Thirty years after graduating from his missionary-run high school near Nairobi, the Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o had gained enough distance to reflect on the lasting effect of colonial education policy in Kenya. “Behind the cannon was the new school,” he wrote in Decolonising the Mind, the 1986 exposition on cultural imperialism in which he examined how the colonial classroom became a tool of psychological conquest in Africa and beyond. “Better than the cannon, it made the conquest permanent,” he wrote. “The cannon forces the body and the school fascinates the soul.”
All Rohingya were seen to be acting as one, the individual always in the service of the group. That inability to disaggregate one from the other has provided a lethal rationale for mass violence the world over, and it has formed a central pillar of the propaganda directed at the Rohingya since the late August insurgent attacks. Cartoons of machete-wielding Rohingya babies have circulated on social media, signalling a belief in an inborn malevolence that has had the effect of obliterating any distinction between young and old, violent and nonviolent.