Dr. Habib Siddiqui
In his book - Worse Than War - Daniel Jonah Goldhagen says that during mass murders, the murderers themselves, their supporters and those who wish to stand idly by practice linguistic camouflage. And this has been the case with the apartheid regime in Myanmar when it comes to its national project towards exterminating or purging out the Rohingyas.
When asked by an independent reporter Barb Weir (from deLiberation) to comment on Rohingya citizenship crisis, an Interior Ministry official working for the Myanmar government said: “After trying for many years to connect them to neighboring countries, we finally have decided that they are most likely the descendants of Swiss nationals that came to Myanmar many centuries ago and lost their passports. Unfortunately, their birth records were lost in an avalanche in Switzerland and so we cannot prove their origin. However, we are negotiating with Switzerland to repatriate them.”
When asked by the reporter about the origin of these “illegal immigrants”, the govt. official said, “I told you. They’re Swiss. And besides, they’re Muslim. The Rohingya Muslims are a demographic bomb for Myanmar. We want to remain Buddhist and democratic, and Muslim Rohingyas are a threat to our existence. Muslim self-determination has been expressed in dozens of countries. Why don’t the Muslim countries take them? They don’t belong here.”
When asked if he was worried about being accused of practicing apartheid policy, the official said, “We’re not worried.”
That tells us all we need to know about the mindset of the Myanmar government vis-à-vis the Rohingya people, not that we did not know what to expect from a representative of that apartheid regime. If you were looking for hearing from the horse’s mouth, we have it in President Thein Sein’s statement, released in early July. His office said that it would not recognize the Rohingya and would hand over responsibility for them to the U.N.’s refugee agency in Arakan State, adding that it was also “willing to send the Rohingyas to any third country that will accept them.”
But frankly speaking, I was rather shocked at the level of haughtiness demonstrated by the interviewee from the Interior Ministry. The interview truly epitomizes denial and arrogance.
Myanmar government wants to portray the Rohingyas as outsiders who had intruded into the country illegally. This small minority, according to official estimate of only 800,000 living in a country of some 56 million, is even depicted as a demographic bomb, threatening Buddhist lifestyle. I did not know Buddhism is that frail. Funny that the Thein Sein regime is even touted as a reform-minded government! If this be the attitude towards a persecuted minority one wonders how appalling it must have been during previous military regimes.
The Rohingyas, of course, are neither Swiss nor from Switzerland, and Switzerland is not Bangladesh either. No matter how the apartheid regime in Myanmar feels untroubled or gleeful about their own savagery and horrendous treatment of this persecuted people, the Rohingyas are from Myanmar or what used to be officially known as Burma. No denial of their existence can obscure this historical fact. It is also ludicrous to imagine that such a small tiny minority could be a threat to Buddhism.
For decades what used to be whispered (and/or unheard by others) in government circles before the latest pogrom was unleashed against the Rohingyas of Burma (Myanmar) has now become somewhat audible for all to hear. Thanks to the new-found guarded openness of the regime. We may not like what we hear though; after all, these are spiteful words – lies - coming from some of the worst racists of our time. But they are brutally candid about disclosing their inner hideous thoughts.
Their recent statements clearly show that for the past half a century, the Burmese government ultimately has been the author of its own actions – their genocidal campaigns, their repeated pogroms, and their apartheid character to eliminate the Rohingya people one way or another. It is this policy which has led to forced exodus of more than a million of Rohingyas, let alone the inhuman condition that their people are subjected to day in and day out inside Myanmar.
As we have witnessed in the past with the Jews of Germany, Bosnian Muslims of former Yugoslavia, Kosovars of Kosovo of former Greater Serbia (and former Yugoslavia), and victims of Rwanda and Burundi, any time such mass extermination or eliminationist projects are launched, it is always about societies and their cultures that contribute to the circumstances that produce extermination plausible as a group or national project -- a project that is led by the state, supported by a good percentage of the nation or its dominant group or groups, and which employs large institutional and material resources.
With the current ethnic cleansing in Arakan against the Rohingyas, we are once again reminded of this ugly truth that it is a national project in Myanmar led that is by a criminal neo-Nazi regime where a good percentage of Rakhine and Burman majority -- brainwashed by their own brand of Julius Streicher in the likes of (late) Aye Kyaw, Aye Chan, Khin Maung Saw and others – are willing participants. The extremist Rakhine politicians and Buddhist monks play their respective roles providing the justification and necessary institutional and material resources for such extermination projects.
As noted by Goldhagen, the targeted groups come to be seen as deleterious to the well-being of the executioner (often a majority) group. In some instances people deem the group’s perniciousness so great that they want to eliminate it. “In some of the cases such beliefs become socially powerful and coalesce into an explicit public and political conversation about elimination.”
And that is what has happened with the targeted Rohingya people. As part of a very calculated, sinister plan, the unfortunate murder of a Rakhine woman was used as the backdrop to simmer hatred and start the latest extermination campaign against the Rohingya people. It is not difficult to understand why the alleged criminal conveniently died in the prison so that no one would ever know the truth and whether or not he was used as a pawn in what was to follow. Thus, instead of a much anticipated inquiry report on grisly murder of ten Burmese (not Rohingya) Muslims in early June, we heard President Thein Sein’s statement that the Rohingyas cannot live inside Myanmar.
As I have noted earlier, crimes at individual levels happen in all societies. But only in eliminationist projects are such crimes used to justify elimination of a targeted group. To do this, the Myanmar regime has employed all five principal forms of elimination - transformation, repression, expulsion, prevention of reproduction, or extermination of the Rohingya people. In spite of world condemnation, the regime, once again backed by its monks and mobs, refuses to allow outside inquiries and refuses to provide necessary food and shelter to the suffering Rohingya victims in this hot summer month of fasting.
So overwhelming is this criminal national project and its scope that when asked to comment about Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s ignoble comments about the Rohingya, the ministry official said, “She has to equivocate on Rohingyan rights. However, we are confident that just like Nobel laureates Shimon Peres and Barack Obama, she will do the right thing and overlook injustice toward undesirable populations.” Ah, we should have known not to build false hopes with people that have mastered the art of double-talks, who talk about ‘sympathy’ and not ‘rights’!
So, what comes next?
President General Thein Sein has publicly stated that the Rohingya people should be expelled and the UN should take their charge. This is racial discrimination, plain and simple. It is an apartheid policy that has no place in the 21st century. The military regimes that preceded Thein Sein have been practicing this Burmanization and Buddhization policy of the country for the last few decades. When General Ne Win assumed power in 1962, he quickly nationalized all businesses and Muslims were the biggest losers. He also purged the armed forces and the civil bureaucracy of Muslims. Many fled (including those with Burmese or Karen spouses) to neighboring East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), Thailand, West Pakistan (now Pakistan), UAE and Saudi Arabia. Anti-Muslim riots took place in Mandlay in 1997 and again in 2001. Some two dozen campaigns have also been directed against the Rohingya people to exterminate or evict them from their ancestral homeland in Arakan.
The real power in Myanmar still lies with the generals. President is their front man. They would continue to make sure that they control government and that the head of the state is a Burman from the majority race. To maintain their tight grip of power, they have created a toxic cocktail of ultra-nationalism (which is pure racism) and religious intolerance (which is bigotry) where the government patronized bare-feet monks are the flag-bearers of this new Myanmar. It is no accident that Nazi insignia - signs and symbols - are hot sales amongst the Rakhines and many Burmans today. They see themselves as the Fascist Germans of the Hitler-era ready to weed out their ‘Jewish peril’ – the Rohingyas totally. Even the so-called democracy movement icons and leaders have proven to be closet racists and bigots. Indeed, with the advent of a semblance of democracy, majority Buddhists feel they now have a license to kill and persecute minorities. This is tyranny of the majority at its worst.
It is high time that the UN and the international media take notice of this grave historic injustice to the Rohingyas of Myanmar. The Thein Sein regime must be obliged to accept the Rohingyas as equal citizens failing which the entire region would be forced to settle for decades of instability, something nobody wants. It is for the good of Myanmar that it fulfills its international obligations for reaffirming fundamental human rights, securing the life and dignity of the minorities within its territory, as are very clearly enshrined in the preamble of the Charter of the UN. The sooner the better!