European Rohingya Council says Myanmar goverment has manipulated ethnic groups of Rakhine against Rohingya to gain from its rich resources
By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
It’s an economic situation akin to that of pre-Second World War Germany, says European Rohingya Council Chairman Khairul Amin.
But while the Nazi Party sought to persecute anyone who didn’t fit their Aryan ideal in an effort to unify a bankrupt post World War Fatherland in a common enemy, he says the Myanmar government has targeted just one group – Muslims.
“If we search for the root cause of our problem, is it down to economics or is it because of an inherited hatred that exists among the Rakhine [Arakan] Buddhists?” he asks in an interview with Anadolu Agency.
“No; it’s down to the Burmese [Myanmar] governments, who have manipulated the Rakhine people into hating us to divide us and rule us.”
It’s what social theorists call the “Other” — the state of being different to the common “normal.” But while then German leader Adolf Hitler targeted Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies – and thus set in place a series of events that we now know as a holocaust – to blame for the country’s problems, Amin says the Myanmar goverment has set its own Other.
In 2012, a series of riots broke out in northern Rakhine State, Western Myanmar – where Rohingya are concentrated – after weeks of sectarian disputes that many suspect were state sponsored.
By June 10, a state of emergency had been declared in the area, and by August, 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists had been killed, around 90,000 people displaced and more than 2500 houses burned – most of which belonged to Rohingya.
Ambia Perveen, the council’s secretary for advocacy, says that Rohingya have since faced a form of genocide.
“It is no different from what happened in Sarajevo or Rwanda… There are restrictions on marriage, on having children, education… We cannot marry without permits, practice Islam, speak our own language, or move freely. In 1950, our population was 2.2 million. With the biological clock, we should have multiplied by numbers, but today we are less than one million people,” she says.
“These are the signs of genocide.”
In June, a senior researcher at the South Asia Institute, Siegfried O. Wolf, described Rakhine State to Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle as one of Myanmar’s poorest areas, despite being rich in natural resources.
“The Rohingya are thus considered an additional economic burden on the state, as they compete for the few available jobs and opportunities to do business. The jobs and businesses in the state are mostly occupied by the Burmese elite. As a result, we can say that Buddhist resentment against the Rohingya is not only religious; it is also political and economically driven.”
Amin says that the Burmese government has specifically encouraged hatred between the two ethnic occupants of the state for fear of losing out on its natural and mineral resources.
“The Burmese government does not want neither Rakhine and Rohingya to be allied. Because if they lose their power, they’ll lose their share of resources, so they have deliberately carried out a program to encourage hatred of Muslims in an effort to divide us.”
He says that the government’s program spreads messages such as “if you do not act against the Rohingya, they are going to take over… Islam is coming, you have to protect Buddhism… If you don’t protect it, Muslims will take over this country, like in Malaysia and Indonesia.”
He says the policy has been inherited from the years when the junta was in control.
“They will never let Rakhine people run this state; they will never let Rohingya run the state. They will always try and divide us by keeping us apart.”
He underlines that the hatred has spread beyond Rakhine and is now practiced by members of the “liberal” opposition and Buddhist monks, including troublemakers such as Ashin Wirathu who he says has been “encouraged” to travel to Rakhine to enforce control.
Wirathu is a senior leader in the 969 nationalist movement, which is made up of monks who consider Islam a threat to both Buddhism and Myanmar.
He gained international prominence after a TIME magazine cover described him as “The face of Buddhist terror” in 2012, but has long been known locally – and revered by many – for his impassioned sermons.
“Whenever he comes to Arakan, he creates problems, but the government allows him to come,” he says, adding that Wirathu is just one of the many people brought from outside of Rakhine to stir the pot.
With so many Burmese climbing on the anti-Muslim bandwagon, Amin says that the opposition Aung San Suu Kyi- led National League for Democracy (NLD) has had no choice than to stay quiet on the issue for fear that it may affect their election chances.
The Lady, as she is known locally, has assumed demigod status in Myanmar. Calendars and posters bearing her image hang on walls in homes and shops across the country, while tourists cue at street stalls to purchase multicolored fridge magnets and T-shirts emblazoned with her image – the latest Indochina must-haves.
But since the country began liberalizing, Suu Kyi – who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 – has bitterly disappointed many followers who say she has failed to speak out on a number of ethnic issues, among them the communal violence that erupted in mid-2012.
She has repeatedly rejected accusations, supported by Human Rights Watch, of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, describing the term as “a little extreme” in front of an audience at Australia’s Sydney Opera House last year.
Amin says that despite such disinterest he doesn’t think that Suu Kyi is against Rohingya.
“To maintain her high popularity, she’s had to remain silent when it came to the Rohingya case. She does not want to lose support.”
He underlined that with the government’s creation of the 2012 Rakhine conflict, it had managed to distance Suu Kyi from the Buddhist majority.
“And now because she did not talk in support of Rohingya many Nobel Laureates have blamed her. She has lost both ways,” he says.
Perveen, however, still sees, Suu kyi – who is not allowed to become president as a clause in the military drafted constitution bars anyone with foreign relatives from the top job (Suu Kyi has two British sons) – as the best choice for Rohingya.
“When she was in the jail we prayed for her. She had quotations like ‘Follow us and speak for our freedom.’ Rohingya fought for her release,” she says.
“But today, even though it appears as if she has forgotten us, we hope that Western countries – who pushed for so long for her freedom – will pressure her to do more to help us.”
But as for east Asian countries – who make up Myanmar’s top trading partners – Perveen says they “do not care.”
On May 29, several Association of Southeast Asian Nations met in Bangkok to discuss solutions to the boat people crisis that left thousands of Rohingya stranded in the region’s seas.
While a large part of the statement from the meeting was dedicated to the fight against human smuggling and human trafficking, the most controversial paragraphs dealt with the “root causes” of the migration – aimed at Myanmar.
It recommended that factors in the area of origin – Rakhine – of the Rohingya migrants be addressed, including “promoting full respect of human rights and adequate access of people to basic rights and services such as housing, education and healthcare.”
An earlier meeting in Kuala Lumpur saw Indonesia offer to help develop Rakhine state, but there was no explanation as to how it was to take part in any building – or development – of the area.
Perveen says that although ASEAN has made its promises, little has actually been done to conquer the true problem – what Amin sees as the economic greed of the ruling party and its foreign allies.
“ASEAN is controlled by China, by Buddhism, by India,” Perveen underlines.
“They do not care. China [Myanmar’s biggest trade partner, followed by Thailand, Singapore and India] does not care about Islam, it cares about money. They see us as Muslims, not human beings,” she says.
She says that most of Myanmar’s neighbors see the Rohingya struggle as a project of Islam, but then quickly backs up her point: “This issue is not a Muslim issue; it’s a human issue, an issue for anyone who believes in justice.”
“We are always talking talking, talking, but how many years will it go like this? It’s just one country, Burma. The world stopped Hitler, the United Nations sent an army to Darfur. The genocide in Rwanda has stopped. But what about us?”
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