Bud­dhists’ fear of Is­lam fu­els Ro­hingya geno­cide

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - OPINION - GWYNNE DYER Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

Dur­ing the past 65 years of mil­i­tary rule, the army of Burma — now Myan­mar — has killed thou­sands of peo­ple from al­most ev­ery one of the coun­try’s nu­mer­ous mi­nori­ties: Shans, Karens, Kachins, Karen­nis, Mon, Chin and many smaller groups. But the only ones who have faced a geno­cide are the Ro­hingya, and it is hap­pen­ing now.

Only two-thirds of Myan­mar’s 52 mil­lion peo­ple are eth­nic , and al­most all the other groups have re­belled from time to time. But the 1.1 mil­lion Ro­hingya are spe­cial, be­cause they are al­most all Mus­lim.

The other mi­nori­ties are all Bud­dhist, and the army kills only enough of them to quell their re­volts. The Ro­hingya never re­volted, but Mus­lims are feared and re­viled by Myan­mar’s ma­jor­ity. Now the army claims the Ro­hingya are all re­cent im­mi­grants from Bangladesh, and is driv­ing them out of the coun­try.

The an­ces­tors of the Ro­hingya mi­grated from what is now Bangladesh be­tween the 14th and 18th cen­turies and set­tled in the Rakhine (Arakan) re­gion of Myan­mar. They were mostly poor farm­ers, just like their Bud­dhist neigh­bours, but since Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary seized power they have been treated as aliens and en­e­mies.

The ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist mil­i­tary regime launched its first open at­tacks on the Ro­hingya in 1978 and drove some 200,000 into Bangladesh, in a cam­paign marked by wide­spread killings, mass rape and the de­struc­tion of mosques.

The Ro­hingyas’ cit­i­zen­ship was re­voked in 1982, and other new laws for­bade them to travel with­out of­fi­cial per­mis­sion and banned them from own­ing land. An­other mil­i­tary cam­paign drove a fur­ther quar­ter­mil­lion Ro­hingyas into Bangladesh in 1990-1991. Then things went rel­a­tively quiet un­til 2013. What lies be­hind this hos­til­ity to Mus­lims is a deep-seated fear that Is­lam is go­ing to dis­place Bud­dhism in Myan­mar as it did in the past in other once-Bud­dhist coun­tries from Afghanistan to In­done­sia. It is an un­founded fear — Mus­lims are just four per cent of Myan­mar’s pop­u­la­tion — but many Bud­dhist Myan­marese are ob­sessed by it.

The poor Ro­hingya farm­ers of Rakhine are now the main tar­get of the army’s wrath. This is prob­a­bly be­cause Rakhine is the only prov­ince of Myan­mar where Mus­lims are al­most half the pop­u­la­tion.

The at­tacks on the Ro­hingya, ini­tially ex­plained as in­ter­com­mu­nal ri­ot­ing be­tween them and lo­cal Bud­dhists, have es­ca­lated un­til they have be­come straight­for­ward eth­nic cleans­ing. The army does not aim to kill them all, just enough of them to force the rest to flee across the bor­der into Bangladesh — but that is still geno­cide.

It’s now well on the way to ac­com­plish­ing its aim, thanks to a small group of mis­guided young Ro­hingya men who formed a ram­shackle re­sis­tance group called the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army and at­tacked sev­eral po­lice posts on Aug. 25, killing 12 peo­ple. The Burmese govern­ment claimed it is un­der “ter­ror­ist” at­tack and launched a “counter-of­fen­sive” that is the lo­cal ver­sion of a fi­nal so­lu­tion.

About 300,000 Ro­hingya have fled across the bor­der into Bangladesh in the past cou­ple of weeks, leav­ing be­hind an un­known num­ber of dead in their burned-out vil­lages. The re­main­ing Ro­hingyas in Myan­mar, more than half a mil­lion, are mostly in refugee camps.

And what about Myan­mar’s res­i­dent saint, Aung San Suu Kyi, now in prac­tice the head of a demo­crat­i­cally elected govern­ment (although one still sub­ject to a mil­i­tary veto on se­cu­rity mat­ters)?

She de­nies that there is any­thing wrong go­ing on.

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