Seventy-eight for one: The Rohingya Ruckus

Aug 4, 2012 by     1 Comment     Posted under: The Diplomat

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule,” said Buddha, a man who had the soul of gold, the mind of a genius, the nerves of steel and the heart of a lion. The mental image of his legacy, Buddhism, is built on his own reflection – small groups of monks in red and orange robes, meditating peacefully in a distant meadow, with beaded strings and musty relics in their hands. But we listen not to our minds, but our hearts, which all ask the same question – what is wrong with the Buddhists of Burma?

The social media has spearheaded the campaign against the ethnic strife and the apparent massacre of Muslims in Rohingya. For the drivers of this campaign, Burma has become another Palestine – people have taken every opportunity to hurl insults at the Buddhist religion (the pagans and the infidels!), historic figures (Buddha was a cruel man!) and the entire country (Burma is the terrorist nation!).

Humans, however, are rational beings. Burma’s ethnic violence didn’t sprout up suddenly, like a stray dog at your front porch. It was ignited by the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman by three Muslim men. Rape is the most heinous of crimes, sometimes even worse than murder. Murder instantly kills the victim and sets him free from any further pain. Rape not only traumatizes and mentally murders the individual but also forces him/her to live with the social scorn and stigma. In this case, these rapists were kind enough to not only rape her, but also kill her thereafter.

But should an entire community – with innocents such as young children, liberal minds, secular-minded families – suffer because of the act of a few? Should 78 people – who are leading normal lives miles away – die because of the rape and murder of one person? Should 400 000 people move to another nation just because less than 1% of those people have committed a cardinal sin? The majority cannot suffer for the acts of a miniscule minority.

But that is a very base explanation. The ethnic strife that has stirred up in Burma isn’t your everyday protest march. It is an intense, long-lasting religious war – which may have been impulsively sparked by a rape, but has far deep-rooted causes that we have to trace back to the history of the Burmese and the Rohingya.

Since the era of Ne Win, Burmese have been bathed in a shroud of extreme nationalism, almost xenophobic jingoism. Most of the Rohingya migrated to Burma from the subcontinent during the independence migrations in 1947. Since then, the community has expanded enormously, largely due to illegal migrants who have travelled across the porous border. Consequently, many paranoid Burmese view the Muslims as ‘invaders’ or ‘outsiders’. This paranoia has spread like wildfire over the years. The reservoir was already full of water – all it needed was a little push – and the rape broke down the walls of the dam and unleashed the waters of hatred upon the Rohingya community.

The national reaction to the Rohingya killings has been shocking – the media has supported the expulsion of Muslims from the country, the apparently peaceful monks have called for suspension of humanitarian aid to the Rohingya community and even the President has asked for a ridiculous resettlement of over 1 million Muslims to a third country.

The edifice of the Rohingya killings is founded on a deeply ingrained national sentiment, which is mingled with grievances and resentment accumulated over the years.

But again, aren’t human beings rational creatures? How does an excessively large Buddhist community expect to be dominated by a tiny group of Muslims-a community which has been ostracized all these years? The road of casual diplomacy has been replaced by the path of physical aggression and that’s the point where we start to question the sanity of these anarchists.

The Pakistani reaction has been intense and social networks have been flooded with the most vehement criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence along with absurd solutions to suppress the violence.

“Pakistan should send its troops to Burma and protect the Muslims,” tweeted a Pakistani. Amusingly, the sending of troops is a violation of a country’s sovereignty, which will only serve to aggravate the issue. A country cannot take such unilateral action, something that few emotionally enflamed Pakistanis understand. The solution has to come from within Burma, potentially from Aung Suu Kyi, a woman who has been famous for her ability to unite the masses for a common cause.

A Twitter group, No Rohingya, described them as ‘unwanted guests from the east’ and ‘invaders and infiltrators’. An insincere demand was put forth, ‘No Rohignya in Arakan or Burma. They are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh’. The word ‘unwanted’ clearly hints towards a sentiment of intolerance and resentment towards the community. Their demand is shallow, oversimplified and impractical. The Rohingya migrated to Burma in 1947, and were accepted by the government – a government who promised to care for them and safeguard them from oppression. Illegal immigration is a valid concern, but the solution needs to come from stronger border patrolling and fair citizenship laws rather than mass subjugation.

Pakistan’s own Tehreek-e-Taliban declared, “We will take revenge for your blood.” The TTP may be a veritable threat within our borders but most analysts question their ability to defend a community in another country.  Any terrorist interference will only infuriate the supporters of this strife and will provide them with a convenient explanation for their dreadful acts – transnational terrorism.

An anti-Rohingya blog on the internet labels itself as ‘anti-terrorist’. Ironically, the oppressors of the Rohingya community seem to be the ones creating the terror and turmoil. Rape is an act of terror but two wrongs (with one wrong clearly greater than the other) do not make a right.

The pro-Rohingya, or the true anti-terror blogs have made some sensible remarks.

“Note: the much extolled Sui Ky hasn’t protested the hideous slaughter of Rohingya Muslims.”
“Some idiots post tsunami/earthquake victims’ pictures as the “Rohingya massacre”. The Muslims need support, spreading lies won’t help.”
“Rohingya Muslims of Arakan: No country to live. No place to hide. No soil to die.”
“Message to all humans: save these people in Burma not because they are Muslims but only because they are humans just like you!”

This side of the debate asks several relevant questions about the dismaying silence of Aung San Suu Kyi, about the efficacy of lies and dishonesty in gaining support for the Rohingya, and about the humanity that unites us all, regardless of our religions.

We don’t know whether 78 or 6000 have been massacred in Burma, but we do know that an entire community should not endure the punishment of the crimes of a few. Pakistan can help, but it has to do it through diplomatic pressure rather than imprudent external intervention, just like Iran has suggested. The rapists should be brought to justice, and action needs to be taken to educate, empower and enlighten the deprived Rohingya community to ensure that such crimes are significantly reduced in the future. Border monitoring is also pivotal. The public opinion needs to become more liberal and only Aung San Suu Kyi can bring this psychological revolution. The Burmese must not only accept diversity, but understand, embrace and promote it.

The racist slayers of the Rohingya have lost all rationality- their judgment, morals, principles and values have all been clouded by a mist of an ingrained prejudice. And since humans are rational creatures, I do not believe these murderers are human beings at all.

Further Reading

Last week, we pondered upon the unsolved issue of Kashmir, and how it’s better that the people of Kashmir decide their fate themselves. You can read that and more in The Diplomat

The Author

I have an avid interest in international politics, disparate global perspectives, human social and economic evolution, cultural diversity and how all these ideas tie together with Pakistan's current scenario. I believe in a secular, culturally integrated and stable Pakistan, and I hope to work towards the materialization of this dream.

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1 Comment + Add Comment

  • Best review of the situation…very informative and not taking sides as usual
    Thank you !

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