Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Hidden Face of Burma Exposed

Pictures and Video arriving from Burma about the recent unabated massacre of civilians shows something unusual that in the past use to remain unexposed. We use to see only refugee exoduses in Bangladesh and Thailand. However, in the June 2012 massacre of the Rohingyas, we began to see burning houses and Rohingya dead bodies mostly killed by machetes.  How could this happen when there was the police, NASAKA and there was also military presence to protect its citizens? Well, there is the problem: In 1982 Ne Win government by passing a constitutional Act declared Rohingyas as the non citizens of Burma. So in this crisis the government forces were protecting its Rakhine citizens but not the Rohingyas. In addition to this, the irony is that when the many name sake democratic movement leaders had been fighting against the military, the black law of 1982 was neither revoked nor condemned. Due to that in the recent massacre of the Rohingya, we see from the top military leadership, down to NASAKA, and the Rakhine police, also in the civilian front RNDP and even some democracy movement leaders closely working with Aung San Suu Kui, surprisingly took their anti-Rohingya stands and considered Rohingyas as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh. 

Fortunately, contemporary research on Rohingya origins show Rohingyas are the people of Burma.  It turned out to be that it is not so much about their origins that mattered, it is about Burmese intolerance to its ethnic minorities. More so it is with Rohingyas who live in the Arakan province, a borderland of Burma with Bangladesh. Rohingyas are also racially, culturally and religiously different from the Burmese mainstream mongoloid Rakhine-Burmese stock. This is the hidden face of racism in Burma.

It seems that racism in Burma is more than skin deep. Burma’s new military backed government, the wolf in ship’s skin also continues to call and treat Rohingyas as the noncitizens of Burma. It has been doing it in compliance with the 1982, in the name of fighting the “illegals.” Following this definition , government is not actually doing anything wrong, it is only fighting against “intruders” into Burma who according to the authority came to Burma after 1824. This is different from Aung San’s and U Nu’s understanding of the Rohingya as Burmese people. .Furthermore, in the present time, I am sure the scared little Rohingya children escaping Burma with their parents could not understand how could they enter Burma after 1824. Fortunately, history proves over and again that Rohingyas didn’t migrate to Arakan from Bengal, they were already there from the 8th century, long before the Rakhine settlement in Arakan from 10th century.(1)

Historic Burmese Invasions of Arakan

Contrary to the xenophobic understanding that Rohingyas are intruders from Bangladesh into Burma, we see, successive Burmese invasions of Arakan in the past that actually led to the settlements of nonBengali people in Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts of present Bangladesh. Arakan known in Bengal as the “mogher mulluk”(land of the lawless Moghs) wouldn’t be the choice of Bengalis to settle there. On the other hand all the tribes of Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Rohingya settlements in Southern Chittagong had Arakanese origin.(2) The most recent Arakanese settlement in Bangladesh are the Rakhines in Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh who settled there during the British period.

It is also true that it is the colonial legacy that there is perhaps not a single nation state on earth emerged after the colonial rule, where nations had a homogenous ethnic or racial group. Rohingyas of Burma are no exception to this problem in Burma.(3)

The Legacy of Rakhine Hoodlums

In Arakan state home of the Rakhine and Rohingyas, Rakhines use their own self righteous logic that the land belongs to them only.

The recent anti Rohingya outbursts in the media by mostly Rakhine xenophobes, some of whom sought asylum in the West by complaining about the military government at home are seen loud in denying the Rohingya’s Burmese citizenship. The denial and attack by hoodlums on the Rohingyas goes on for decades.

This latest Rohingya massacre shows how half a century’s long tradition of Ne Win’s rule by fanning racism took strong foothold in Burma in general and in the Arakan state in particular. By extension, we also see this time how successful the Rakhine monk and the layman have been to keep Burma on their side by hijacking the Rohingya issue. It is evident from the reports of developments that the success was made possible in the name of saving Buddhism. This is also evident in the angry comments made by Rakhine Buddhist loyalists in the print media.(4)

The Machete Massacre.

In the recent history of racism in Arakan, beginning from the early signs of Rohingya genocide when we recounted Aye Chan’s characterization of the Rohingyas as “Influx Viruses” to the the recent June 2012 machete massacre, we can see how meticulously the pogrom was carried out by the Rakhine leaders with support from the vast network in the Rakhine population with the help of Burmese government fighting the “intruders”. The military’s past record in the 1978 and 1991 and its continued denial of the Rohingya people’s citizenship rights is an undeniable guide to its involvement. (5)

Like in the past, the military’s denials to give free access to foreign media or international observers, but through some leaked sources  we see the faces of bloodied dead bodies, mostly killed by machetes, in one picture even a monk holding a gun, another monk dancing around a fire, this time, due to the available modern technology, the hidden face of Burma in Arakan is enough exposed. Like in Rwanda, in Burma as well, it was in broad light, that machetes and guns were used to kill the Rohingya. In the mean time, when the tragedy was unfolding, in Bangladesh PM Hasina has been witch hunting against Jamat was unwilling to allow the fleeing Rohingyas enter Bangladesh territory. The genocide began in small scale now continues in full swing. (6)

In the mean time, the West has been miserably fooled by the Burmese military backed government’s cat and mouse policy. This came as a promise to allowing democracy in Burma. The West in its wait and see policy also hopes that one day when Suu Kyi comes to power, she will allow the hungry entrepreneurs free access to exploit Burma’s natural resources. In reality though, every indication shows, it is never going to happen but only until the military bases that procreates racism for a divide and rule policy in Burma have drone attacks by the Western super powers coming from the sky and by land attack from Thailand and Bangladesh. This is likely to happen because Burma has both oil and its rich natural resources which would go hand in hand with a western directed movement for democracy in Burma.

In the mean time, Rohingyas continue to die on land and in the sea and the toothless UN keeps calling the continued Arakan tragedy and the fleeing of refugees a result of inter ethnic riot (strife). How can people say that when no reporters were allowed? Isn’t the same way UN experts reporting from former Yugoslavia, Cambodia and in Rwanda ignored the early signed and characterized the genocides as civil strafes until it was too late to save human lives from the knives of vigilantes and government forces. We remember only after innocent victims were silenced, there were eerie signs everywhere then only we began to call the events as genocides!

BY :   Abid Bahar.