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