Making the Rohingya Crisis ‘Real’ in the NW Bronx

Mehnaz Afridi (center), a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, talks about the crisis facing Rohingya in Myanmar at a rally in Riverdale in September. In the course of a month, over half a million Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in their home country. (Photo by Julius Constantine Motal via The Riverdale Press)

Back in September, Mehnaz Afridi, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in Riverdale who has focused on issues of genocide and ethnic cleansing, felt the urge to make the local community aware of what was happening to the Rohingya thousands of miles away in Myanmar. She held a rally at The Monument on West 239th Street and while not very many showed up, “it was the seed of a months-long effort by the professor to make this crisis real for people in the northwest Bronx,” writes Julius Constantine Motal in The Riverdale Press.

Afridi followed up with a town hall on Oct. 17 at Manhattan College to bring students into the conversation. At the event, Adem Carroll, of the Rohingya activist organization Burma Task Force, spoke about “the history of the crisis and its current conditions, and showed devastating images of the conditions refugees find themselves in in makeshift camps in Bangladesh.”

The fight for awareness is a long and difficult road, especially when a crisis upends people’s perceptions of the groups involved. The Rohingya crisis presents an inversion of commonly held ideas — In this case, Buddhists are the aggressors and Muslims are the victims.

“Every religion is capable of violence,” Afridi said. “Every religious group has been a victim at some point.”

Motal also speaks to Zaw Win Maung, a Rohingya activist in NYC who declined to give his real name, about Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.”

Go to The Riverdale Press to read more from the activist about his disappointment with Suu Kyi, and much more on the Rohingya and the crisis they are enduring.

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