Buddhists’ fear of islam fuels rohingya genocide
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the rohingyas’ citizenship was revoked in 1982, and other new laws forbade them to travel without official permission and banned them from owning land.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.