“I took the time with a singular objective of working on myself…this was a purely personal trip for me focused on only one dimension: meditation practice,” tweeted Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter who has recently come under fire for his thread showcasing his 10-day silent Vipassana birthday meditation in Pyin Oo Lwin, the heart of the Myanmar military’s training grounds.
His tweet was in response to a flood of criticism he has received over the past week for his earlier series of “blind-eyed” and “tone deaf” tweets that showcased his birthday retreat in the “absolutely beautiful country” where “people are full of joy and the food is amazing,” completely whitewashing crimes against humanity and war crimes taking place in Myanmar. More dangerous perhaps is that the purveyors of hate against ethnic and religious minorities are capitalizing on his trip to legitimize their use of Twitter to incite violence and spread hatespeech. Mr Dorsey may have had innocent intentions, but sinister actors in Myanmar have been able to take advantage of this naivety.
Jack Dorsey is right in one aspect, Myanmar is a beautiful country. One of the reasons for its beauty is its distinct religious and ethnic diversity, which has for decades been threatened by military dictatorship. Worse, as the country opened up to the world less than a decade ago, it is the same unaccountable military that continues to act with complete impunity, emboldened to promote the majority Bamar-Buddhist supremacy fostered through decades of military control and power. They took to Twitter by the thousands to tweet vile messages of hate, death threats and incitement to violence using perverse hashtags and graphic images in late 2017 when the Rohingya were brutally murdered, tortured, raped and persecuted, ultimately driving approximately 800,000 of them out of their country and into Bangladesh. These racist propaganda tweets which the UN has found to “have enabled the spread of this kind of hateful and divisive rhetoric” continues today against activists, human rights defenders and civil society organizations who are working to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis and now they are back on Twitter thanking and praising Dorsey for his comments.
Dorsey’s tweets on Tuesday came the same day that the US Secretary State Mike Pompeo announced that Myanmar has been designated one of the worst religious freedom violators for having engaged in or tolerated "systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom.” Few days later, in an overwhelming vote, the US House of Representatives voted to name the atrocities committed against the Rohingya a genocide. While Dorsey, along with the rest of the world, is mostly aware of the atrocities and grave human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya who are Muslim, other minorities including the Kachin and Karen have also suffered similar persecution and violations of their rights for decades.
Since 2017, the Myanmar military has bombed or burned at least 60 churches in Kachin State - Kachin communities being majority Christian - during the ongoing armed conflict with the Kachin Independence Army, later turning them into Buddhist pagodas and monasteries. Both Christian and Muslim places of worship have been frequently targeted and destroyed across the country such as in Karen State, bulldozed and flattened to make way for Buddhist pagodas, while the communities were told “to worship our god first” by the Myanmar military. In addition, many ethnic people are forced to indicate “Buddhist” on their national ID cards despite identifying as animists or other religious affiliations.
These acts are not isolated or targeted against one ethnic or religious minority. It is a part of a pattern of widespread and systematic attacks against all minorities throughout the country by the Myanmar military - the institution whose doctrine is both based on and represents a Bamar Buddhist majority domination, and is emboldened by the decades-long impunity it has enjoyed. They are the same perpetrators who are now known for committing genocide in Rakhine State and war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kachin and Shan State, and as long as the world allows them to continue employing their divisive tactics, weakening and persecuting ethnic and religious minorities throughout Myanmar and driving them out of their ancestral land, they will continue on about their business as usual.
Dorsey’s tweets can be taken as an endorsement of the ultranationalism and Bamar Buddhist supremacy that is tearing the country apart, however unintended they were to him. Now is not the time for him to become complicit in such hate, but to take responsibility. The company owned by Dorsey has a responsibility as carriers of expression that has enabled ultranationalists and others to incite violence and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality and religion. It must recognize that its platform has real-world consequences, take responsibility and act to combat the use of their platform for the spread and promotion of violence and hate speech. The world must resist such narratives and speak loudly against grave human rights violations in Myanmar - especially those who have the privilege and the platform to speak out for those who cannot.
Courtesy of Khin Ohmar, the Chairperson of the Advisory Board of Progressive Voice and Rin Fujimatsu, Advocacy Director at Progressive Voice