way to achieve it. It takes effect July 1.

On March 28, thousands of people gathered in downtown Indianapolis to protest the law that critics say could allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. And business leaders have balked, led by Indianapolis-based Angie’s List, which put off a planned $40 million expansion.

The governor’s effort to quell the firestorm over the state’s religious freedom restoration act did little to mollify gay rights organizations convinced that the law would allow businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians.

“Governor Pence’s calls for a clarification of this destructive bill are phony unless the legislation guarantees explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers and includes a clear civil rights carve-out,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on ABC that the law “appears to legitimize discrimination” despite Pence’s claims that it is modeled after laws signed by President Clinton at the federal level in 1993 and supported by then-state senator Barack Obama in Illinois.

“If you have to go back two decades to try to justify something you are doing today, it may raise some questions about the wisdom of what you’re doing,” Earnest said.

“Governor Pence is in damage control mode this morning, and he’s got some damage to fix.”

Thoughts on Holy Week: Identifying with Jesus and the Temple Cleansing

A child laborer. Image via gary yim/shutterstock.com

A child laborer. Image via gary yim/shutterstock.com

Among Christians who practice Lent, the Holy Week timeline is a time for reflection on the practices of Jesus in his last days prior to his death. Reflecting on Holy Week can be a spiritual practice to consider the place of those practices in our own lives. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus followed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday by taking time on Monday during that week to publically drive out and speak against temple-based financial exploitation.

The cleansing of the Temple is documented in all four gospels. Three place it during Holy Week. Scholars have written that this event occurred in the area of the Temple known as “Solomon’s Porch,” which was open to Jewish and Gentile worshippers alike. It was a marketplace for the purchase of items needed for worship — pilgrims attending Passover celebration, unfamiliar with Jerusalem, may have purchased sacrificial animals at a higher price than elsewhere in the city. Poorer individuals, unable to afford a lamb, may have purchased overpriced sacrificial doves. Foreign currency, forbidden inside the Temple, could be exchanged, for a fee, for local currency to pay the annual Temple tax.

It has been argued that the High Priest may have received a percentage of the profit from the money changers and merchants, so their removal from the Temple would have caused a financial loss to those in power. It has been argued that the noisy marketplace atmosphere may have been disruptive to the atmosphere of worship. The text is unclear about the exact nature of the sin. However, it is clear that when Jesus saw the market, he became angry and turned over tables, driving out those exploiting the people and publicly calling them “robbers.”

Whatever the exact nature of the financial sin was that was occurring in the Temple at the time, the text in Mark suggests that after this act of clearing the Temple, those in power began to earnestly plot Jesus’ arrest and death. Jesus’ opposition to the money changers was directly related to his arrest and crucifixion later in the same week.

While I would like to identify with Jesus in this story, I realize I am more often in the position of the watching crowd. Or am I the merchant, lining my own pockets with the misfortune of others and making profits or receiving benefits from practices that exploit?

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