Long time ago I learned never to say ‘never again’ when it comes to Myanmar’s savagery. The latest mayhem against the Muslims in the Shan state, far away from the western Rakhine state – bordering Bangladesh, once again shows that for this religious minority Myanmar is proving to be hell on earth. Seemingly, there is no conscientious Buddhist living inside this den of hatred and intolerance that is bold enough to challenge this status quo. Daw Suu Kyi, once darling of the West, has long shown her despicable hypocrisy when she tried to ignore the monumental crimes of her Buddhist people and the government against the Rohingyas of Myanmar, considered the worst persecuted people on earth.
For years the Rohingya people living in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan, have been subjected to ethnic cleansing practices, and denied every right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Now that racial hatred and religious bigotry is spreading like a cancer all across Myanmar to include other Muslims in the country.
Rumors now seem to have become a major weapon to justify elimination of a persecuted minority. Last year (May-October), we saw the result of this evil concoction: with the rumor of an alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine woman, the brainwashed Rakhine terrorists went on an extermination campaign that witnessed the gruesome murder and rape of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, and the wholesale destruction of Muslim properties, schools, madrassas, mosques and shrines. Nothing of value was left intact by the marauding Buddhist savages. This ethnic cleansing drive resulted in internal displacement of some 140,000 Rohingyas within Myanmar who are living in wretched refugee camps. At least thirteen thousand Rohingyas have fled the country by sea with some seven hundred losing their lives while trying to brave the ocean to find refuge elsewhere.
In October 21-25, two townships – Pauktaw and Kyaukphyu – saw the near-total expulsion of long-established Muslim populations, in what could only be described as ethnic cleansing. One village Yin Thei saw a massacre of at least 51 Muslims, among them 21 women. That violence started with a heated argument within a very poor Muslim family where the husband (Tun Naing) had lost his job and the apartheid like restrictions had prevented him from finding job outside his Muslim village. It stirred up ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the next village, who began shouting anti-Muslim slurs. Tun Naing’s village was soon besieged by hundreds of Rakhines. The next morning, Monday, October 22, hundreds of Rakhine men gathered on the southern outskirts of Mrauk-U, an ancient capital, located nearly 15 miles north of Paik Thay. Then they marched to Tha Yet Oak, a Muslim fishing village of about 1,100 people, and set alight its flimsy bamboo homes. Rakhine terrorists hurled Molotov cocktails and fired homemade guns, and the entire Muslim village was burned to ashes. The same episode was repeated in Sam Ba Le, a village in neighboring Minbya Township, where more than 200 homes were set ablaze.
Next day, the massacre began in which the Rakhine mob was aided by police who shot Muslims. As Yin Thei burned, the last of nearly 4,000 Rohingya Muslims were fleeing the large port town of Pauktaw, in a dramatic exodus by sea that had begun five days earlier.
About 30 minutes after the last boat pushed out to sea, the two Rohingya neighborhoods in Pauktaw were set ablaze. All 335 homes were destroyed. The charred and roofless frame of a once-busy mosque was marked with graffiti: “Rakhines will drink kalar blood,” using the slur for Muslims. Tuesday night fell. Soon a new inferno began in Kyaukphyu, a sleepy port town 65 miles southeast of Sittwe, targeting Kaman Muslims. Most Kyaukphyu Muslims lived in East Pikesake, a neighborhood wedged between Rakhine communities and the jade-green waters of the Bay of Bengal. By Wednesday, all the Muslim homes were set on fire. The Muslims had only one exit: the sea. A flotilla of fishing boats was preparing to leave its blazing shores.
“People swam out to the boats but were chased down and stabbed before they got there,” said Abdullah, 35, a Rohingya fisherman to a reporter from the Reuters. Xanabibi, 46, a Kaman woman, said she watched from a boat as three Rakhine men with swords set upon a Muslim teenager. “I watched them … cut up his body into four pieces,” she said. The extermination campaign was touted as majority Rakhine’s way to teaching a lesson to minority of Muslims.
The week-long pogrom, by official count, claimed 89 lives, its worst in decades. The Reuters investigation painted a more troubling picture: The wave of attacks was organized, central-government military sources told Reuters. They were led by Rakhine nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state, incited by Buddhist monks, and abetted at times by local security forces.
In March of this year, the extermination campaign moved to towns in central Myanmar, including Meiktila, which is located nearly 1oo miles north of the capital city Naypyitaw. There mobs of men, including Buddhist monks hacked to death at least 44 Muslim women and children. And all these savagery under the pretext of a rumor that a Muslim gold shop owner in Meiktila had harassed his Buddhist customers, which spiraled into a street brawl. Soon thereafter Buddhist mobs roamed the streets with sticks and swords and set Muslim-owned buildings including mosques ablaze. Rioting and arson attacks spread to 11 townships and villages outside Meiktila, as mobs of Buddhists, some led by monks, continued a three-day rampage through Muslim areas. Eight hundred Muslim homes and five mosques were torched. The violence ended with another 12,000 people displaced.
In his report in the New York Times Thomas Fuller wrote, “Images from Meiktila showed entire neighborhoods burned to the ground, some with only blackened trees left standing. Lifeless legs poked from beneath rubble. And charred corpses spoke to the use of fire as a main tool of the rioting mobs.” President Thein Sein later declared a state of emergency.
The latest manifestation of extermination campaign came last week in the northern city of Lashio, where terrified Muslims were sheltering under army guard after their homes, shops and mosque were burned down. The unrest in the northern Myanmar city of Lashio, a city located nearly 430 miles from Myanmar’s commercial capital of Rangoon (Yangon), shows how far anti-Muslim extermination campaign has spread in this Buddhist-dominated country. For years, the Shan state bordering China has been a peaceful state. And now in clear reminiscent of Meiktila, its Lashio city witnessed swarms of Buddhist men roaming Lashio’s crumbling streets, armed with rocks and sticks and machetes. Before police and army troops stepped in, the Buddhist mob had torched scores of Muslim-owned shops, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky. The crowd then rampaged through the town, setting fire to Lashio’s largest mosque. The mob also set fire to a Muslim school and orphanage that was so badly charred that only two walls remained.
According to official report, one Muslim was killed and five people wounded including a journalist attacked by a Buddhist mob in Wednesday’s clashes. Some 1,200 Muslims were moved to Mansu Monastery after Buddhist mobs had terrorized the city – again showing government’s slow response to anti-Muslim pogroms.
As reported by the Reuters, Thein Maing, who took shelter at the monastery with his family, said they only dared to leave their house when they saw soldiers patrolling the streets on Wednesday. “I approached the soldiers and said, ‘We are afraid and we don’t know where to go. Please help us’, and they sent us here.” Khin Kyi’s family hid in the house of an ethnic Chinese neighbor, while Buddhist men with sticks and swords prowled the area. “We were very scared. This has never happened before,” she said.
The violence was sparked by a rumor last Tuesday that a Muslim man had badly burnt a Buddhist woman who sold fuel by the side of the road. After police detained the man, Buddhists surrounded the police station and demanded that he be handed over for public lynching. Badanta Ponnya Nanda, head monk of Mansu Monastery, said he tried to reason with the crowd, telling them to respect the law. “After that they went and burned the mosque,” he said.
As I have noted before, it would be wrong to think that these are isolated events. These are, in fact, part of a highly organized eliminationist policy in which Myanmar government and its Buddhist community are joint partners. For years their neo-Nazi intellectuals and bigot monks have been playing the role of Julius Streicher selling, rather very successfully, the poison pill of racial and religious purity in a country that has been multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious for hundreds of years.
Pale-skinned and shaven-headed Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu has become the public face of a Buddhist campaign, called ‘969’, to exclude and isolate Myanmar’s Muslim minority. Wirathu is a self-confessed admirer of neo-Nazi groups like the English Defense League of the UK. He has become to the 969 fascist movement in Myanmar what Goebbels was to the Nazis in Germany. He says that his goals and methods are intended to counteract what he regards as growing Muslim power and numbers. His “969” campaign calls for boycotting Muslim-owned businesses and opposes intermarriage with Buddhists. He insists that 22 per cent of the nation’s 60 million people are Muslim – the official estimate is only 4 per cent.
There are many Buddhists in Myanmar who take this hateful monk as their spiritual guide. It is no accident, therefore, that his 969 campaign has coincided with a surge of bloody violence in which Muslims have become the main victims. Wirathu is such a diabolical figure that he has no problem in lying or talking with a twisted tongue. When hundreds of Muslim villages and townships were burned in the Rakhine state, he had an explanation: “The Rohingya there burned down their own houses so that they could live easily in the refugee camps.” As to the burning and killing by the Buddhist mob in Meiktila, he said their crimes were "forgivable”. He added, “As far as Muslims go, a snake is a snake. Snakes are dangerous, so we shouldn’t let them be.” It is a classic example to dehumanize one’s enemy so that violence against them can be sanctified.
As I have noted elsewhere Wirathu – the evil preacher – however, is not alone justifying the elimination campaign against the Muslims of Myanmar. There have been depraved ideologues like Aye Chan, (late) Aye Kyaw and Khin Maung Saw who for years have been parroting the government’s negative stereotypes against the minority Muslims to deny their ancestral ties to Burma. As Dr. Shwe Lu Maung (Shahnawaz Khan) and other objective researchers have repeatedly shown the first settlers of Arakan were the darker-skinned people who are now known as the Rohingya. Simply put, their ties to the soil of Arakan are older than those of the Rakhine Buddhists. Obviously, facts are never important to an ultra-racist and bigot, but myth-making is to justify their eliminationist policy against a targeted minority. Thus, the indigenous, and yet endangered, Rohingya are conveniently dumped as the illegals from Bangladesh and denied their citizenship rights in Myanmar – the last apartheid state of the 21st century.
“Ahimsa,” meaning not to harm others, once considered fundamental to Buddhism, has become a forgotten principle in today’s Myanmar. The denial of existence has meant denial of rights for the minority Muslims, which in turn, has translated into their extermination in which from top to bottom every Buddhist of Myanmar is intimately linked as part of a national project to that end. What the past military governments have always wanted in terms of the minority Muslims is now done by its civilian partners in crime. After all, what was possible in a military dictatorship is no longer kosher in a hybrid civil-military government, run by a reform-minded Thein Sein! What a mockery with people’s intelligence! It is, therefore, no accident that the government security forces are silent witnesses, if not active participants, in such an eliminationist project, and are always the last ones to arrive at the crime scene when the cleansing task has already been accomplished by their fellow Buddhist terrorists. It is also no accident that while the victims are always Muslims, those jailed for taking part in clashes with marauding Buddhists – whether in the Rakhine state or in central Myanmar – are always Muslims. Not a single Buddhist has been convicted so far. What a mockery of justice in Thein Sein’s Myanmar!
In spite of decades-long campaign to eliminate the Muslim minorities of Myanmar, they are still there. It is not the Rohingya Muslims alone, there are Kaman Muslims, there are Karen Muslims, and there are Shan Muslims, there are Panthay Muslims and many others who call Myanmar their home. And this realization has made the hateful provocateurs and their local agents very angry, and more determined than ever before to finish off the eliminationist project. So, the persecuted Rohingya must now adhere to the two-child policy in clear violation of their human rights.
Ignored once again in this immoral order is the fact that Myanmar has ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which obliges State parties to respect and protect the right of women and men “to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights.”
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, has condemned the order: “These orders provide further ammunition to local authorities, including the border security force Nasaka, to discriminate against and persecute the most vulnerable and marginalized group in Myanmar.” “Only by addressing this discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities can the Government of Myanmar hope to forge integrated communities that live together in equality, peace and harmony,” he underscored.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has also called on the Government not to restrict the number of children of Rohingya people.
As to the recent pogroms, the UN has voiced concerns about violence against the Rohingyas and has adopted a resolution in the General Assembly (Number 12-59569) on “The Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar,” which urged the Government of Myanmar to accelerate its efforts to address discrimination, human rights violations, violence, displacement, and economic deprivation affecting various ethnic minorities and, expressing particular concern about the situation of the Rohingya minority. Unfortunately, the UN fell short of either proposing any action to save the victims or punishing the major culprits who are responsible for the tragedy of this unfortunate people. The nuclear Brahmins, shamelessly, are more interested in getting their shares of the pie of Myanmar than punishing the rogue, apartheid state for its monumental failure to protect the lives and properties of minority Muslims there. More sickening is the attitude of the ASEAN, which as a regional power, has failed to chastise one of its own. They must demand a stop to this extermination campaign against the minority Muslims with a definite timeline. They must ensure full citizenship and human rights of these Muslims. Otherwise, the local problem will not remain local and become a regional one endangering regional security and stability, if it has not already reached that magnitude.
Can ASEAN afford such a catastrophe in the making? How about South Asia?
Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored 10 books. His latest book – Devotional Stories – is now available from A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.