By Asif Ahmed
Islam, mainly of the Sunni sect, is practiced by 4% of the population of Burma according to the government census. However, according to the US State Departments 2006 International religious freedom report official statistics underestimate the non-Buddhist population which could be as high as 30%, the country’s non-Buddhist populations were underestimated in the census.
Muslim leaders estimate that as much as 20% of the population may be Muslims. Muslims are spread across the country in small communities. The last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II and his family members and some followers were exiled to Yangon, Myanmar. He died during his imprisonment in Yangon and was buried on 7.11.1862. After the British took over Burma all sub groups of Burmese-Muslims formed numerous organizations, active in social welfare and religious affairs. The Indian-descended Muslims live mainly in Rangoon. The Rohingya are a minority Muslim ethnic group in Northern Rakhine State, Western Burma.
The Rohingya population is mostly concentrated in five northern townships of Rakhine State: Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Akyab, Sandway, Tongo, Shokepro, Rashong Island and Kyauktaw. The stated official policy of the government of Burma is that all all ethnic, religious, and language groups in Burma are equal.
Religious and racial riots
Under the British rule, economic pressures and xenophobia contributed to the rise of anti-Indian, and later anti-Muslim sentiment. Following an anti-Indian riot in 1930, racial tensions flared between the ethnic Burmese, Indian immigrants, and British rulers. Burmese sentiment turned against those viewed as foreigners, including Muslims of all ethnic groups. Following this, an anti-Muslim riot occurred in 1938, strongly influenced by newspapers.
Burma for Burmese Campaign
These events led to the creation of the Burma for Burmese only Campaign, which staged a march to a Muslim Bazaar. While the Indian police broke the violent demonstration, three monks were hurt. Burmese newspapers used the pictures of Indian police attacking the Buddhist monks to further incite the spread of riots. Muslim shops, houses, and mosques were looted, destroyed, or burnt to ashes. Muslims were also assaulted and killed. The violence spread throughout Burma, with a total of 113 mosques damaged.
Inquiry Committee by British
On 22 September 1938, the British Governor set up the Inquiry Committee. This committee determined that the real cause of the discontent toward the government was deterioration of socio-political and economic conditions in Burma. This report was also used by Burmese newspapers to incite hatred against the British, Indians, and Muslims. The Simon Commission which had been established to inquire into the effects of the Dyarchy system of ruling India and Burma in 1927, recommended that special places be assigned to the Burmese Muslims in the Legislative Council. It also recommended that full rights of citizenship should be guaranteed to all minorities: the right of free worship, the right to follow their own customs, the right to own property and to receive a share of the public revenues for the maintenance of their own educational and charitable institutions. It further recommended Home Rule or independent government separate from India or the status of dominion.
Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League
The BMC, Burma Muslim Congress was founded almost at the same time as the AFPFL, Anti-Fascist Peoples Freedom League of General Aung San and U Nu before World War Two. U Nu became the first Prime Minister of Burma in 1948, following Burmese independence. Shortly after, he requested that the Burma Muslim Congress resign its membership from AFPFL. In response, U Khin Maung Lat, the new President of BMC, decided to discontinue the religious practices of the BMC and rejoin the AFPFL. U Nu asked the BMC to dissolve in 1955, and removed it from AFPFL on 30 September 1956. Later U Nu decreed Buddhism as the state religion of Burma, angering religious minorities.
Ne Win’s coup d’état
After the coup d’état of General Ne Win in 1962, the status of Muslims changed for the worse. Muslims were expelled from the army and were rapidly marginalized. The generic racist slur of “kala” (black) used against perceived “foreigners” gained especially negative connotations when referring to Burmese Muslims during this time. Accusations of “terrorism” were made against Muslim organizations such as the All Burma Muslim Union, causing Muslims to join armed resistance groups to fight for greater freedoms.
Anti-Muslim riots in Mandalay (1997)
On 16 March 1997 beginning at about 3:30 p.m., following reports of an attempted rape by Muslim men, a mob of about 1,000-1,500 Buddhist monks and others gathered in Mandalay. They targeted the mosques first for attack, followed by Muslim shop-houses and transportation vehicles in the vicinity of mosques. Looting, destruction of property, assault, and religious desecration all were reported. At least three people were killed and around 100 monks arrested.
Anti-Muslim riots in Sittwe and Taungoo (2001)
Tension between Buddhists and Muslims was also high in Sittwe. The resentments are deeply rooted, and result from both communities feeling that they are under siege from the other. The violence in February 2001 flared up after an incident in which seven young monks refused to pay a Muslim stall holder for cakes they had just eaten. The Muslim seller, a woman, retaliated by beating one of the novices, according to a Muslim witness. He attested that several senior monks then came to protest and a brawl ensued. One of the monks was hit over the head by the Muslim seller’s husband and started to bleed. Riots then broke out. A full-scale riot erupted after dusk and carried on for several hours. Buddhists poured gasoline on Muslim homes and properties and set them alight. More than thirty homes and a Muslim guest house were burned down. Police and soldiers reportedly stood by and did nothing to stop the violence initially. There are no reliable estimates of the death toll or the number of injuries. More than twenty died according to some Muslim activists. The fighting took place in the predominantly Muslim part of town and so it was predominantly Muslim property that was damaged.
In 2001, Myo Pyauk Hmar Soe Kyauk Hla Tai , The Fear of Losing One’s Race, and many other anti-Muslim pamphlets were widely distributed by monks. Distribution of the pamphlets was also facilitated by the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a civilian organization instituted by the ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Many Muslims feel that this exacerbated the anti-Muslim feelings that had been provoked by the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in the Bamyan Province of Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch reports that there was mounting tension between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Taungoo for weeks before it erupted into violence in the middle of May 2001. Buddhist monks demanded that the Hantha Mosque in Taungoo be destroyed in “retaliation” for the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Mobs of Buddhists, led by monks, vandalized Muslim-owned businesses and property and attacked and killed Muslims in Muslim communities. On May 15, 2001, anti-Muslim riots broke out in Taungoo, Bago division, resulting in the deaths of about 200 Muslims, in the destruction of 11 mosques, and setting ablaze of over 400 houses. On this day also, about 20 Muslims praying in the Han Tha mosque were beaten, some to death, by the pro-junta forces. On May 17, 2001, Lt. General Win Myint, Secretary No. 3 of the SPDC and deputy Home and Religious minister arrived and curfew was imposed there in Taungoo. All communication lines were disconnected. On May 18, the Han Tha mosque and Taungoo Railway station mosque were razed by bulldozers owned by the SPDC .The mosques in Taungoo remained closed until May 2002, with Muslims forced to worship in their homes. After two days of violence the military stepped in and the violence immediately ended. There also were reports that local government authorities alerted Muslim elders in advance of the attacks and warned them not to retaliate to avoid escalating the violence. While the details of how the attacks began and who carried them out were unclear by year’s end, the violence significantly heightened tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.
Siddharta Gautama Buddha very rightly said “However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”
But I don’t think Rakhine Buddhists are in a state anymore to ponder over it. Muslims in Burma’s western state of Rakhine have been subjected to attacks, arbitrary arrests and were abused in the weeks since ethnic clashes erupted, according to a report. According to a report by Amnesty International, hundreds of people were detained in the areas where Muslim Rohingya people live after an emergency was declared in Rakhine in June after deadly clashes between Buddhists and Muslims. Amnesty accused Burmese security forces as well as ethnic Rakhine Buddhist residents of assaults, unlawful killings of Muslims and the destruction of property. A state of emergency was declared in Rakhine in June after deadly clashes between Buddhists and Muslims. Since then, hundreds of people have been detained in the areas where Muslim Rohingya people live, a spokesman said. The government has dismissed the allegations as “groundless and biased”. Win Myaing, a government spokesman for Rakhine state, told the Associated Press news agency that the claims are “totally opposite of what is happening on the ground”, adding that the region was calm. But although communal violence has eased since the unrest in June, violations by the security forces appear to have increased, rights groups say. “Most cases have meant targeted attacks on the minority Rohingya population and they were bearing the brunt of most of that communal violence in June and they continue to bear the lion”s share of the violations perpetrated by the state security forces,” Amnesty researcher Benjamin Zawacki said.
Anti-Muslim riots in Rakhine (2012)
Buddhists started another genocide in Rakhine in June 2012, after Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has said Rohingya Muslims must be expelled from the country and sent to refugee camps run by the United Nations. It all started on 3rd June 2012 when 11 innocent Muslims were killed by the Burmese Army and the Buddhist mobs after bringing them down from a bus. A vehement protest was carried out in the Muslim majority province of Arakan, but the protestors fell victim to the tyranny of the mobs and the army. More than 50 people were reported killed and thousands of homes destroyed in fires as Muslim-ethnic Rohingya and Buddhist-ethnic Arakanese clashed in western Burma. While the idea of monks actually leading rioters may seem unusual, certain details make it less so.
Burma’s large and much feared military intelligence service, the Directorate of Defense Security Intelligence, is commonly believed to have agents working within the monk-hood. Human Rights Watch also reported that monks in the 2001 riots were carrying mobile phones, a luxury not readily available to the Burmese population, as very few without government connections can afford them. It is also reported that there was a clear split between monks who provoked violence and those who did not. It has been suggested by Human Rights Watch and others that these facts may reflect the presence of agents provocateur among the monks.
Embassy of Myanmar statement in New Delhi
Amidst spreading anger among Muslims in India over the killings of Muslims in Myanmar, the Embassy of Myanmar in New Delhi has come up with first official and detailed explanation about the violent clashes, its origin and the measures the Government of Myanmar has adopted to control the situation and provide relief to the victims. According to Myanmar Ambassador Zin Yaw, what has happened recently in the Rakhine State of Myanmar was violent clashes and riots between Buddhists and Muslims in the state – it was not one-sided killing of Muslims by another group with the support of the state. According to Yaw, only 79 persons comprising members of both communities have been killed in the riots that started on 30th May 2012. He termed the photos of mass killings of Muslims as fake and described the reports as baseless accusations.
According to the BBC, the group also said that authorities allowed Rakhine youth to assault Rohingyas in custody. The group also alleged that Burmese authorities took part in looting of shops and homes belonging to Rohingya. The government has, however, dismissed the allegations as ‘groundless and biased’. Win Myaing, a government spokesman for Rakhine state, said the claims are ‘totally opposite of what is happening on the ground’. Amnesty accuses Burmese security forces as well as ethnic Rakhine Buddhist residents of assaults, unlawful killings of Muslims and the destruction of property. “Most cases have meant targeted attacks on the minority Rohingya population and they were bearing the brunt of most of that communal violence in June and they continue to bear the lion’s share of the violations perpetrated by the state security forces,” Amnesty researcher Benjamin Zawacki told the BBC’s Viv Marsh. Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Project, which focuses on Rohingyas in the region, also told our correspondent that hundreds of Rohingya Muslims had been arrested, with allegations that some had been beaten and even tortured. “Shortly after the main violence… then we start seeing a new phase of, I would say, state-sanctioned abuses, where especially in Maung Daw… we heard on a daily basis about mass arrests of Rohingya,” Ms Lewa told the BBC. The Arakan Project also says that some Rakhine, particularly those found with weapons, were arrested. It is difficult to verify any of the information provided by such sources, as journalists cannot access the area.
Violence between Buddhists and Muslims flared after the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in May, followed by an attack on a bus carrying Muslims. Communal unrest continued in parts of Maung Daw as Muslims attacked Buddhist homes. Reprisal attacks then targeted Muslim homes and communities. The attacks left many dead and forced thousands of people on both sides to flee their homes. There have been long-standing tensions between Rakhine people, who are Buddhist and make up the majority of the state’s population, and Muslims, many of whom are Rohingya. Many Rakhine Buddhists have said that much of the violence in June was carried out against them by Rohingya groups. Rohingyas say they have been forced to flee because of the violence. Earlier this month, Burma’s President Thein Sein said the “solution” for the Rohingya was deportation or refugee camps.
There’s never any justification for killing people anywhere in the world. In this case, yeah Muslims are being wronged and killed, but killing of even an atheist or a non-Muslim would be wrong. And keeping mum about this injustice is a shame. Anyhow, you can’t expect much when the Burmese President Thein Sein had himself stated that deportation or refugee camps were the only solutions to the Rohingya crisis. What kind of solution is this? He sounds more of a chicken. Why is he scared of his own people? Up to 90,000 people have been displaced so far & that’s a huge number. Anyhow, Amnesty International has called on Myanmar’s parliament to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law to ensure that Rohingyas are no longer stateless. I just hope this mad killing, raping & torturing come to an end. Moreover, laws need to be amended in the state of Burma. I believe it’s high time. But I’m amazed to read some of the comments on pages & sites. People love to act smart & that’s about it. I wonder do they really care or they just scribble insensitive comments to prove they are smart to themselves cause I don’t think anyone else is interested.
Since they are all so damn unreadable that one can’t even continue to read what they are babbling. Anyway, this is the case anywhere check out any status on FB particularly of fake creatures, people just love to prove something. And the only question that pops up in my mind is that: are you really all that good or you trying to pretend you care about humanity?
Suu Kyi mum on ethnic cleansing of Muslims
This is very strange fact and It’s a paradox for world to know that the Buddhists who were historically so peaceful people, they were non-violent, most of their history they were non-violent, and now certainly this is a huge shock. It is a catastrophe! Not owning them, that is the government and even this Nobel prize winner, the lady Aung San Suu Kyi is so Calmly silent about the problems of this minority in Myanmar. In the end after a long gap the Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, addressed the issue some weeks ago at a press conference in London, saying, “ethnic conflict plaguing the country” should be investigated and “dealt with wisdom.”This is not acceptable for a Person of such Reputation. Of course, there are internal problems, other problems which contribute, that the system is antiquated, it is very old, including the banking system, the labor community, the economic isolation. All those aided to the miseries of the [different] communities in Myanmar including Buddhists and the Muslims. These incidents have a very bad and negative impression on Buddhism especially the Theravada Buddhism, when Buddhism is considered to be the most compassionate religions of the world. How are the followers of Lord Buddha, Burmese Buddhist in general, and Rakhine Buddhist in particular, practice their compassion to the other human being not similar to them, when in face. Lord Buddha has showed several ways to curb their own passion and desires.
The Chinese Factor
Burma is under populated of less than 60 million while all our immediate neighbours Thailand in the East and Bangladesh in the West have far more population, even though their land area is much more smaller than Burma. This does not count our giant neighbours of India and China. Naturally all our neighbours want to dump their excess population into Burma with rich natural resources. The immediate problem where both legal and illegal immigration is concerned is the Chinese in the east and so much Bengalis in the West. The immediate problem where both legal and illegal immigration is concerned is the Chinese in the east and not so much Bengalis (Muslims) in the West. A rough estimate put that there are more than 4 million Chinese immigrants in Burma so much so that Mandalay, the second capital of Burma is called 2nd Beijing as most of the business area and the city has been taken over by the Chinese while the locals have moved to the suburbs. This does not included the illegal Chinese coming across the border areas posing as ethnic nationalities. So why did the Tatmadaw did create this Mujahid problem when it tried its level best to placate the local outburst against the Chinese? The Burmese saying of not being able to conquer Kalar beat up the Rakhine was skillfully turned into being unable to tackle the Chinese turned on to Kalar. Will the Thein Sein Administration ever challenge the illegal Chinese as many of them have become local quarters and township chairman? The Burmese army is too afraid to tackle on the Chinese, as it has to depend on them not only arms and ammunition but also the diplomatic support without which all of them would now be standing trial in Hague. The Generals security came first then the security of Burma. But at the same time they know the real situation and to tackle this Chinese problem it must get the Western support and this is the main reason of letting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to come back to the political field. Naturally, the resource hungry West falls into this trap. The country is heading for democracy, equality, free trade and probably federal type with the 2nd Panglong Conference and all its citizens can chose to reside anywhere else in the country provided they respect the local laws and authority. But not the aliens. Since there is much influx of Chinese, the government can confine them to Western Burma where now the majority of the Mujahid resides, this is feasible as China is constructing a fast railroad with the gas pipe line schedule to complete in 2013-14. Confined these China-men to that area of the Rohingya. Then send all these so call Mujahid/Rohingyas to the eastern part of Burma where there are lots of land with a favourable weather and they can take out their lives there. (Burma: Killing Two Birds With A Stone Or A Win, Win Situation by Kanbawza Win)
Current Ongoing Situation in Burma
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has said Rohingya Muslims must be expelled from the country and sent to refugee camps run by the United Nations.The former army general said on Thursday that the “only solution” was to send nearly a million Rohingya Muslims — one of the world’s most persecuted minorities — to refugee camps run by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UN says decades of discrimination have left the Rohingyas stateless, with Myanmar implementing restrictions on their movement and withholding land rights, education and public services. Now the problem is that the government says that these people do not belong to Myanmar. This is something which is not acceptable. It is an international tragedy. It is something that those people belong to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Now they stand as such, as you see, they are being eliminated. This ethnic cleansing is absolutely an international tragedy. Fighting in Mynamar’s Kachin and Rakhine provinces has reignited the threat facing the Rohingya after a nearly two- decade ceasefire between Myanmar’s armed forces and Rohingyan insurgents. The fallout has displaced at least 70,000 people and as many as 90,000 according to reports from human rights agencies.This has been going on for the last 30 years but nobody knew about it. The persecution was there but it was not of such a huge scale as it is now. This is absolutely incorrect that they are outsiders, that they must be thrown out. This is ethnic cleansing and the Myanmar government is lucky in the sense that the Muslim world, the majority of the Muslim peoples around the world do not know about this tragedy. Now the government of Myanmar does not recognize Rohingya Muslims as citizens, despite their claims to the land in Myanmar’s Rakhine province that dates hundreds of years. They have been accused of being ethnically tied to neighbouring Bangladesh and are diminutively called “Kalar,” a slur against their darker skin. However, Bangladesh does not recognize them, largely crowding them into camps like the one at Shahburi Bib, where the Rohingya are largely left stateless.
Solving the situation would take time, effort, education, discussions and compromise. Addressing the Citizenship Law, improving the overall economic and social situation of Rakhine State and tackling demographic issues would be some of the steps crucial to diffusing the tension. As both sides argue incessantly on the basis of history, clarifying the region’s history might also help to some extent. Separating the two communities, as the government has currently done for short-term security reasons, would temporarily alleviate the violence but will only reinforce mutual distrust in the long run. Involvement by uninformed external parties galvanized by embellished statements would only serve to further complicate a delicate solution. The Burmese government, used to quelling such incidents through force, is only starting to figure out how to settle such matters without the gun and by properly addressing human security issues.
The president of India’s Jamiat Ulma-i-Hind has voiced concern about the massacre, calling for an end to the humanitarian crisis in the country. Maulana Syed Arshad Madani lashed out at the Myanmar government for being indifferent to the massacre of Muslims by extremist Buddhists. He also criticized the silence of the international community and human rights organizations across the world about this humanitarian tragedy. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has voiced its concern over the recent violence in the state of Rakhine and the varying reports which have leaked out as to the number of the Muslims killed. As reported by the Time Turk News Agency, over 1,000 Rohingya Muslims have been murdered thus far in the conflicts that broke out in the region. The Rohingyas are currently undergoing one of the most violent episodes of their history, and their suffering is one of the most pressing issues anywhere in the world. Yet their plight is suspiciously absent from regional and international priorities, or is undercut by giddiness over the country’s “ample resources of hydro-carbons, minerals, gems and timber. The Muslim world bears a historic moral responsibility in choosing to ignore the continuous ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas. Some Muslim Organisations want the Dalai Lama to speak out against those atrocities to show the entire world in general, and the Muslim world in particular that Buddhism condemns these grave human rights violations against Muslims. As said we need Dalai Lama in the spirit of this blessed month of Ramadan to send a message of love, peace, and comfort to the victims of those horrible incidents in Burma, their families and loved ones but the authority and following of Dalai Lama among Burmese Monks is not very popular because they have different religious sect. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has stressed the need for the authorities to take steps to address the “long-standing issues of deprivation of citizenship, freedom of movement, and other fundamental rights” that plague the welfare of the Rohingya people. Amnesty International has called on Myanmar’s parliament to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law to ensure that Rohingyas are no longer stateless. “Under international human rights law and standards, no one may be left or rendered stateless. For too long Myanmar’s human rights record has been marred by the continued denial of citizenship for Rohingyas and a host of discriminatory practices against them.
Asif Ahmed, is Assistant Professor. Defence & Strategic Studies. Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra. (Haryana) India [email protected]
The author’s opinons are his own.
1. Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine state ‘abused’ – Amnesty
2. Muslims in Rakhine state are abused, arbitrarily arrested’
3. Attacks against Muslims in Myanmar
4. Islam in Burma http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Burma
7. Burma: Killing Two Birds With A Stone Or A Win, Win Situation by Kanbawza Win http://www.eurasiareview.com/19072012-burma-killing-two-birds-with-a-stone-or-a-win-win-situation-oped/