Local Voices: Life as a minority | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 09, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:32 AM, November 09, 2016

Local Voices: Life as a minority

Ever heard of Yazidi, a very small community in Northern Iraq? Probably not. We never heard of them until ISIS started massacring Yazidi residents in 2014. A peaceful community was all of a sudden under attack by ISIS. The concept of live, laugh and love had been shattered for so many Yazidi children, women and men.  

During World War II, Jews in different European countries were forcibly sent to the gas chambers by the Nazis. Why? Because they were Jews.  

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Anne Frank was one of six million innocents "exterminated" by the Nazis. The civilised world thought that would be the end of minority killing around the world. However, history repeats itself. One Hitler goes, another comes. We have the memory of goldfish.  

 More than two decades ago, the Bosnian Serbs killed almost 100,000 minority Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the name of ethnic cleansing. In one particular area of Srebrenica, 8,000 people were killed.  

Far away from Bosnia, in 1994, Rwandan Hutu militias killed 800,000 of the minority Tutsi community.  

That genocide story was documented in the movie Hotel Rwanda. There are more occurrences of this type of ethnic and religious cleansing around the world. In fact, minorities in most countries are being harassed or oppressed in some forms, if not killed.  

What about living in a communist country where religion or ethnicity doesn't or shouldn't matter? During the years from 1975 to 1978, the communist Khmer Rouge was in power in Cambodia. Look what happened there. Almost 1.5 million people were killed. They didn't kill minorities only; they killed the educated and wealthy people of their own too. 

It is still a nightmare to be a minority in certain countries. This is no better than living in an earthquake zone or a hurricane-prone area. You never know when you have to run. You never know if you will enjoy the glory of the next morning sun. 

One can argue that dictators initiate the killing of minorities. Iraq was once ruled by Saddam Hussein, a minority Sunni dictator. He also killed many people, though maybe not on such a massive scale. But when he was gone and the majority Shia was put in power by the US, killing of minorities increased dramatically.  

My story is as follows: I first lived in Canada and the US from 1979 to 1985. The 80s were a period of Cold War and the breaking of the Berlin Wall. Freedom bells were ringing around the world. President Ronald Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." It was a golden time for the US.  

A friend of mine once asked me, "You were a minority in your native country and you are still a minority in the US. Any difference?"  

I loved living in these two countries during that time; however, I had to return to my native land. The second time I came to the US, I came with my family in 2001, right after 9/11. As a foreigner, we had to give interviews as well as fill up a number of official forms in different places. One thing I was never asked was what my religion was. It's good that there is no machine that can detect religion from one's accent. Did you get my answer, my friend?

The writer, a native of Bangladesh, has been teaching Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Mississippi University for Women since 2004. Email: royjiben@yahoo.com

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