Religion and the Rohingya

The Buddhists of Myanmar have gone ape on the Rohingya Muslims, who co-inhabit the northern Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh. This is ethnic cleansing – a concerted effort to have the Rohingyas either leave (“return,” in the eyes of the Burmese) for Bangladesh or simply perish. And this isn’t the first time this has happened. “King Dragon Operation” by the Burmese military in 1978 successfully drove out 200,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh and another 250,000 in 1991. Why Buddhists, adherents of the religion that is actually seen as the “religion of peace,” would take to such crimes is shocking the entire world, and many are considering that perhaps there is some genuine merit to their cause, even if their actions are beyond contempt. Especially because their targets are Muslim. Funny how, if you keep looking through the lens of faith, bloodshed begins to justify itself.

Fear is the cause of this religious mayhem. The Burmese are aware of “Jihad” being waged across the region; they are aware of the bloody nature of Muslim separatism that took place in India and is on-going in Thailand, China, Indonesia and the Philippines. “Jihad” for an Islamic state in Rakhine had broken out in the years following the country's independence in 1948, until it was crushed by the military in the 1960s. The Burmese fear is that without striking first, the situation will be reversed in the way of the Muslims throwing out their Buddhist neighbors and demanding a Sharia State. Rohingyas speak a language that is closer to Bengali and the Burmese claim they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Although the movement of people from southern Bengal into northern Myanmar has been going on for centuries, there may be some credence to Burmese claims in light of the large-scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh that has repeatedly affected the northeastern states of India.

Burma is a multi-ethnic nation (with more than 130 ethnic groups officially recognized, except the Rohingyas), and the reformist government has been making substantial progress in resolving the separatist insurgency in the Kachin State by talks with the groups in question. However, no such “outreach” has been attempted with the Rohingyas, who are spoken of only as insidious foreign infiltrators. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent her entire life fighting the Burmese military repression of the people and imprisoned for her pains, has made no effort on behalf the victims. While praising the peace talks with rebel groups, she becomes mealy-mouthed about the Rohingya situation, refusing to comment on whether they really are “illegal immigrants.” Being anxious about your country being cut into pieces is understandable, but that doesn't explain why Buddhist monks, supposedly sworn to “Ahimsa” (Non-violence) will use icons of the Buddha to fire up the mobs that burn down villages and mosques.

The World Powers Respond...or Not

The Muslim world is enjoying the publicity of the “heartless”, “Islamophobic” world ignoring the terror-struck Rohingyas, but is unwilling or unable to do more than raise a hue and cry for “Islam,” not the people of the Rakhine State. The West does not want to put such pressure on the Burmese government that will push it back into an isolationist, repressive state of mind. The West and India do not wish to lose the race for lucrative contracts to China, which doesn't bother itself with humanitarian issues. The timing is perfect for the Burmese Buddhists. President Obama, who felt brave enough to call out Catholics and Protestants on school segregation in Northern Ireland and speak for gay rights in Senegal, missed out when he made his landmark visit to Myanmar last November. The Indian media reports that the only people preparing to take action are the terrorist groups, led by Hafiz Saeed of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the mastermind of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, India. The plans are for Pakistani and Bangladeshi terrorists to hook up to train Rohingyas in the art of Jihad. Expect all existing sympathy for the Rohingya to evaporate the moment the first suicide bomber explodes himself in a Yangon market and Myanmar becomes another ally on the war on terror. The mullahs do not care how many Rohingyas kill themselves in their effort to kill Buddhists, nor how many Rohingyas get killed in turn. Their mission is to secure a comfy seat in Allah's paradise by planting Arab culture and superstitions in the name of “truth” wherever they can.

What would you suggest to the Rohingyas? They have nowhere really to go - Bangladesh is densely populated, desperately poor and short on everything from food to jobs to clean water. India and Pakistan fare only marginally better. Perhaps embracing Buddhism to express loyalty to Myanmar? Possible, but leaving Islam means death at the hands of the other believers, and adopting Buddhism is just buying into another pack of delusions that in this case, isn't even decorated with “peace.” Indeed, it would reward the Buddhist fascists, and capitulating to your would-be murderers is both cowardly and no assurance of life. Demanding a separate state while keeping the mullahs at arm's length? Not really, as it ensures endless hatred and justifies Burmese repression against a hopeless cause that has no allies. Adopting the mullah's way? Burmese repression justified with global backing. Yet none of these ideas would seem inherently impossible to people who wash their clothes in dirty water and whose children have to play next to dumps of putrid defecation and sewage. Waiting outside squalid “refugee camps” are only the people wishing they were dead, and within are the people who perhaps wish they were never born.

The Solution?

To solve this crisis of many roots and branches, the poison of religion has to be extirpated from the bloodstream of the nation. Taking the lens of faith away reveals to us a horribly vulnerable people, pushed into a desperate corner, with only exile or death as exits. Removing Islam ends the fears of a “jihad” for yet another Arabia in the middle of Myanmar. Removing Buddhism ends the inherent suspicion and fear of all peoples non-Buddhist, and allows believers to realize they were making Slobodan Milosevic proud. Ethnic and linguistic differences can then be talked over, as they are in the other states. A national identity that excludes bigoted books of faith can make the Bengali-descended peoples an important part of the Burmese way of life. Has the successful confluence of the Irish and English - bitter, historical enemies in their lands of origin - in the constitutionally secular and non-religious United States not proven that? Closer examples of progress through ethnic cooperation includes a federal, secular India. Impossible it may seem, but throwing the Qur'an and the Buddhist Canons into the Bay of Bengal is the only way to grant a true fresh start to a people who have perhaps forgotten what “hope” is supposed to feel like.

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