As the attention of the world focuses on the Middle-East, particularly the conflict in Syria, there is an ongoing terror unleashed on the minority Muslim community in Myanmar, the official name of the country as recognised by the United Nations, or Burma as used by Britain, Canada and the United States.
The conflict is not new, but the recent wave of massacre began in June when, allegedly, a Buddhist woman was raped and killed in May this year in the Rakhine region. This was immediately followed by the massacre of 10 Muslims in a bus on June 4, and what followed is the massacre of the minority Muslim population in this region of the world.
Later, three Muslims were arrested, and two of them sentenced to death immediately by the Myanmar authorities.
Media reports suggested that following the bus attack, Muslims gathered in the town of Maung Daw after Friday prayers, and the crowd became angry as reported by the BBC, and began attacking buildings. The police quickly intervened, but you know the security services are hardly bias-free as we have seen with many conflicts. The London riots of 2011 were partly caused by the police. So also a lot of the mistakes going on in the ongoing unrest in Nigeria. Soon after that, the conflict spread into other towns and villages.
When conflicts have a religious dimension, bringing it under control is a huge task. The Syrian uprising today became so complicated because of the religio-sectarian dimension. In Myanmar the religious divide is at play, because the majority of the population are Buddhist, while the minority community are Muslims, also known as the Rohingya, who are now facing ethnic cleansing as was done in Bosnia nearly two decades ago.
According to the United Nations, the Rohingya Muslims are among the most persecuted minorities all over the world.
The Myanmar authorities have since declared a state of emergency in the region, and using state power and support for the majority Buddhists, the Muslims are now under siege. The Myanmar government has closed all doors that will allow humanitarian intervention. They also embarked on a propaganda suggesting that the Rohingya Muslims are foreigners. What is even more surprising is not the attitude of the Myanmar government, but that of Aung San Su Kyi, the media elevated Nobel Prize winner, who refused to acknowledge that the Rohingyas are citizens of Myanmar. Since 1948 when Myanmar got political independence from Britain, the persecution of the Rohingya people has simply skyrocketed. The 1982 citizenship act of the country declared the Rohingya community as simply stateless.
The Myanmar’s authorities have now embarked on a propaganda suggesting that the Rohingya community are from Bangladesh. This also seems to be the position of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is supposed to be a human rights campaigner. But historical evidence has shown that the Rohingyas are not a homogeneous ethnic group, but a conglomeration of different communities living in the area. According to Dr Habib Siddique, an expert on the plight of minorities and author of eleven books, “The original inhabitants of Rohang were Hindus, Buddhists and animists. From the pre-Islamic days, the region was very familiar to the Arab seafarers. Many settled in the Arakan, and mixing with the local people, developed the present stock of the people known as ethnic Rohingya. Some historians mention that the first Muslims to settle in the Arakan were Arabs under the leadership of Muhammad ibn Hanafiya in the late 7th century (C.E.). He married the queen Kaiyapuri, who had converted to Islam. Her people then embraced Islam en masse”. More and communities also settled in the area after the British conquest of Myanmar.
The Rohingyas are now migrating en mass to Bangladesh, yet the Bangladeshi authorities under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina are returning them back on the pretext that there are already over 400,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Among Muslim countries so far only Turkey and Iran have spoken against the state terror unleashed on these helpless individuals. The United Nations Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has called for an investigation, but I wondered whether she shouted loud enough for her boss, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, to take note and call for an emergency security council meeting to discuss the situation as the UN did previously on the situation of the minorities of East Timor, and most recently, Southern Sudan.
To address the situation, at least three steps need to be taken immediately. First is for the entire international community to put pressure on the Myanmar government to allow humanitarian aid into the affected region. At the moment all effort for humanitarian intervention stops at the Bangladeshi border as access to cross the water into Myanmar has been denied.
The second step is for the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation to immediately call for an emergency meeting and provide economic support to Bangladesh in order to contain the influx of refugees on one hand, and put diplomatic pressure on the other hand on the government of Myanmar to treat its citizen with dignity. And this should work as a short term solution, and failure to do so, all diplomatic ties should be cut off until Myanmar calls its military to order and punish all those involved in the genocide.
Finally, a process should be set for the self determination and independence of this region, since from all indications there is little hope the Rohingyas will be recognised as equal citizens in their own land.