Wide An­gle

The Asian Age - - Edit -

He sat at the head of a long din­ing ta­ble, don­ning the grand­est head­gear, a com­bi­na­tion of tur­ban and hat, with neat, cas­cad­ing pleats. Grand Mufti Ahmed Bader Ed­din Mo­ham­mad Adib Has­soun, Syria’s high­est re­li­gious author­ity, held the am­bas­sadors and a sprin­kling of jour­nal­ists in his thrall. It was an un­stop­pable tor­rent.

Un­able to get a word in edge­ways, the guests at­tended, with ded­i­ca­tion, to the sort of elab­o­rate feast which has gone out of fash­ion in this era of spar­tan hos­pi­tal­ity even in diplo­matic cir­cles.

That the Mufti was not on a mis­sion of re­li­gious sight­see­ing alone was clear from his itin­er­ary. He had qual­ity time with home min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh and trav­elled to Sri­na­gar to meet chief min­is­ter, Me­hbooba Mufti. The of­fice of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dis­cussed in some de­tail West Asia and Ro­hingya refugees.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the run­ning Ro­hingya-Bud­dhist con­flict is be­ing ag­gra­vated by the USSaudi com­bine to serve their in­ter­ests — to trans­form the mod­er­ate, Sufi-in­clined Ro­hingyas into Salafi groups. Th­ese would help desta­bilise a coun­try neighbouring China.

Ev­i­dence of Ro­hingya Mus­lims in Myan­mar’s Rakhine state since the 7th cen­tury is not ac­com­pa­nied by a nar­ra­tive of har­mony with the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity in that coun­try through­out this pe­riod. But since 1970-80, in­creased re­pres­sion, eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion and de­nial of cit­i­zen­ship rights could pos­si­bly be be­cause of the re­ver­ber­a­tions fol­low­ing the Ira­nian rev­o­lu­tion in 1979.

Saudi Ara­bia, par­tic­u­larly shaken by the emerg­ing, bipo­lar­ity in the Mus­lim world, took the lead in drum­ming up an anti-Shia hys­te­ria. Over time, Sufi Is­lam was also in the line of fire. Riyadh had an in­ter­est in di­vert­ing the world’s at­ten­tion to­wards Iran be­cause a much big­ger dan­ger had reared its head within Saudi so­ci­ety. An an­ti­monar­chy, rad­i­cal, Is­lamic group had oc­cu­pied Is­lam’s most im­por­tant mosque in Mecca for weeks al­most at the same time as the Ira­nian rev­o­lu­tion. The Saudis needed to cre­ate Wa­habi en­claves wher­ever they could.

This brief back­ground is es­sen­tial to un­der­stand the an­tecedents to the cur­rent ex­o­dus of over 400,000 Ro­hingyas.

Amer­i­cans no longer deny that they have from time to time fallen back on mil­i­tants or ter­ror­ist groups as tac­ti­cal as­sets. In an in­ter­view to Chris­tiane Aman­pour, Rus­sian for­eign min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov made ex­actly that al­le­ga­tion. Nei­ther could Aman­pur risk a coun­ter­al­le­ga­tion, nor ask a fol­lowup ques­tion on that sub­ject. Heaven knows what beans Lavrov might spill on live TV.

Since the Mufti’s visit, a dis­turb­ing nar­ra­tive cir­cu­lat­ing in some cir­cles sug­gests that the present cri­sis was pre­cip­i­tated from out­side.

The story be­gins in 2012 when Prince Ban­dar bin Sul­tan, for­mer Saudi am­bas­sador to the US (nick­named Ban­dar Bush be­cause of his close friend­ship with then Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush), who had then been given the “Syr­ian port­fo­lio” by the late King Abdullah, in­vited a Ro­hingya named Hafiz Taha to his of­fice in Riyadh.

Taha was given the task of de­vel­op­ing “Is­lamist sleeper cells” in Rakhine. The idea was

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