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    Rohingya Muslims should be allowed to live

    March 6, 2013
    By Ramzy Baroud
    One fails to understand the
    unperturbed attitude with which regional and international leaders and
    organizations are treating the unrelenting onslaught against Rohingya Muslims
    in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Numbers speak of atrocities where every violent
    act is prelude to greater violence and ethnic cleansing. Yet, Western
    governments’ normalization with the Myanmar regime continues unabated, regional
    leaders are as gutless as ever and even human rights organizations seem
    compelled by habitual urges to issue statements lacking meaningful, decisive
    and coordinated calls for action. 
    Meanwhile the “boat
    people” remain on their own. On Feb. 26, fishermen discovered a rickety wooden
    boat floating randomly at sea, nearly 25 km off the coast of Indonesia’s northern
    province of Aceh. The Associated Press and other media reported there were 121
    people on board including children who were extremely weak, dehydrated and
    nearly starved. They were Rohingya refugees who preferred to take their chances
    at sea rather than stay in Myanmar. To understand the decision of a parent to
    risk his child’s life in a tumultuous sea would require understanding of the
    greater risks awaiting them at home.

    Who are the Rohingyas? 

    Reporting for Voice of America
    from Jakarta, Kate Lamb cited a moderate estimate of the outcome of communal
    violence in the Arakan state, which left hundreds of Rohingya Muslims dead,
    thousands of homes burned and nearly 115,000 displaced. The number is likely to
    be higher at all fronts. Many fleeing Rohingya perished at sea or disappeared
    to be never seen again. Harrowing stories are told and reported of families
    separating and boats sinking. There are documented events in which various
    regional navies and border police sent back refugees after they successfully
    braved the deadly journey to other countries — Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh
    and elsewhere. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that nearly 13,000
    Rohingya refugees attempted to leave Myanmar on smugglers’ boats in the Bay of
    Bengal in 2012. At least 500 of them drowned.
    Who are the Rohingyas? Myanmar
    officials and media wish to simply see the Rohingyas as ‘illegal Bengali
    immigrants,’ a credulous reading of history at best. The intentions of this
    inaccurate classification, however, are truly sinister for it is meant to
    provide a legal clearance to forcefully deport the Rohingya population. Myanmar
    President Then Sein had in fact made an ‘offer’ to the U.N. last year that he
    was willing to send the Rohingya people “to any other country willing to accept
    them.” The U.N. declined.
    Rohingya Muslims, however, are
    native to the state of “Rohang,” officially known as Rakhine or Arakan. If one
    is to seek historical accuracy, not only are the Rohingya people native to
    Myanmar, it was in fact Burma that occupied Rakhine in the 1700s. Over the
    years, especially in the first half of the 20th century, the original
    inhabitants of Arakan were joined by cheap or forced labor from Bengal and
    India, who permanently settled there. For decades, tension brewed between
    Buddhists and Muslims in the region. Naturally, a majority backed by a military
    junta is likely to prevail over a minority without any serious regional or
    international backers. Without much balance of power to be mentioned, the
    Rohingya population of Arakan, estimated at nearly 800,000, subsisted between
    the nightmare of having no legal status (as they are still denied citizenship),
    little or no rights, and the occasional ethnic purges carried out by their
    Buddhist neighbors with the support of their government, army and police. The
    worst of such violence in recent years took place between June and October of
    last year. Buddhists also paid a heavy price for the clashes, but the stateless
    Rohingyas, being isolated and defenseless, were the ones to carry the heaviest
    death toll and destruction.
    And just when “calm” is
    reported — as in returning to the status quo of utter discrimination and
    political alienation of the Rohingyas — violence erupts once more, and every
    time the diameters of the conflict grow bigger. In late February, an angry
    Buddhist mob attacked non-Rohingya Muslim schools, shops and homes in the
    capital Rangoon, regional and international media reported. The cause of the
    violence was a rumor that the Muslim community is planning to build a mosque.

    World’s most persecuted people

    What is taking place in Arakan is
    most dangerous, not only because of the magnitude of the atrocities and the
    perpetual suffering of the Rohingya people, which are often described as the
    world’s most persecuted people. Other layers of danger also exist that threaten
    to widen the parameters of the conflict throughout the Southeast Asia region,
    bringing instability to already unstable border areas, and, of course, as was
    the case recently, take the conflict from an ethnic one to a purely religious
    one. In a region of a unique mix of ethnicities and religions, the plight of
    the Rohingyas could become the trigger that would set already fractious parts
    of the region ablaze.
    Although the plight of the
    Rohingya people have in recent months crossed the line from the terrible, but
    hidden tragedy into a recurring media topic, it is still facing many hurdles
    that must be overcome in order for some action to be taken. While the
    Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been making major economic
    leaps forward, it remains politically ineffective, with little interest in
    issues pertaining to human rights. Under the guise of its commitment to
    “non-interference” and disproportionate attention to the festering
    territorial disputes in the South China Sea, ASEAN seems unaware that the
    Rohingya people even exist. Worst, ASEAN leaders were reportedly in agreement
    that Myanmar should chair their 2014 summit, as a reward for superficial
    reforms undertaken by Rangoon to ease its political isolation and open up its
    market beyond China and few other countries.
    Meanwhile, Western countries, led
    by the United States are clamoring to divide the large Myanmar economic cake
    amongst themselves, and are saying next to nothing about the current human
    rights records of Rangoon. The minor democratic reforms in Myanmar seem, after
    all, a pretext to allow the country back to Western arms. And the race to
    Rangoon has indeed begun, unhindered by the continued persecution of the
    Rohingya people. On Feb. 26, Myanmar’s President Sein met in Oslo with Norway’s
    Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in a “landmark” visit. 
    They spoke economy, of course,
    for Myanmar has plenty to offer. And regarding the conflict in Arakan, Jens
    Stoltenberg unambiguously declared it to be an internal Burmese affair, reducing
    it to most belittling statements. In regards to ‘disagreements’ over
    citizenship, he said, “We have encouraged dialogue, but we will not demand that
    Burma’s government give citizenship to the Rohingyas.” Moreover, to reward Sein
    for his supposedly bold democratic reforms, Norway took the lead by waving off
    nearly half of its debt and other countries followed suit, including Japan
    which dropped $ 3 billion last year.

    Official hypocrisy

    While one is used for official
    hypocrisy, whether by ASEAN or Western governments, many are still scratching
    their heads over the unforgivable silence of democracy advocate and Noble Peace
    Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. Luckily, others are speaking out.
    Bangladesh’s Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, along with former Timor-Leste
    President Ramos-Horta had both recently spoke with decisive terms in support of
    the persecuted Rohingya people.
    “The minority Muslim Rohingyas
    continue to suffer unspeakable persecution, with more than 1,000 killed and
    hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes just in recent months,
    apparently with the complicity and protection of security forces,” the Nobel
    laureates wrote in the Huffington Post on Feb. 20. They criticized the
    prejudicial Citizenship Law of 1982 and called for granting the Rohingya people
    full citizenship.
    The perpetual suffering of the
    Rohingya people must end. They deserve that they be given their due rights and
    dignity. They are weary of crossing unforgiving seas and walking harsh terrains
    seeking mere survival. More voices must join those who are speaking out in
    support of their rights. ASEAN must break away from its silence and tediously
    guarded policies and Western countries must be confronted by their own civil
    societies: No normalization with Rangoon when innocent men, women and children
    are being burned alive in their own homes. This injustice needs to be known to
    the world and serious, organized and determined efforts must follow to bring
    the persecution of the Rohingya people to an end.