Let's face it: Not too many people outside of Southeast Asia have been paying attention to the sectarian conflict in Burma. For much of the world, Burma (also known as Myanmar) is a remote and somewhat mysterious country, and it's been prey to internecine squabbles for about as long as anyone can remember. (As a matter of fact, its people have been at war with themselves for even longer than the Afghans.)
So it's possible to understand, if not to excuse, the world's relative ignorance of the bitter feud in Arakan state, where the Muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist Rakhine have been at each other's throats since a Buddhist woman was raped and killed there on May 28. The Rakhine blamed it on the Rohingya, triggering violence that subsequently prompted the government to declare martial law. Dozens of people have been killed, and some 90,000 have been transformed into refugees.
Outsiders didn't prompt this violence by meddling in Burma's internal affairs. As a matter of fact, lately other countries have been rewarding the government there for its efforts to allow a bit more democracy. The United States, for example, recently suspended financial sanctions it imposed on Burma's brutal military dictatorship years ago. By contrast, Western countries have had notably little to say on the bloodshed in Arakan.
They may not be able to afford the luxury of ignorance much longer. That's because the violence in Burma is already showing up on the radar screen of the world's Muslims. Indignant believers from Turkey to Indonesia have been taking to social media to denounce the treatment of the Rohingya. (The Pakistanis have been particularly zealous.) The reactions have ranged from mournful and relatively sober analysis to downright hysteria. (One astute Pakistani journalist, for example, has spotted photos from entirely different parts of the world being passed off as examples of "ethnic cleansing" in Burma.)
There is a big grain of truth to many of these stories, though. The Rohingyas have long suffered from their status as one of the most downtrodden groups in a benighted country. Many Burmese don't even acknowledge them as citizens; even members of the pro-democracy opposition have derided them as illegal immigrants (even though there's evidence that many of them have lived there for generations). In one of the ugliest recent manifestations of ethnic Burman chauvinism, Buddhist monks have called upon the population to shun association with the Rohingya. There have even been reports of monks blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid to Rohingya areas.
A United Nations report published last December noted that the Burmese authorities have long curtailed Rohingyas' civil rights, up to and including freedom of movement. A few weeks ago, President Thein Sein suggested that the best "solution" to the Rohingya issue would be to deport all 800,000 of them: "We will send them away if any third country would accept them."