By Zafar Ahmad
The Rohingyas are a Muslim ethnic minority group in the Buddhist majority of Myanmar, previously known as Burma. The Rohingyas are one among 135 ethnic groups in Burma having a population of 1.1 million yet not recognized by the state. The government considers them as illegal ‘Bengalis’ who came as refugees during the 1971 war. This claim of the government is falsified by historians who believe the Rohingyas have been living in the Rakhine state of Burma since the 15th century. Ironically, the Bangladesh government claims over the Rakhine land but does not recognize the Rohingyas its citizens either, leaving this minority group stateless in the globe of nation states.
According to the UN reports, the Rohingyas are the most persecuted minority on earth and have been subjected to “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” in a Buddhist state. More than 1,000 Rohingyas have been killed since the army crackdown that began in 2016. The violence in the Rakhine state escalated since August 25 attacks on 30 police posts and an army base by Arsa (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army). Since then, the security forces have been reported to have unleashed war against the Rohingya Muslims – killing their men, raping their women and burning their homes. The escalation of violence has led to 270,000 refugees to flee to the neighboring Bangladesh in the last two weeks.
Instead of controlling the crisis, the authorities claim that the Rohingyas are burning their own homes falsified by the UN Human Rights reports. Hardline Buddhist backed by the government protest as aids arrive for the Rohingya Muslims. It is interesting to note that the current violence has started after the Rakhine Advisory Commission led by the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. The commission had recommended “the citizenship verification, documentations, rights and equality before the law,” which the government had pledged to implement albeit due to severe pressure from the international community. After the surge of violence, the chance for the implementation of the findings has faded away.
The most discouraging thing for the most right activists was the comment of the Burmese de facto leader and the noble laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who after long silence condemned “the huge ice-berg of misinformation” giving a distorted picture of the crisis without mentioning the flocking refugees into Bangladesh. The champion of rights seems to have forgotten her Noble Peace acceptance speech: “whenever suffering is ignored, there will be seeds of conflict.” The reluctance of Suu Kyi manifests that a politician’s main motive is being elected and condemning Muslim persecution means she may lose millions of Buddhist voters.
On the other hand, government backed monks ridicule Muslims as “breeding like rabbits, coming with swords to conquer the Buddhists and, hence, they should defend themselves and their religion.” The centuries old marriage of ‘faith and state’ in Burma shows how brutal this fusion is.
In Pakistan, thousands took to the street condemning the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingyas and demanding the government to end diplomatic relations with Burma. While many have gone far in their demand to send troops and ‘Jehadists’ to Burma to help the Rohangiyas ignoring the fact that the ‘Jihadist’ throughout the world including Burma have been the part of the plight instead of being the savior. Moreover, we need to quit our old habits of imposing self-righteousness upon others.
We Pakistans believe that Muslims constitute extra-territorial community making us feel deep sadness for the plight of the Muslims. Expressing solidarity with the oppressed is indeed a commendable endeavor. However, our solidarity is not indiscriminately for all the oppressed people in the world. The Kurds persecuted by Turkey and Iraq, the Yemenis crushed by the Saudis, yet they do not deserve our attention as much the Kashmiris, the Rohingyas, Chechens and the Syrians deserve our solidarity. Even our “higher than Himalayas and deeper than the greatest ocean friend” China has been oppressing Uighur Muslims. Our picking up some cases of suffering while remaining silent upon others show how much hypocrisy is embedded in our veins.
Our own country, Pakistan, is not a very good place for the minorities. The discrimination against the Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis and their persecution has long been witnessed and sometimes on a daily basis. Even the ethnic minorities such as Balochs, Pashtuns and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are facing discrimination. Under such conditions, our condemning of the Burmese government is like throwing stones while living in a glass house.
Additionally, we need to understand that the civilized world, nowadays, considers armed struggle for separation as terrorism. And armed separatists (Arsa) are found among the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state of Burma. It is their attacks on police stations in Burma that have escalated the latest persecution of the Rohingya Muslims. Same is true about Kashmir where in the guise of curbing terrorism India is undermining the genuine ‘Kashmir Movement.” In short, we do not stand equally with all the oppressed Muslims in the world – our solidarities are opportunistic and contradictory.
To sum up, our rhetoric is not going to help the Rohingya Muslims. Even despite more and more international attention, there is very little hope for any end to the plights of the Rohingya Muslims. Finally, there is a lesson from the crisis: Marriage of faith and state is brutal, Jihadists are part of the problem, all a politician can think is votes and votes and Muslim solidarity is very selective.
(The writer is MPhil Scholar at the Department of Sociology, University of Peshawar).