Horror and hope among the Rohingya

The journalist Kaamil Ahmed’s new book tells the story of a people who have become ‘stateless everywhere’
April 5, 2023
I Feel No Peace
Kaamil Ahmed (RRP: £18.99)
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Buy on Bookshop.org

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The plight of the Rohingya made international headlines in 2017, when the Burmese army massacred scores of communities in western Myanmar. Fearing they would be next, some 700,000 people from this Muslim ethnic minority fled their homeland in Rakhine State to apparent safety in Bangladesh. Although the exodus this time was larger, it wasn’t the first occasion when the Rohingya had been targeted; the military also attacked them in 1978 and 1991.

In I Feel No Peace, the journalist Kaamil Ahmed tells the story of the Rohingya, writing about the waves of persecution they have faced and showing how they are effectively “stateless everywhere”, unable to gain citizenship and other basic rights.

It begins with the unmitigated horror of the 2017 killings. The reader sees the Burmese village of Tula Toli through the eyes of Momtaz Begum, a young woman who is raped after her husband and all her children—except one—are slaughtered. Like thousands of other Rohingya, she and her six-year-old daughter Rozeya end up in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. On top of their mental and physical scars, they are forced to contend with the dangers of daily life there.

In prose that brims with empathy and humanity, Ahmed zooms in on individual lives to explain the breadth of this people’s struggles: from those who eke out an existence on the fringes of Bangladeshi or Malaysian society to those who risk their lives on people smugglers’ routes. 

For all the tragedy, there are countless examples of deep resilience—and even some hope. Ahmed introduces us to people such as Sharifah Shakirah, a Rohingya woman who runs an educational programme for refugees in Malaysia. This excellent book challenges the world to follow her lead—by helping the Rohingya, instead of ignoring their suffering.