Bud­dhists’ fear of is­lam fu­els ro­hingya geno­cide

Tillsonburg News - - 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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