The re­luc­tant Ro­hingyas

No ex­cuse for what Aung San Suu Kyi, army have done to per­se­cuted mi­nor­ity

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion - GWYNNE DYER Gwynne Dyer’s new book is “Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work).”

The Ro­hingyas are around a mil­lion Ben­gali-speak­ing peo­ple who used to live in Rakhine state in Myan­mar — un­til late last year. Then the Myan­mar army at­tacked them, claim­ing they were il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Thou­sands were killed, tens of thou­sands were raped, their vil­lages were burned — and at least 700,000 of them are now in refugee camps across the bor­der in Bangladesh.

The United Na­tions has de­scribed these ac­tions as “eth­nic cleans­ing,” “crimes against hu­man­ity” and “geno­cide,” but the army de­nies any wrong­do­ing. So does its civil­ian po­lit­i­cal part­ner, State Coun­sel­lor Aung San Suu Kyi. (Re­mem­ber her? She used to be a sec­u­lar saint.)

Bangladesh doesn’t want all these refugees, most of whom have no ties with the coun­try al­though they speak Ben­gali, so last month it made a deal with Myan­mar to send them back. But Myan­mar doesn’t re­ally want them back ei­ther. If it did, why would it have both­ered to drive them out in the first place?

The United Na­tions has no part in this great “repa­tri­a­tion,” nor do any of the NGOs. It was a pri­vate deal be­tween Bangladesh and Myan­mar, and the army knew per­fectly well that the refugees would be too ter­ri­fied to go back. Agree­ing to take them back just made the gen­er­als who planned the atroc­ity look a lit­tle less vile.

The Bangladeshi au­thor­i­ties fell for it, and chose 2,200 Ro­hingya refugees to go back in the first con­tin­gent. The Ro­hingyas weren’t fooled, and most of them im­me­di­ately went into hid­ing, chang­ing camps or flee­ing into the woods.

The Ro­hingya won’t go back be­cause they are quite un­der­stand­ably afraid for their lives. It wasn’t just the army but their own non-Mus­lim neigh­bours who turned on them and took part in the slaugh­ter. If you are re­call­ing im­ages of the mas­sacres and ex­pul­sions of Bosnian Mus­lims by the Bosnian Serbs in the 1990s, you are ab­so­lutely right. It’s hap­pen­ing again, and again no­body is do­ing any­thing ef­fec­tive to stop it.

How did it come to this? All the South­east Asian coun­tries con­tain mi­nor­ity groups, but Myan­mar takes it to ex­tremes. Ba­mars (eth­nic “Burmese”) ac­count for two-thirds of the pop­u­la­tion, but there are eight other rec­og­nized eth­nic groups, most with their own lan­guage or lan­guages. And there are the Ro­hingya, who were stripped of their cit­i­zen­ship by the coun­try’s mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship in 1982.

Why them? They were only 2 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, they were a mi­nor­ity even in Rakhine state (formerly Arakan) where they al­most all lived, and they never did any harm to the ma­jor­ity. They are, how­ever, Mus­lims, and the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity in Burma is para­noid about Mus­lims.

It goes back a long way. Bud­dhism once dom­i­nated Asia from the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent to In­done­sia, but it has been in re­treat for a long time. First Hin­duism made a come­back in In­dia, and then Arab con­querors brought Is­lam to north­west­ern In­dia.

Cen­tral Asian con­querors spread Is­lam as far east as Ben­gal, and fi­nally Malay traders car­ried it through­out the In­done­sian ar­chi­pel­ago. The only Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity coun­tries left in Asia to­day are Myan­mar, Thai­land and Sri Lanka.

It’s not sur­pris­ing, there­fore, that Myan­mar Bud­dhists should feel their faith is jeop­ar­dized by the pres­ence of even a sin­gle mil­lion Mus­lims — es­pe­cially if rab­ble-rous­ing Bud­dhist monks ad­vance their ca­reers by preach­ing fear and ha­tred.

It’s also ut­terly ir­ra­tional and rep­re­hen­si­ble. The Ro­hingya are just as Burmese, in the broader sense, as any of the rec­og­nized mi­nori­ties. The first Ben­gali-speak­ing Mus­lims ar­rived in Rakhine state in the 15th cen­tury as sol­diers help­ing an ex­iled king re­gain his throne.

The last sig­nif­i­cant wave of im­mi­gra­tion was in the 19th and early 20th cen­turies.

It’s now the 21st cen­tury, and there is no ex­cuse for what the Myan­mar army has done: to un­der­stand all is not to for­give all.

Nei­ther is there any ex­cuse for No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yes, she was try­ing to pre­serve a hard-won demo­cratic open­ing that might close if she openly crit­i­cized the army.

More­over, the av­er­age cit­i­zen heartily ap­proves of what the army has done. (Shades of Ser­bia again.)

But she is con­don­ing and cov­er­ing up a geno­cide. Shame on her.

‘‘ The Ro­hingya are just as Burmese, in the broader sense, as any of the rec­og­nized mi­nori­ties.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.