by Mahboob Alam (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 8, Muharram, 1439)
The world is witnessing yet another round of ethnic cleansing through terror directed against the defenceless and traumatized Rohingyan Muslims of Myanmar. The latest butchery at the hands of the Myanmar military and machete-wielding Buddhist vigilantes started on August 25 when the regime alleged that Rohingya militants attacked police and military check posts killing a number of soldiers.
The alleged perpetrators were the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Most Rohingya believe it may be a regime-created group to have a pretext for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya from Rakhine state. Western leftist groups in the social media have accused the group of being a Saudi-American proxy to undermine China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy. Interestingly, two Saudi newspapers, ‘Ukaz and al-Sharq al-Awsat, have branded the group as terrorist.
While there is no doubt that the US is actively trying to undermine China’s efforts, Western progressives have been largely silent about the US’ increased militarization in Afghanistan that is at the heart of its anti-China policy. Neighboring Pakistan has suffered equally grievously but there is little mention of it in the left’s voluminous narrative.
Far removed from the myopic outlook of the West’s armchair revolutionaries — not every friend of China is innocent — the “peaceful” Buddhists have used ARSA’s alleged attacks to launch a campaign of ethnic cleansing and slaughter of the Rohingya. Their villages have been attacked, their homes torched, often with the occupants inside. Women have been raped and children hacked to death. Rohingyan youth are summarily executed. Even old men are not spared as photos of their bullet-riddled bodies have shown.
While the military regime has admitted 400 deaths since August 25, the United Nations says the death toll is more than 1,000. Terrified villagers who have managed to escape to Bangladesh say the death toll exceeds 4,000. Many refugees are unsure where their loved ones are.
So far, more than 400,000 Rohingyan Muslims have escaped to Bangladesh, 70% of them children, thanks largely to the intervention of Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan who urged the Dhaka regime to allow them in. He said Turkey would bear the costs. Nazir Ahmed from England, a member of the British House of Lords, visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar from September 15–19. Leading a delegation that included relief workers, Ahmed reported that the plight of the Rohingya, especially during this rainy season, was grim. He found them barefooted and suffering from skin diseases as well as respiratory problems.
On the positive side, he reported that both Turkey and Iran had sent massive amounts of food aid for the Rohingyan refugees. Iran’s deputy foreign minister led his country’s team with 40,000 tonnes of aid while Turkey pledged to take care of 80,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh.
Unfortunately the Bangladeshi regime led by Prime Minister Hasina Wajed is just as hostile to the Rohingya as are the Myanmar brutes. She insists they do not belong in Bangladesh and must go back. She does not care that the Rohingya will be killed if they return.
When the exodus first started, Bangladeshi military and police had strict orders not to allow these people to enter the country. Of those Rohingyan refugees who made it across the Naf River (separating Rakhine state, home to the Rohingya, from Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar), gun-toting Bangladeshi soldiers ordered them to go back. One Rohingyan mother clutching her baby, told the Bangladeshi soldier to shoot her and her baby. She said, they would rather face death here than return and be hacked or burned to death in Rakhine.
Despite the perilous trek across muddy paddy fields or through forests, not everyone has made it to safety. Hundreds of bodies have been found floating in the Naf River. While half the population of Rakhine state (totaling one million Rohingya) has escaped to Bangladesh, the other half is stuck inside. Some are trapped in their villages surrounded by the Myanmar army and Buddhist vigilantes while others have escaped to the forests. If they stay put in the forests they will starve to death because they have no food. If they come out, machete-wielding Buddhist vigilantes and trigger-happy Myanmar soldiers will kill them.
There have been international calls to establish safe zones in Rakhine state so that the Rohingya can be protected and provided food. Unfortunately, the Myanmar regime has stopped aid agencies from delivering food. Aung San Suu Kyi, hitherto darling of the West and poster woman for human rights, for which she was given the Nobel Peace Prize, has shown scant regard for the plight of the Rohingya.
She refuses to acknowledge that they are Myanmar citizens — the Rohingya were denied citizenship in 1982 — and insists they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Refusing to use the term “Rohingya,” she refers to them as “Bengalis” and has called for their expulsion. Suu Kyi has also echoed the ludicrous claim that the Rohingya are burning their own homes to garner international sympathy.
Perhaps, they are also hacking their babies to death for the same reason! Aware that she would face international opprobrium, Suu Kyi cancelled a planned appearance at the new session of the United Nations General Assembly that started last month. When she finally broke her silence on September 19 about the horrors being visited upon the Rohingya, Suu Kyi resorted to half-truths and outright lies. She even used the argument that half the villages of Rohingya were unaffected and people were still living there.
This was a clear admission that half the villages had been emptied out. Further, those Rohingya who have not fled are forcibly confined because trigger-happy Mynamar soldiers and machete-wielding Buddhists have surrounded their villages. If they venture out, they will be shot on sight.
Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk and self-confessed admirer of the English Defence League, leads the Buddhist vigilantes to attack Muslims. His terrorist activities against innocent Rohingyan Muslims put him on the cover of Time magazine as “The Face of Buddhist Terror” on June 20, 2013. Wirathu’s hatred for Muslims comes through in his words and deeds, “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog [in reference to Muslims].” The Buddhists claim their religion teaches them pacifism; to walk carefully on the earth so as not to harm even insects. The Rohingya clearly rank even lower than insects.
While the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar — formerly Burma — for centuries, the regime insists they are not citizens and has embarked on a policy of ethnic cleansing. Even the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Zeid al-Hussain was forced to describe it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Speaking at a rally in support of the Rohingya in Toronto on September 16, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland described the expulsion of the Ro-hingya as “ethnic cleansing” and said she would lead international efforts at the UN to stop the killings. She also called for access to Rakhine state for Canadian officials to determine firsthand the situation on the ground.
Prejudice against the Rohingya is based on how “Burmese” (that is, with Chinese features) one looks and one’s religion. Having different facial features than what is considered “Burmese” and practicing a religion other than Buddhism brands one a foreigner. An infamous example of racial hatred was a 2009 letter sent by a Burmese diplomat in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, to other diplomatic missions and newspapers describing the Rohingya as “ugly as ogres” and thus, not “Myanmar people.” Such characterizations are reminiscent of the abhorrent Euro-American racism (directed at Africans) or the generational racism of the Children of Israel (directed at Palestinians and Muslims).
Since independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar — formerly Burma — has been under military rule that in turn is dominated by Bamar Buddhists, one of many Buddhist groups. In the 2015 general elections, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, though winning the largest number of seats making her State Councillor (equivalent to prime minister), did not have a single Muslim candidate. She works closely with the military and has also adopted the policy of ethnic cleansing. Instead, she calls reports about their killings and expulsions an “iceberg of misinformation” and “fake news.” After the BBC’s Mashal Hussain interviewed her, Suu Kyi was furious, “Why didn’t someone tell me she was a Muslim?”
When she was under house arrest, she wrote to Western human rights activists and politicians to use their “freedom to secure ours.” Suu Kyi is not prepared to extend the same right to the suppressed Rohingya. They are non-people.
Let us consider some of her more memorable quotes. “The value systems of those with access to power and of those far removed from such access cannot be the same. The viewpoint of the privileged is unlike that of the underprivileged,” Suu Kyi said when she was under house arrest. On another occasion, she said, “It is often in the name of cultural integrity as well as social stability and national security that democratic reforms based on human rights are resisted by authoritarian governments.”
Fine words indeed but why has she denied the Rohingya the same rights that she talked about so fondly or their “struggle for life and dignity”? The Rohingya formed a majority in Rakhine state but through successive waves of killings and ethnic cleansing they have been reduced to a minority. Now they constitute a mere 4% but even this tiny minority is not tolerable to the racist Buddhists.
Myanmar is a living purgatory for the Rohingya. They are not allowed to travel to other towns without a permit, which is rarely approved. Arbitrary arrests are not as arbitrary as they seem. They are calculated and aimed at silencing those who voice opposition to or are seen as a threat to the still sadistic Burmese system (that is even after Suu Kyi became a member of government). Color, ethnicity, and Islam are seen as a danger to the Myanmar regime. Forced labor, extortion, eviction, limited access to education, and even restrictions on marriage are imposed on the Rohingya. They are not allowed to join the armed forces and most are deliberately victimized by a vicious cycle of poverty through systematic oppression.
In the Muslim world, only three countries — Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan — have taken steps to help the oppressed Rohingya. When they raised the issue of the Rohingya at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), three other Muslim countries objected: Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia. People in Malaysia and Indonesia have held rallies in support of the Rohingya. Similarly ordinary people in Bangladesh have extended a helping hand to the Rohingya; their regimes, however, are pursuing a different agenda. They are more interested in cultivating links with resource-rich Myanmar than worrying about a million or so poor and oppressed Rohingya.
And what about the Arabian regimes whose rulers are quick to send people to the chopping block if they dare criticize regime excesses? They would rather kill poor Muslims — Yemen, Syria, Iraq, etc. — than worry about saving poverty stricken and terrorized Rohingya.