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From Myanmar To Sinai, Dangers Of A Single Word

Catholic nuns await the arrival of Pope Francis in Rangoon
Catholic nuns await the arrival of Pope Francis in Rangoon

Rohingya. Outside of Myanmar, it's a simple word, though not necessarily easy to pronounce. Largely unknown until recently, its utterance now unmistakably evokes persecution, humanitarian tragedy, and what the UN said was "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" at the hands of government authorities and local militias. But inside the Buddhist-majority country, it's a politically-charged term, the simple mention of which can have devastating consequences.

"Rohingya" refers to the Rakhine (or Arakan) State of Myanmar where they've been living for several generations. Government authorities and the military use instead the word "Bengalis', which clearly suggests that the members of this Muslim community, who were stripped of their Burmese citizenship in 1982, are immigrants. For many Buddhists in Myanmar, the Rohingya are nothing but foreign terrorists.

Pope Francis landed Monday into this linguistic minefield, momentarily steering attention to another religious minority, his own Christian flock, who have also been the victim of persecution in the past in Myanmar.

The pontiff is sure to speak about the plight of religious minorities, with special emphasis on the Muslims forced to flee in droves over the past two months. But what will he call them? "The situation," as The New York Times astutely summed up is "a no-win scenario even for a political operator as deft as he is." By saying the word, he risks putting the lives of the 700,000 Roman Catholics living in Myanmar at risk of retaliation from the military or militias. If he doesn't say it, his moral credibility could suffer.

La Stampa"s Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli noted ahead of the trip that the Pope went off-script on his visit to Armenia when he used the word "genocide" to describe the events of 1915, which angered the Turkish government. "Still, it seems that the favored approach is to speak in a very clear way in front of the country's leaders about minority rights without using the word ‘Rohingya,"" Tornielli writes.

There is another word making headlines over the weekend for its potential life-or-death implications: "Mushrikin." It means polytheists in Arabic, and it's one that ISIS has been using repeatedly against Sufi Muslims who, according to the Salafi school of thought ISIS gets its inspiration from, aren't even Muslims. The fact that Sufis also venerate saints is enough for the terrorist group to label them as heretics and therefore kill them. Though the organization hasn't claimed responsibility yet for the deaths of at least 305 people in Friday's bombing of a mosque in the North Sinai, everything indicates that it was the work of ISIS and of its determination to purge the Sinai, and the Muslim world, from "infidels'.

With the same ISIS eager to turn the plight of the Rohingya into a rallying cry for a "holy war", the crisis in Myanmar is a worrying matter that needs to be addressed urgently and appropriately. It all begins with finding the right words.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What Are Iran's Real Intentions? Watch What The Houthis Do Next

Three commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea were attacked by missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, while the U.S. Navy shot down three drones. Tensions that are linked to the ongoing war in Gaza conflict and that may serve as an indication as to Iran's wider intentions.

photo of Raisi of iran speaking in parliament

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in Tehran.

Icana News Agency via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It’s a parallel war that has so far claimed fewer victims and attracted less public attention than the one in Gaza. Yet it increasingly poses a serious threat of escalating at any time.

This conflict playing out in the international waters of the Red Sea, a strategic maritime route, features the U.S. Navy pitted against Yemen's Houthi rebels. But the stakes go beyond the Yemeni militants — with the latter being supported by Iran, which has a hand in virtually every hotspot in the region.

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Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis have been making headlines, despite Yemen’s distance from the Gaza front. Starting with missiles launched directed toward southern Israel, which were intercepted by U.S. forces. Then came attacks on ships belonging, or suspected of belonging, to Israeli interests.

On Sunday, no fewer than three commercial ships were targeted by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea. The missiles caused minor damage and no casualties. Meanwhile, three drones were intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy, currently deployed in full force in the region.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating their intention to block Israeli ships' passage for as long as there was war in Gaza. The ships targeted on Sunday were registered in Panama, but at least one of them was Israeli. In the days before, several other ships were attacked and an Israeli cargo ship carrying cars was seized, and is still being held in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

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