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Sunday, March 18, 2018

On Social Media and "Anti-Rohingya Hate Speech"

March 17, 2018

Yanghee Lee, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, recently said "Facebook has now turned into a beast" for allowing the promotion of violence and/or hate against Muslims in Myanmar (BBC News). The mass-displacement, burning of villages, and man killings alleged last year against the so-called Rohingya (hereafter Rohingya Mulsims) * A soon-to-be released report contained the details leading the commission to raise pressure on the social media giant to better enforce safety.

Before addressing the grave human rights problems UN people and Facebook are struggling with ... some overlooked context before we take one step forward. There's an optional step back afterwards, but I have to briefly take us here again.
* (they speak a dialect of Bengali they call Rohingya, but there are also Hindus, etc. who speak the same dialect but are not the subject of dispute).
The Real Beast in Myanmar
There were many unprovoked massacres of Rohingya civilians alleged, but only one killing of ten men at Inn Din has been proven and admitted and stands as an undeniable violation. These men are claimed as civilians, but the supporting stories contradict each other and they were most likely militants. Other militants, if not the same, had just provoked the local Buddhists by murdering one, then overrunning the area, looting homes as villagers hid in the monastery. Later, after some clashes and the arrest of 10 suspected fighters, some soldiers let the slain farmer's sons strike some blows. The Mullah or religious leader among the captives was beheaded. It was a brutal and illegal act, but a provoked one, and may literally be the only such thing soldiers or Buddhist civilians participated in.  (see here),

Many other alleged killings remain just alleged, lacking not just a government admission but also lacking bodies or other evidence, and often shifting and illogical stories that can hardly all be true. (see some details covered in various posts here and in part 3 of my Indicter series). Several hundred to 1,800 or more civilians were reportedly butchered just the village of Tula Toli on August 30, as supposedly witnessed by some 70+ survivors and witnesses, but with no one filming it, and with clashing details. They even lodged clashing false reports about the real killings at Inn Din. Their Maung Nu massacre happened on two different days, etc. The record is a real mess. A while back I issued a sort of challenge to the media on "fake news" and the Myanmar alleged ethic cleansing. (I mean to do more follow-up, but didn't really expect any response).

Considering truth is hard to know but sometimes discernable upon investigation of the evidence ... there was exactly one proven massacre of clear civilians, and close to 100 of them. And this one that we know happened, this tip of a possible iceberg ... was by Rohingya Islamist militants. Declared infidels, the Hindus were kidnapped from their homes near Kha Maung Seik in the far north, just hours after ARSA attacks overran security forces in the area. Men, women, babies, and elderly alike were marched off and slaughtered with blades and dumped in narrow, deep pits hidden in the brush. 93 of them were either verified as killed or remain missing and presumed dead.

The Muslim militants also spared but kidnapped eight pretty women aged 15-25, whom they converted them by force to Islam and started marrying off to each other. Under this captivity, the women were held briefly at the Kutupalong refugee camp  in Bangladesh, and made to tell false stories under the threat that their children's throats would be slashed if they didn't. But this didn't work very well, and the police were called in soon. The Muslim men in the group fled, and the women, along with 10 children spared along with them, were rescued and eventually sent back to Myanmar. At first chance in the camp and ever since, they've told this story, not the one the Muslims had them say.
That's my reading, stated as fact, like so many others just do. I usually try to avoid it; dealing in likely facts that millions are trained to disagree with, you don't get far just swearing it's true. But here I'll go out on a limb and say that is what happened. For reasons, see my pretty powerful article on this amazing story at the Indicter. The following photo and quote is a good summary, from a detailed report in a government-aligned newspaper, Global New Light of Myanmar (GNLM).

The GNLM report adds that people speaking unknown foreign languages were involved, with one of these co-leading the operation, in which perhaps 500 fighters were involved. They shouted Allahu Akbar and called the massacre their celebration of the feast of Eid al-Adha. Local co-leader "Norulauk" reportedly told the victims before they died the area was now "our territory. … we will murder Buddhists and all of you who worship the statues made of bricks and stones.” But he also made the central error of letting those eight women and ten children to live to eventually report these details of an ethnic cleansing campaign.

Human Rights Watch was watching and had a response on September 27, as half the victims' bodies were found. Their South Asia Director, Meenakshi Ganguly, penned the closest to an HRW statement on this horrific violation, claiming that “no one has been able to independently verify the Burmese government’s most recent allegations,” which amounted to their “playing politics with the dead.” But these women called in their stories from the refugee camp in Bangladesh, telling the authorities where to find the bodies tucked away in three mass graves that seem designed to stay hidden. You don't need independent confirmation of the claim when there's an independent source for it. But HRW had no more to say, being far too busy issuing detailed reports promoting similar claims from the other side.

This isn't the only point but the best introductory one, a rare glimpse allowed by that unusual decision to leave some witnesses alive. In most Islamist false-flag massacres none of the real victims is left alive to tell the truth. Yet the chance for a rare view was happily bypassed by the most "credible" voices. Reading the news, many will have heard of this amazing story either barely or not at all. Isn't that odd? An aborted fake version of the Kha Maung Seik massacre was blamed on Buddhists dressed up to look like ARSA, attacking Muslims and Hindus alike, and was written in on three different days in various sub-versions. That got just as much attention as the true story did, before the whole mess was left unresolved and buried.

Dealing with Sunni extremists, as ARSA and its supporters clearly are, we should expect a lot of deception here, and perhaps no truth underneath it. Myanmar government might literally be telling it like it is, however many voices in the echo chamber here have said otherwise. HRW may never let themselves see it, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming anyway - if there's one "beast" to worry about in Myanmar it's Saudi-style Wahabbi extremist Sunni Islamism.

Every baby is born pure, but some Muslim-born ones go to a Saudi-style school or learn it at home, and wind up joining Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, or the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, depending where they live. These often wind up butchering infidels and framing other infidels for it in lies to yet other infidels - information jihad. They might consider everyone who watches any news or any video screen to be an infidel.

So ... one should proceed with caution, but hardly anyone vested with "credibility" does so.  That may be because - as in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, they pick the same enemy states the West already wanted to take out, In a team effort, these regimes are toppled or crippled at every chance. The Islamists get away with their part and even get rewarded, sometimes with a new nation like Kosovo (or Arakan?) created to house them. And so they keep doing it, accelerating greatly in recent years. Just in the last decade millions have died often horrible deaths from this, and others live under inhumane captivity by or control of these poisonous people. If someone could claim control of or steer it, this global network of Sunni extremism would definitely be a "weapon of mass destruction" in itself.

There's no hint the UN's human rights people, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, etc. are on the lookout for this, even ignoring glaring inconsistencies in the stories they lodge, as they maintain a posture of firm belief. That's a serious problem.

And the Islamists with their medieval view use social media to spread their hate, considering it a religious duty. Lee said "I'm afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended." Having seen some of the false-flag Islamist massacres successfully promoted there to demonize their enemies (notably Alawites in Syria), with or without shocking gory images of the Islamists' own work ... she's right but backwards. Islamism is the beast, and  social media is its pet.

Social Media's Role in the Conflict
This one proven massacre of 93 Hindu civilians at Kha Maung Seik was not planned by Buddhists on Facebook. It was planned by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and allied terrorists, in various and mostly unknown ways.

ARSA's supreme leader "AtaUllah" sent orders on August 24, using WhatsApp, to prepare for attacks on security forces. An August 28 order to burn down Buddhist villages was also transmitted this way. (see International Crisis Group's December report). More secret orders like those to carry out massacres of infidels would probably be done by runners or perhaps coded communications, and not publicly on any social network. The Aug. 28 message sounds like the kind of thing they would mainly communicate this way.

WhatsApp at least should be taken to task for letting militants use their service to order illegal attacks on security forces, and incitements to burn villages. I'm not sure if they have been called out for this, or closed the terrorist leader's account or anything... worth checking into. I gather WhatsApp is more hands-off in their approach than the more discussed sites like Facebook.
But these don't seem to come up as an issue in the news articles, as if Rohingya Muslims - as the persecuted ones here - could never have nefarious purposes to use social media. I mean, isn't the only issue here those genocidal Buddhist? So what to do about them?

IF the UN investigators have Facebook messages of Buddhists or others coordinating mob violence attacks on Rohingya muslim civilians, or openly inciting such attacks or issuing threats - that would be evidence of a problem and would justify counter-action. That's direct criminal activity, like ARSA's WhatsApp messages of August 24 and 28 at least. But nothing of the sort from the other side is mentioned so far.

The Washington Post's Annie Gowen heard from non-Muslim refugees in Sittwe in November, who "said they were afraid to return home because they feared the Rohingya insurgents whose attacks on police posts in their villages precipitated the crisis." One was an older Hindu woman whos entire family was butchered. Another was a Buddhist college student who "recalled that one of his best school friends, a Rohingya, stopped speaking to him after the 2012 violence and later left the country. About three months ago, the former friend messaged him ominously on Facebook, “We are going to kill you.” 

This sort of message would be well outside their rules, and may have been punished. (that's around mid-August, maybe before the August 25 ARSA offensive, so not backlash over the following ethnic cleansing allegations. It might be from an insider planning the violence.) It's quite possible there are similar messages, private and public, from the Buddhist side. Make no mistake, Buddhists are humans. The monks might tend to be above the fray, but certain "ultra-nationalist" ones like the infamous Wirathu have taken pretty ugly stances, which by the way are not supported universally among Buddhists. Regular folks caught up in disputes and violence can get ugly, whatever the religion.  The Inn Din massacre shows they can be physically violent, and it would be no surprise if even more would express it just in dangerous words.

But unless someone can show otherwise, some person's opinion has no relevance to someone else's alleged actions.

Or is it Thoughtcrime They're After?
But it's not clear this sort of direct threat or public hazard is what the UN investigators speak of. It could be they're taking "hate speech" more widely as ideas and speech that contribute to feelings against - specifically - Rohingya Muslims. It would seem fair enough to many, considering the alleged genocide they're going through, a special "never again" speech emergency. Such ideas  do complicate the public perception of the moment's championed victims. It would class as thoughtcrime in the totalitarian future of George Orwell's 1984.

There are troubling signs that the UN commission's thinking here is based on such political motivates.  The BBC News report cites Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee as saying "We know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities." Actually inciting violence would be an issue, but "inciting hatred" ...

That phrase just doesn't sound grammatically correct to me, and sounds politicized and vaguely newspeak. One incites violence, or maybe a panic, or the burning of Buddhist villages (from latin to excite, or stir-up usually, something active). Hatred can incite violence, but might need anger added as a spark. Hate is a longer-term state-of-mind thing, not an episode. I think of it as growing, being taught or learned, etc. Nonetheless, "inciting hatred" is a perceived problem people are tackling lately, as if it's a disease you can get from a single glance, or a fire you'll burst into instantly. (see below). It's a semantical issue. Let's jot get hung up on it.

The UN mission's chairman, Marzuki Darusma is cited by the BBC as explaining "that social media had "substantively contributed to the level of acrimony" amongst the wider public, against Rohingya Muslims." He added "hate speech is certainly, of course, a part of that," but some of it was other kinds of speech that also contribute to acrimony, or ill-will against some people and not others. For some reason this is worth a report and a news conference.

And they don't seem to care that it cut both ways. By the accepted reports 1,800 Muslim civilians were butchered at Tula Toli on August 30. With no provocation whatsoever, soldiers and Buddhist mobs surrounded the villagers on the beach, massacred the men, burned babies alive, raped women after killing their children in front of them, etc. Even Buddhist monks took part in it, as claimed. It's still supported by almost zero reliable evidence, but widely accepted as fact at places like the UN. But it would show some very serious hate from some very non-peaceful people.

True or not, might this kind of claim getting repeated all over not lead to bad feelings - and even unjust and poorly-aimed violence - against Buddhists, these satanic butchers claiming a religion of peace?

I didn't find many examples of actual violence against Buddhists outside of the battle zone itself, but I didn't have time to dig far. In Bangladesh, Mizzima.com reported in mid-September, "there have been some minor incidents targeting the Buddhist community" and authorities were stepping up security around their temples, fearing violence by radical Muslims in "revenge" for events in Myanmar. It was a real concern, and the information riling them up came largely by social media. It's been worse in the past; violent attacks by Muslims in Malaysa killed several Burmese Buddhist guest workers in 2013-14 over similar but much tamer allegations at the time, leading the rest to quit work and go back home in fear. (Heizman)

This year it seems oddly restrained and the issue is not so much violent but other possibly unfair backlash; protest, sanctions tarnished image for Myanmar's Buddhist community, and susceptibility to believing more of the same kind of accusations next time around. There's now more yet acrimony against Buddhists from Muslims and from the broader public. It's based on things they've heard and keep hearing, repeated with no skepticism on social media, in the mainstream news, and even by world leaders and UN officials.

These stories must be told in order to even be considered. But from there they should be considered - critically - which they aren't. And true or not, logical or physically possible or not, they most definitely add to vengeful attitudes against Buddhists. They even - dare I say it? - "incite hatred" against them. (having dared to say it, it still sounds stupid. This is clearly teaching hatred (or at least ... disdain, disrespect) by repetition, not inciting it like one would a fistfight).

But the UN mission doesn't seem worried about that trend even as they add to the list of villainy: the Burmese Buddhists try to deny their crimes and spread their hate to the wider world using the Internet. Is it really even-handed universal justice these activists are after?

Otherwise, this could be a political exercise operating under a thin pretense. If so, the consideration at heart would probably be just this: all this talk - especially the true and/or convincing talk - is complicating  their desired picture. It portrays deceptive jihadist mass-murderers where the Western-led "world community" shows more persecuted innocents in need of salvation. All these carefully lodged and accepted ethnic cleansing claims need a clear bad guy, and it has to be the government targeted for sanctions or worse in another regime-change type of campaign.*

* ("crazy thoughts" side-note: This is apparently how the "world community" closes down competitors and eventually absorbs more member states, so as to more resemble the actual entire world, all finally working on one agreed script. This is supposed to ensure peace at last, but war is too profitable and would continue, against member states accused of increasingly petty violations of their membership agreements, etc. So I advise nations and people - don't give in to this possible future. Unipolar power achieved by force and deception is not the way to go.)

How The UN Folks Identified the Problem with Social Media
The UN investigators cite some evidence to explain the problem with hate speech in Myanmar. Just what all that is remains unclear until the report comes out, but the BBC repost says "The interim report is based on more than 600 interviews with human rights abuse victims and witnesses" and other things like "satellite imagery, photographs and video footage taken within Myanmar."

So they again found that a bunch of places really were burned, saw the same weak video evidence and heard strong verbal claims already repeated so widely. They found that "some were burned alive in their homes" etc. etc.  They will hear about the Tula Toli rape huts with, and the carted-away bodies from Maung Nu everyone saw but no one filmed, etc.. They will take the chance to remind us once again of all that and how they totally believe the stories behind it, and totally blame the government and the local Buddhists for a campaign of unprovoked ethnic cleansing against innocent Muslims. Reasonably, in that light, they'll demand accountability. Again, according to my analysis, it's all likely bogus.

And now they can add that the people they blame - Burmese Buddhists, in general - use Facebook to express their dislike of the target group. Surely they can cite some posts including racial slurs, some expressed views in favor of locking the "Bangalis" out, or even a few personal opinions that the "kalar" should all be killed, or even a few direct death threats.

The investigators will probably not be able to show a link from those posts or people to any of the alleged violence and torching of villages last year. It's probably a bunch of lumping-together and blaming the whole community for a spirit thought to underpin all that. And it's partly a show of trying to help the Buddhists become less genocidal, a humanistic but condescending gesture - in lieu of harder options they're also pursuing.

With probably zero relevant connections discovered, Lee and Darusma and the rest the would have us believe somewhere in there is a serious problem contributing to real ethnic cleansing, and Facebook especially needs to solve it by silencing more content than it already is. Well I'm surely not convinced. It seems more like they're acting instead on the political course described above. If so, one can only hope Facebook refuses to play along and sticks to a spirit of fairness and truth.

What Facebook is Doing and What We Could Do
Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media sites and platforms are private property, allowed to run as the owners see fit. But they've also become so prevalent that they seem like public spaces. All the social media sites agree in embracing the same basic values you'd hope to find there - free speech, public safety, other things in various order. But it's a little ambiguous what to expect or try and demand from them in this regard.

The BBC report notes the chairman of the UN mission, Marzuki Darusma saying "As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook and Facebook is social media." So in some minds, they're tackling the issue across social media. The report continues:
Facebook has said there is "no place for hate speech" on its platform.
"We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns," a Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC.
"This work includes a dedicated Safety Page for Myanmar, a locally illustrated version of our Community Standards, and regular training sessions for civil society and local community groups across the country.
"Of course, there is always more we can do and we will continue to work with local experts to help keep our community safe."
"Safety" sounds good, but "counter-speech campaigns" ...

Sounds aside, this may be an example: "Last July, (Facebook) gave the example of policing use of the word "kalar", which it said could be used both innocuously and as a slur against Muslims." They had some problems sorting out which was which, but think they have it right now and only remove the slur instances. I guess because it refers to the darker skin color of Rohingya Mulsims "kalar" is seen as akin to "nigger" over here. I don't know ...

One hopes they aren't blocking use of Bengali, another preferred term for people who reject the term Rohingya, which was invented to lay claim to the land (from Rakhine, aka Rohan).  I'm using that for shorthand but ...  Are we forcing people to use the name the Bengali Muslims insist on being called and grant them a victory in their campaign? That sounds political.

The mentioned "inciting hatred" - not even violence - was the cause for Facebook just now banning the right-wing Britain First party, now disbanded in the UK. Its leaders were already kicked of Twitter and in physical jail (not "FB jail") for harassment. Specifically, they had agitated against Muslims too, so they're bound to have made some good points then, but maybe not in the right way, etc. (NBC News) Facebook's official statement on this is worth considering as a precedent:

"We are an open platform for all ideas, and political speech goes to the heart of free expression," said Facebook in a statement. "But political views can and should be expressed without hate. People can express robust and controversial opinions without needing to denigrate others on the basis of who they are."

This is the spirt of the policy (spelled out in more detail somewhere) that you should be able to follow and still speak your mind. It sounds reasonable enough...

They'll have rules. We can't demand anything, but would be reasonable to insist the rules allow fair self-expression. This should be the case, unless Facebook or the others have ulterior motives hiding under their public words. And it should not be like targeted sanctions against the "racist bad guy" social media users in this special and likely fake crisis. It should be applied evenly to both sides. Sometimes at least it is. I've seen haters against the Buddhists peddling false evidence and spouting blood libel get their posts removed and entire accounts banned (on Twitter at least). But broadly so far, everyone  can still speak their mind, within limits on a private platform, etc.

For those users worried about their voices being silenced in this effort ... it might be, depending, through no fault of your own. But it becomes more likely if you go against the spirit-grain they're hoping to achieve. So here's some advice that should allow you to carry on within the spirit of Facebook's policy and probably just about everywhere else. (This is my own version, which I follow and find works so far to keep me out of most trouble.

* Basically, think of yourself as a global citizen with some responsibility for the content of the global discussion. Even if you're there casually or drunk or whatever ... if possible, be professional. Which, in context, means things like these:
* If you're trying to educate people about what you think are the facts, take care about those supposed facts. Try to be skeptical even if you like what it says. Verify when possible, check for alternate views. If you want your word to be kind of like news, try to keep it from being fake.
* Try to maintain a humanist attitude even as you deal with issues of serious inhumanity.
* Avoid speaking from hate like you would (I hope) avoid spanking a child in anger.
* Speak from anger only with great care.
* Try to attack the problems with the people and not the people, even if all they seem to have is problems (what they do, not who they are...)
* Be careful about who among the Muslims you're talking about - the babies at least, and even many of the men have no blood on their hands - avoid sloppy thinking and conflation. (see further notes below) *
* Don't threaten to kill people or things like that

But for those trying to deal with this ... As I've suggested, emphasize how very many Muslims in Rakhine state did NOT take part in the crisis last year, did not burn their villages, run off and spout false stories, and have not participated in murders and other violence. Some were killed for this moderation by the other Muslims who insist on violent crisis and an Arakan solution. These loyal Muslims at the very least deserve better than being lumped together with terrorists in a kind of "Muslims are evil" attitude.

Getting philosophical here... underneath it all, even the ARSA terrorists killing their neighbors  are as "not really good or bad" as everyone. If they must be killed or violently stopped - and that is frequently the case - so be it. But this is sad. They were all born blameless babies at one point.
I've always maintained such an attitude and so far I've never been kicked out of anywhere. (I also haven't quite reached a threat profile where you're more likely to be info-assassinated).

* (further notes on "who among them") That last is a tricky issue, especially sharp here - in how militant poisoned Muslims tend to pop out of partly innocent communities. The other side could stand to understand this, but hardly anyone outside of Myanmar is telling them, so they largely just don't realize.  In Myanmar as elsewhere, they hide among the community. Much of the community conceals them willingly. Others ... don't dare defy that trend. The nasty ones, with the actions no one could blame your for hating - they keep coming out and killing others, infidels, year after year. Their education tells them this is okay and encouraged. All they needs is a few guns, a couple of crude IEDs, and some swords and sticks to overrun a village or a security post or both. Then they melt back in and claim repression, causing problems for the government.

This will be tricky stuff for anyone to know and sort out who's who and decide how to deal with it. Simply tolerating it as the cost of a multicultural society imposed on them by ling-term squatters who claim the land as their own. There will be a strong and natural tendency to want that whole community gone to somewhere Muslim or Bengali. Some will be happy at seeing them flee and hoping they stay gone, and wish the government HAD really chased them away as alleged. Few people in the world can understand the kind of frustration they're dealing with.

BBC and the rest ask why do Buddhists hate Muslims over there? They answer: because they have a different religion  and the Buddhists think they don't belong. Uh, no ... they hate them collectively because the Muslim Bengali communities are so riddled with total assholes no one should have to deal with, and they're tired of just being scared of them. That thinking isn't the most laudable, but it's understandable. Following on that, many people want the Rohingya Muslims gone, mostly because they hate and fear them, and also... because they don't belong in the first place (or so runs their thinking). It's clearly the more important part of that picture that's generally left out or de-emphasized.

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