Whilst Muslims in certain areas of the UK are living in fear of reprisal attacks from bone-headed thugs, the Muslims of Burma (or Myanmar) live in fear of their businesses, their lives and their homes being taken from them. If you’ve ever had the good fortune of reading Orwell’s fantastic novel ‘Burmese Days’, set in Burma under British colonial rule, you’ll understand that the Burmese were thoroughly oppressed by their British rulers.
What is surprising now is that a sizeable chunk of the Rakhine Buddhist population have split themselves from the Rohingya Muslim population and began oppressing them. They’ve adopted a ‘strategy’ that could be described as being the illicit love-child of Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. One of the most outspoken Buddhist monks, Sayadaw Wirathu, even goes as far as to label himself the ‘Burmese bin Laden’. His sermons and speeches attack Muslims and Islam, claiming that they are taking over Myanmar and will prevent Buddhists from practicing their faith.
He claims that they are buying out all of the land and the buildings, using their money to take young Buddhist women, outbreeding the ‘native’ Burmese and ‘infiltrating’ political parties. Interestingly he claims that Aung San Suu Kyi’s party is under particular threat of infiltrators, which seems a little outlandish given her relative silence on the entire matter. According to him ‘They’ve got her’.
Last year saw some 180 Rohingya killed (though figures vary) and 120,000 displaced, it saw nationalists call for a boycott of trade with all Muslims, it saw riots, it saw villages burnt to the ground, it saw refugees attempt to escape over the border to Bangladesh only to be turned back to face continued persecution and it saw very little media attention. This year is no better, in fact the persecution is escalating.
Bangladeshi Buddhists have been quietly crossing the border, re-settling around the edges of Rohingya villages causing increased tensions in the area. The Rohingya people have lived in the area for almost a millennia yet are not currently ‘recognised’ by the Myanmar government as citizens, but as refugees with limited access to basic amenities such as schools. Now the very real fear amongst the Rohingya is that the government are trying to force them from their home through fear, oppression and violence.
The latest development, a truly shocking one at that, comes in the form of a two-child limit enforced upon the Rohingya. Immediate thoughts turn to China where there has been a ‘One Child Policy’ since 1979, but in truth there is no comparison as China does not target this policy at specific ethnic groups. My friend Omnia brought it to my attention that in Myanmar this policy only applies to Rohingya.
The policy itself actually dates back to 1994 but until now has never been enforced. A government-appointed commission identified rapid population growth as one of the key factors behind the ‘sectarian violence’ last year. For this reason the government is implementing this ban in two Muslim-dominated townships along the border with Bangladesh: Buthidaung and Maundaw. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Western-appointed saviour of Burmese democracy, has spoken out against this policy but is mere condemnation enough?
To this end, it’s clear that the official policy of the Myanmar Government is the Ethnic-Cleansing of the Rohingya people. If this plan is successful, the consequences for the Rohingya are stark. Not only will they lose their homes, they don’t have anywhere else to go. They will be forced to live under the increasingly repressive rule of the Buddhist majority. That’s if they’re still alive.
The world’s media have been silent for too long. And by silent I don’t mean that the plight of the Rohingya has gone unreported, I mean that it has not been reported enough with actual purpose. The reports we’ve read are somewhat disjointed and focus on ‘Sectarian Violence’ and ‘Riots’ when the Rohingya dare to fight back against their Rakhine oppressors, instead of what’s happening: Ethnic Cleansing. It’s unacceptable and the world needs to be informed.
Why should we care though? For the same reason western news agencies fawned over Aung Sang Suu Kyi during her house arrest. It’s unfair, it’s unjust and it’s inhumane.
Why such a difference in the reporting? Well, it is said that a man can be judged by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. Supporting Suu Kyi during her incarceration was aimed at opening Myanmar to democracy and therefore trade (note Coca Cola resumed trade there this year), whereas supporting 4% of a population (Rohingya) will give a far smaller financial benefit. Now is the time for wealthy western nations to develop a more compassionate foreign policy, because pursuing this exploitative one is damaging both the environment and humanity itself.
It looks increasingly like the Rohingya’s Burmese Days are numbered, we should do all that we can to ensure this is not the case.