Another Killing Field?

Killing of the Ro­hingyas is not merely a mat­ter of Mus­lim geno­cide but an is­sue that is fast build­ing to­wards re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism.

Southasia - - NEIGHBOR MYANMAR - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

In Myan­mar (for­merly Burma), vi­o­lence against the mi­nor­ity Ro­hingya com­mu­nity by the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity has a bloody his­tory. Since 2012, the Ro­hingyas are be­ing sub­jected to a planned geno­cide – a fact con­firmed by rep­utable hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and the Hu­man Rights Watch. While the ex­trem­ist Bud­dhist monks per­se­cute them on re­li­gious grounds, the coun­try’s Pres­i­dent, Thein Sein, openly de­clares that the Ro­hingyas are “il­le­gal im­mi­grants”.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, around 140,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lims have suf­fered “wide­spread op­pres­sion and bru­tal vi­o­lence in makeshift refugee camps with many dy­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily. ”Atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against the com­mu­nity were not pos­si­ble with­out state com­plic­ity. In its re­port re­leased in April 2013, the Hu­man Rights Watch al­leged that se­cu­rity forces col­lab­o­rated with Bud­dhist monks and also took part in the killings of Ro­hingya and Ka­man Mus­lims in the Rakhine state last sum­mer.

The re­port terms the mas­sacres ‘well-planned’, ex­pos­ing the nexus be­hind the mass killings and tor­ture of Mus­lims. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, “Po­lit­i­cal par­ties, as­so­ci­a­tions of monks and com­mu­nity groups is­sued nu­mer­ous anti-Ro­hingya pam­phlets and pub­lic state­ments that ex­plic­itly or im­plic­itly de­nied the ex­is­tence of the Ro­hingya eth­nic­ity, de­mo­nized them and called for their re­moval from the coun­try, some­times even us­ing the phrase ‘eth­nic cleansing’. The state­ments were fre­quently re­leased in con­nec­tion with or­ga­nized meet­ings and in full view of the lo­cal and na­tional au­thor­i­ties who raised no con­cerns.”

State com­plic­ity was fur­ther ex­posed in a video footage of the Meikhtila ri­ots re­leased by the BBC. In the video, Bud­dhist monks could be seen lead­ing a mur­der­ous mob while the po­lice stood by, play­ing the role of on­look­ers. Even then the gov­ern­ment kept deny­ing the in­volve­ment of the se­cu­rity forces and did not pun­ish the cul­prits re­spon­si­ble for the killings of the Ro­hingyas and Ka­mans. The of­fi­cial stance that se­cu­rity forces “were over­pow­ered by mobs” does not seem plau­si­ble since the same forces had bru­tally sup­pressed var­i­ous up­ris­ings dur­ing the 40-year-long mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship in Myan­mar.

The hor­ri­fy­ing round of anti-Mus­lim ri­ots in March and April 2013 was a bloody re-run of the 2012 mas­sacre of the Ro­hingya and Ka­man Mus­lims in Rakhine where, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial es­ti­mates, 110 peo­ple were killed and 125,000 were forced to flee to refugee camps.

Ev­i­dence sug­gests that vi­o­lence against the Ro­hingyas was state­spon­sored. Var­i­ous se­nior army of­fi­cers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials re­peat­edly ex­pressed their fears that the Mus­lims would force their re­li­gion on the Bud­dhists and would try to “steal” Bud­dhist women. A se­nior min­is­ter once re­port­edly said, “If they are not deterred, the western gate will break (an ob­vi­ous ref­er­ence to the coun­try’s bor­der with Bangladesh),” and that “hu­man rights do not ap­ply to Mus­lims.” The Burmese Con­sul Gen­eral in Hong Kong, U Ye Myint Aung, even wrote a let­ter to lo­cal news­pa­pers and diplo­matic mis­sions, de­scrib­ing the Ro­hingyas as “ugly as ogres”.

There has been a mar­riage of con­ve­nience be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the Bud­dhist monas­tic or­der, the Sangha. It is strange to note that an or­ga­ni­za­tion that earned world­wide ad­mi­ra­tion for its peace­ful prodemoc­racy move­ment against the mil­i­tary regime in 2007 would sud­denly re­sort to the geno­cide of Mus­lims.

Early this year, monk Wi­seitta Bi­wun­tha, also known as the Ven­er­a­ble Wi­rathu, launched the 969 cam­paign. He urged his fol­low­ers “not to trans­act with Mus­lims eco­nom­i­cally or so­cially and to de­mar­cate their houses and prop­er­ties by putting up the 969 em­blem.”

Many al­lege that the anti-Mus­lim pol­icy is cru­cial for the sur­vival of the rul­ing elite. The gov­ern­ment is sup­port­ing anti-Mus­lim ex­trem­ism know­ing that it would en­cour­age a multi-eth­nic con­ser­va­tive al­liance be­tween the Bud­dhists and the es­tab­lish­ment forces. The state-run me­dia in­ten­tion­ally high­lights and spon­sors anti-Ro­hingya pro­pa­ganda, pro­motes vi­o­lence and spreads ha­tred against them.

The 140,000 Ro­hingyas who live in sub­hu­man con­di­tions in dis­place­ment camps be­lieve that noth­ing is left for

them in Myan­mar. Some are even pay­ing smug­glers to sneak out to Malaysia or Thai­land by boats. The con­flict is also tak­ing a bizarre turn in the wake of a threat of re­tal­i­a­tion by the Pak­istani Tal­iban. Many be­lieve that “a home­grown rad­i­cal move­ment may take place”.

"I'm afraid that some of the young men in the camps could be­come ter­ror­ists if they keep liv­ing in this way," says a Ro­hingya ac­tivist, Aung Win.

The en­tire world com­mu­nity has be­come a silent spec­ta­tor while vi­o­lence against the long-marginal­ized Ro­hingya, whom the United Na­tions has termed as one of the world's most per­se­cuted mi­nori­ties, is on the rise. It is a mat­ter of con­cern that af­ter emerg­ing from half a cen­tury of mil­i­tary rule, Myan­mar is faced with this predica­ment that poses a se­ri­ous threat to its eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­forms as well as to global in­ter­faith har­mony.

It is widely al­leged that hard­lin­ers in the army are re­strain­ing the gov­ern­ment from fur­ther re­forms by ig­nit­ing vi­o­lence. In some of his speeches, Pres­i­dent Thein Sein has em­pha­sized the need for trust, re­spect and com­pas­sion be­tween the peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths and eth­nic groups. But, at the same time, he also in­sists that the Ro­hingya Mus­lims are “il­le­gal im­mi­grants”.

This at­ti­tude would not help es­tab­lish peace. The gov­ern­ment needs to show de­ter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect all the mi­nori­ties and counter vi­o­lence from any group. It is time the pro-democ­racy op­po­si­tion re­nounced its in­dif­fer­ence, be­came united and coun­tered re­li­gious big­otry. The coun­try’s sal­va­tion lies in the vic­tory of non-sec­tar­ian forces.

The world com­mu­nity should also come for­ward. It is not merely a mat­ter of pro­tect­ing the Ro­hingya Mus­lims from geno­cide but of de­vel­op­ing a com­mon front against re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism that has Fas­cist po­ten­tials and ten­den­cies. The writ­ers, part­ners in law firm Huza­ima & Ikram (Taxand Pak­istan), are ad­junct fac­ulty at the La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sciences (LUMS).

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