By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
26 December 2016
For nearly one and a half million Rohingyas, it must be a rude shock to realise that they are no longer Burmese citizens. Rohingyas are Burmese Muslims who settled in that part of the world in the wake of British East India Company colonizing Burma. These Muslims primarily came from Bangladesh but they were not the only Muslims living in Burma. Muslim presence in Burma predates the migration of Bangladeshis to this country. But the problem today is that if you are a Muslim in Myanmar then you are considered an outsider and a threat to the country. It does not matter when your ancestors came to this country.
It does not matter if in the past, Burmese Kings styled themselves on the Nawabs of Bangladesh and were largely emulative of Islamic culture. What matters today is that the Buddhists do not want Muslims in their country and perhaps will go to any extent to realise this dream of Muslim free Myanmar.
Buddhism proclaims itself as a peaceful religion and goes to the world announcing its non-violence and inclusivity of its faith. And yet today the same Buddhists are baying for the blood of Muslims. Ever since the Buddhists of Burma have experienced nationalism, they have realised the need to project another: in this case an internal enemy who are supposedly bleeding the country dry. The comparisons with nationalisms in other countries have chilling similarities. Accusations of ‘breeding like rabbits’, non-acculturating tendencies of Muslims and of course their link to terrorism is touted as the reasons why Buddhist majority is supposedly losing its patience with the Muslims.
The truth is always complex: Muslims being poor definitely have higher birth rates but whether it is due to their religion or their class situation is hardly discussed. There is hardly any documented evidence to suggest that Rohingyas have been active within any jihadist networks. But then when nationalism becomes the ruling ideology, truth is always the first casualty. There is no point talking about evidences and facts, what matters are the perceptions.
And the overwhelming perception today within Myanmar is against the Muslims. The problem is compounded by the fact that these Muslims are concentrated in one part of the country-the Rakhine state- and that gives them greater visibility as well as marks them as a community to be discriminated against.
Nothing can justify what is happening to these Muslims. Through a slow process, they are being disenfranchised and there is institutional discrimination against them. In 1982, the Burmese government passed an order which effectively made them non-citizens within their own country by classifying them as Bengali refugees. Moreover laws passed by the Myanmar government have made marriages within Rohingya community extremely difficult.
The two child norm forced by the state for this ethnic community means that other children born within families remain without education and other facilities which other children get. What is most problematic is that after being stripped of their citizenship status, the Rohingyas have been denied freedom of movement which means that they can hardly go outside of the Rakhine state. This essentially means that they are being made to live in ghettos without any opportunity to earn their livelihood.
It is heart rending to hear tales of their persecution including forcible evictions, houses raised to the grounds, shops and establishments being burnt and looted and reports of mass rape. What is perhaps more disappointing is that there is hardly any voice within Myanmar today which can call this injustice by its name: that it is akin to a pogrom or that the state has become committed to a genocide.
It was hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi would be in a position to urge the international community to take notice of what has been happening in her country. However it is a rather sad commentary on the so called human rights activist and Nobel Prize winner that she has been silent on the whole issue. Not only has she been silent but at times she is even seen to be supporting the military junta over the question of Muslim repression. Her silence only means that there is near consensus within Myanmar over the Muslim Rohingya question.
But the most severe criticism should be reserved for Muslim countries. There are 57 Muslim countries representing a combined Muslim population of 1.7 billion and yet they have hardly been pro-active on this issue. It is true that some Muslim countries have offered refugee status to these Rohingyas but the situation is hardly satisfactory even within these countries. The Rohingya settlements in Bangladesh for example are another ghetto where these Muslims do not have freedom of movement. They are cut off from the rest of the world and independent journalists hardly have access to these settlements. But the real important point is this: that despite Muslim countries having clout in the United Nations and elsewhere, they have not been able to bring international pressure on Myanmar over its treatment of the Rohingyas.
It is not that atrocities against these Muslims have not been documented: Human rights groups have done and have tried to make international bodies aware of it. Despite all these documented proofs, important Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran have not been able to isolate Myanmar over this issue. We need to ask those who swear in the name of the Ummah: is the blood of Rohingyas insipid in comparison to other Muslims?
Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist
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