The Rohingya genocide and ambivalent Bangladesh – II

by Taj Hashmi | Published: 00:05, Sep 18,2017 | Updated: 22:59, Sep 17,2017


Rohingyas protect themself from the rain at the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar on September 17. — Agence France-Presse/Dominique Faget

INTERESTINGLY, European countries — including United Kingdom — have registered their displeasure at the recurrence of state-sponsored violence against the Rohingyas in Myanmar. British foreign secretary Boris Johnson urged Suu Kyi to end violence against the Rohingyas, immediately. British electronic and print media has been giving wide coverage of the brutal mass killing and rape of Rohingyas, and setting fire to their houses by Myanmar’s law-enforcers and civilians since long. BBC World News (TV) is not coverage away from showing documentary evidences of government-sponsored mass killings and expropriations of Rohingyas in Arakan. Instead of blaming the Rohingya victims as perpetrators of terror, The Economist has squarely blamed the Myanmar authorities for the rise of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which the weekly imputed to the Government’s ‘savage violence in 2012’ against the Rohingyas (‘Myanmar’s Rohingyas: Gory days’, September 2, 2017).
The same report reveals that the Rohingyas who live in Rakhaine ‘have long suffered persecution’, and that ‘Most are denied citizenship and therefore have little access to education or health care. They are the world’s largest community of stateless people. Strict laws govern their movement and where they can live: some 120,000 live in squalid camps as a result of past conflicts.’ Myanmar’s authorities are so paranoid and uncomfortable with the UN World Food Programme, which they believe are in cahoots with Rohingya rebels that they have decided to refuse visas to a UN human-rights team. ‘Allowing such delegates to visit would suggest Myanmar has nothing to hide. Sadly, it is keeping much under wraps’. This report along with other international media reports reveals that the latest ARSA attacks on 30 police posts and a military base on August 25 signalled the new surge of state-sponsored terrorism against the Rohingyas (Ibid).
Several other media outlets in Britain have been very forthcoming and objective in their reports on the ongoing ethnic cleansing process in Myanmar. One Guardian report tells us a thousand tales about what is going on in Arakan: ‘Gunfire and explosions crackle in the hills. Plumes of smoke from burning villages streak the monsoon-grey sky. Refugees fleeing for their lives are pouring into Bangladesh over the Myanmar border as the conflict between Myanmar security forces and Rohingya militias escalates and risks spiralling into a humanitarian disaster’ (‘Thousands of Rohingya flee Myanmar amid tales of ethnic cleansing’, Guardian, 2 September 2017). ‘Fears of mass atrocities against Rohingya civilians in Myanmar were growing after eyewitness accounts emerged of children being beheaded and people burned alive’, writes Fiona MacGregor from Yangon (‘Myanmar army ‘beheading children and burning people alive’ according to eyewitnesses’, The Telegraph, September 2, 2017).
While the US and Israel have been avowedly against ARSA and other Islamist insurgent/terrorist outfits in Myanmar, some American and Israeli media outlets and intellectuals have strong reservations about their countries’ support for the rogue regime in Naypyidaw. While responding to a petition by Israeli human rights activists who wanted their country to snap ties with Myanmar, Israeli authorities have said the relationship is ‘clearly diplomatic’. Influential Israeli daily Haaretz has recently published an op-ed which is very critical of Israel’s relationship with Myanmar government, which has expelled about 90,000 Rohingyas in one week and killed many, including 12 children. Israeli lawmakers unite to fight arms exports to countries, including Myanmar, that violate human rights (John Brown, ‘As Violence Intensifies, Israel Continues to Arm Myanmar’s Military Junta’, Haaretz, Sept 4, 2017).
It might be of some interest to people who think the so-called Muslim Ummah is in solidarity with the Muslim victims of unjust wars, persecution, and terrorism, that ‘Islamic’ Pakistan is in an advanced stage of signing a deal with Myanmar, permitting the latter to manufacture Pakistani designed JF-17 fighter planes (Naveed Siddiqui, ‘Myanmar in ‘advanced negotiations’ with Pakistan to licence-build JF-17 fighter’, Dawn, February 08, 2017). Despite all the prevalent brouhaha about the ‘solidarity’ among the members of the elusive Muslim Ummah, so far only Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Qatar have publicly condemned the Myanmar regime. Although Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have taken large numbers of Rohingya refugees — around 400,000 and 200,000, respectively — one is not sure if they are only sources of cheap labour or these countries have genuine sympathy for the poor Rohingyas!
One wonders, if Saddam Hussein could be overthrown for his persecution of Shiites and Kurdish people, why Myanmar should remain unpunished for its genocidal crime against the Rohingyas! Their situation is not that different from the Bengalis of erstwhile East Pakistan in 1971, who after March 25 were no longer willing to remain as citizens of Pakistan. They identified themselves with Bangladesh, which they fought for and liberated on December 16, 1971. Now, on the same token, I do not think it is enough to urge the military-backed Myanmar regime to treat the Rohingyas as equal citizens having equal rights and privileges. It is important to make the world understand, the Rohingyas are a nation from every definition of the expression; and are entitled to exercise their right of self-determination, under UN observation. South Sudan is the latest example in this regard.
Bangladesh should not only extend generous material and moral support to the Rohingyas — within and beyond Bangladesh — in their (what has already become) freedom struggle against Myanmar, but it should also do its best to champion the cause of human rights and dignity. It is time Bangladesh becomes more generous, assertive, and above all, a powerful voice for the freedom struggle of the Rohingyas of Arakan. Bangladeshis should never lose sight of their own history. They must affirm with no ambiguity that Arakan is integral to Bangladesh. It is a Bengali land, forcibly occupied and annexed by Burmans in 1784. The exigencies of humanity, and national pride, dignity and self-respect of the Bengali nation of Bangladesh are at stake here. Bangladesh must assert its claim over Arakan, and must be proactive in sheltering the Rohingya refugees, who are above all fellow human beings, and their not-so-distant cousins, as well.
So far, we have only seen Islam-oriented people — mainly madrasa students and teachers — publicly demonstrating against the mass killing of Rohingyas in Myanmar, only because the victims are Muslims. It is sad, although not surprising, that we only come across Muslim solidarity among conservative sections of the Muslim population in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Very few people in the Muslim world seem to have bothered to condemn the killing and persecution of fellow human beings in Myanmar or elsewhere in the world. The GOB’s not-so-friendly attitude towards the Rohingyas is partially responsible for the collective indifference of the Rohingya issue among people abroad and within Bangladesh. It is time that Bangladesh affirms the following points in the most unambiguous terms:
Rohingyas in Arakan are not Bangladeshi intruders, rather more than 50 per cent of Chittagonians are descendants of Rohingya refugees from Arakan, who came and settled there since the Burman Buddhist annexation of the independent kingdom of Arakan in 1784;
Historically Arakan and Bangladesh were parts of the bigger entity called Bengal, and they in the pre-British colonial days were at times together under the Mughals, or lived side by side as independent entities;
Bangladesh is not going to remain the main dumping ground of Rohingya refugees;
The Rohingya issue is well-beyond a subject of counterterrorism studies or a terrorist problem — it is about a persecuted minority’s right of self-determination, and a life-and-death issue for them, and the entire humanity;
Bangladesh must accept all Rohingya refugees — if the circumstances force it to do so — and must not join Myanmar, India, or any other country in its so-called quest for countering ARAS ‘terrorism’;
Bangladesh must urge the UN, China, the west, and the Muslim world, and all humanitarian aid agencies, human rights organizations, including the Red Cross and international and Bangladeshi NGOs, philanthropists, and civil societies to generously help the Rohingyas within and beyond Myanmar.
Bangladesh should mobilise public opinion across the world against Myanmar’s brutal regime, which has been engaged in the mass killing and expropriation of Rohingya minorities in Myanmar;
It is time for prime minister Sheikh Hasina to have her ‘Indira Gandhi (1971) moments’ by championing the cause of the freedom-loving Rohingyas — for the sake of humanity and just peace — by allowing Arakan to become another South Sudan of South Asia. Bangladesh just cannot remain indifferent to the Rohingya crisis, it must not abandon its own people to die at the hands of brutal Burman invaders, or live as their slaves, indefinitely;
Every society has certain taboos — cultural/religious, social, and political — set apart and designated as restricted or forbidden to associate with, or even to bring in ordinary discussion. The Rohingya issue (for some strange reasons) seems to be such a taboo in Bangladesh. Both people and government here don’t want to go beyond certain limits to have a candid discussion on the crux of the Rohingya issue, which goes beyond the subject of organized persecution and killing of Rohingyas in Myanmar.
Far from being a peripheral issue for Bangladesh — or just a ‘refugee problem for over-populated Bangladesh’ — the Rohingya issue has everything to do with Bangladesh, its identity, integrity, honour, and dignity. Both Rohingyas and Arakan are rather integral to Bangladesh, historically, culturally, and geopolitically. Now it’s time that Bangladesh asserts in unambiguous terms: ‘Rohingyas aren’t Bangladeshi intruders into Myanmar. They are Bengalis from Arakan, which is their ancestral home for more than a thousand years. Arakan and the Rohingyas are inseparable from Bangladesh and Bengalis; and Bangladesh just can’t be a dumping ground for persecuted and expropriated Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.’
Unfortunately, what we hear from the government, media, and a tiny minority of Bangladeshi intellectuals is all about asking (rather requesting) Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh; and to treat its Rohingya minority humanely. Some Bangladeshi Muslims and Islamic organisations occasionally protest the killing and persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar, seemingly only because the victims are Muslims. The problem is no longer Myanmar’s internal problem, as it was never so in the past 200 years; it has everything to do with Bengalis, and the state of Bangladesh! According to a CNN documentary (Jan 31, 2017) more than 92,000 Rohingyas have entered the country in the last one-year alone.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh government has taken two absurd decisions: firstly, it has virtually refused to grant refugee status to the Rohingyas on the flimsy ground of ‘over-population’; and secondly, it has proposed to ‘settle’ Rohingya refugees at Thengar Char, a remote, marshy, and uninhabitable island, more than 37 miles from the mainland of Bangladesh, which is often submerged in water. ‘This is a terrible and crazy idea ... it would be like sending thousands of people to exile rather than calling it relocation,’ a Bangladeshi government official told CNN recently, and he didn’t want to be named because he feared reprisals.
Although Bangladesh isn’t a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention (for some strange reasons), the country has a moral obligation to accept refugees, as the country was born, as one analyst has put it, ‘experiencing refugeehood’. During our liberation war, around 10 million people (one out of every seven of that time population) took refuge in neighbouring India. Last but not least, Bangladesh has another obligation to the Rohingya Bengalis from Arakan, which until 1784 was integral to Bengal.
A CNN documentary (Jan 31, 2016) on the plight of the Rohingya Bengalis is heart-rending and revealing. While the Rohingyas, the sons and daughters of the soil of Arakan or the Rakhaine state of Myanmar for more than one thousand years are at the receiving end of murder, rape, torture, and expropriation at the hands of Myanmar authorities and Buddhist majority, the Bangladesh authorities have remained very insensitive to these hapless refugees. They should learn as to how some western nations, especially Germany, Sweden, and Canada, have welcomed and accommodated Muslim refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Bangladesh should take a proactive role in addressing the Rohingya issue. It should pay heed to what the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Ms Alison Blake has recently told the world about the persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar in the most unambiguous terms: ‘Hearing the description of the torture from Rohingyas who fled Rakhine state in Myanmar, it seemed that it is tantamount to genocide.’ As reported in the Time magazine (March 14, 2017), Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar believes the Myanmar authorities ‘may be trying to expel the Rohingya population from the country altogether.’
It’s strange but true, while the situation for the Rohingyas in Myanmar is comparable to the plight of the victims of the Syrian civil war; the people and government in Bangladesh are at most lukewarm about the ongoing genocide of Bengali Rohingyas in Myanmar. They aren’t enthusiastic about extending whole-hearted support to the Rohingya refugees, let alone finding out a permanent solution to their problem. They even avoid raising the question: Aren’t Rohingyas Bengalis, and Arakan integral to Bangladesh? The reasons aren’t far to seek. Firstly, most Bangladeshis don’t know the actual history of the Rakhaine State of Myanmar, and the Rohingya people, who aren’t descendants of Bangladeshi intruders into Myanmar but are indigenous to the state, also known as Arakan. Bangladeshis don’t know that Arakan is an occupied territory, and the Rohingyas are the only legitimate inhabitants of the territory.
To be continued.

Dr Taj Hashmi teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University in the US. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014).

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