PKKH Exclusive | by Atiq Durranni
Burma also known as Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia, bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. Burma is also the 24th most populous country in the world with over 60.28 million people. Islam is a minority religion in Burma, practiced by 4% of the population, according to the Myanmar official statistics. However, according to a U.S. State Department’s 2006 international religious freedom report, official statistics underestimate the non-Buddhist population which could be as high as 30%.
The Rohingya, or Roh, are the largest Muslim people group in Myanmar. Over 1 million live in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine (Arakan) State, along the border with Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. Roh can also be found in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. In Myanmar, a majority Buddhist nation, the Roh are more likely to say they are “Muslim” than to identify themselves with a particular ethnicity. There is evidence that Muslims have had a presence in Rakhine State for over 1000 years.
Muslims around the world have shown concern over the recent news of Genocide of the Muslims in Burma, but they don’t realize that it’s not the first time that Muslims have been killed in Burma. Bayat Wi and Bayat Ta were the first Muslims documented in the history of Burma in 1050AD. Bayat Wi was killed by the king because the king was concerned about his strength. Bayat Ta managed to escape to Baganand took refuge with King Anawratha. He married a girl from Popa with whom he had two sons, the Shwe Byin brothers. His children were also executed by the king because they refused to obey the forced labor order of the king.
Shah Shuja was the second son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the one who built the Taj Mahal. Shah Shuja lost a battle against his brother and fled with his family and army to Arakan-Burma. The King of Arakan Sandathudama (1652-1687 AD), allowed Shah Shuja to settle in Arakan. Shah Shuja wanted to go to Makah. For this purpose he needed a ship and was willing to pay with silver and gold to buy a ship. When the king came to know this he become greedy for his wealth and asked for the daughter of Shah Shuja. After the rejection of his proposal by Shah Shuja all his followers were killed. Anyone with beard was supposed to be a follower of Shah Shuja and was beheaded. Women were sent to prison where they died of hunger. In such way the Muslim refugees from India were targeted.
In 1930’s the Burmese started the ‘ Burma for Burmese Campaign’, as many people had migrated to Burma from India because India and Burma both were under British rule, the Burmese were worried that all the jobs will be occupied by these new immigrants. They marched to the Muslim (Surti) Bazaar. While the Indian Police under British Administration broke the violent demonstration, three monks were hurt. Burmese newspapers use the pictures of the Indian police attacking the Buddhist monks to further incite the spread of riots. Muslim properties: shops, houses and mosques were looted, destroyed and burned. They assaulted and even massacred the Muslims. The riot spread all over Burma and a recorded 113 mosques were damaged. Similar kind of anti-Muslim Riots also happened in 1997 and 2001.
According to the state, the recent sectarian violence began in June when three Muslims boys were accused of raping a Buddhist girl. These three boys were arrested and even sentenced to death after a trial of 4 days. One of these boys was reported to have killed himself. But the Muslim version of this incident varies from the state version. According to Muslims, two on these boys are innocent; the third one fell in love with a Buddhist girl and ran away with her. The boy was captured later and tortured to death.
Even if we accept both the versions, the case was solved and closed. The accused boys were arrested and sentenced to death. But the local Buddhist didn’t stop there, on 3rd June 2012, 11 innocent Muslims were killed by the Burmese Army and an angry Buddhist mob after bringing them down from a bus in Toungop. When Muslims protested against the killing of these men in the Muslim majority province of Arakan, they were attacked by the Army, Police and Buddhist groups. More than 50 people were killed and millions of homes were destroyed in fires. According to some unconfirmed sources more than 680 muslims were killed in just 2 days of these riots. The total number of muslims killed in Burma since June 3, is estimated to be between 20,000 and 52,000 but the exact numbers of Muslims killed is still unknown because the government has not allowed independent investigations, no UN or Human Rights activists or media has been given access in the affected areas since the violence began.
According to ARNO (Arankan Rohingia National Organization), witnesses told the Human Rights Watch that state security forces violently raided predominately Muslim villages in Maungdaw Township, firing on villagers and looting homes and businesses. In several villages, police and Buddhist groups dragged Muslims from their homes and violently beat them. Witnesses in villages outside of Maungdaw said dozens of people, including women and children, were taken away in mid-June in trucks to unknown locations, and have not been heard from since. Mass arrests of Muslims have also taken place in Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships. Witnesses in Maungdaw Township described several instances in which Buddhist men wielding sticks and swords accompanied the security forces in raids on Muslim villages. A 27-year-old Muslim told the Human Rights Watch, “Twenty-five of my relatives have been arrested.… I saw with my own eyes, two of my nephews were taken by the military and Buddhist groups. They tried to hide themselves in the large embankments in the paddy fields, but some Buddhists found them and stabbed them with long knives. They stabbed them and took them to the jail.”
According to Human Rights Watch estimated 90,000 Muslims are displaced and taking segregated refuge in temporary camps and community sites. Hundreds of Muslims fled across the nearby border to Bangladesh, where many were forced back by Bangladeshi border guards.
Surprisingly the champions of human rights UN, US, UK and other EU countries are not bothered with the killings of 50,000 Muslims or 90,000 displaced because they don’t have any interests in Burma. But on other side when few hundred people are killed by terrorists in Balochistan-Pakistan, US congressman tables a bill for Baloch right to independence. Daily human rights violations in Kashmir and Palestine are ignored but in cases such as of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya always immediate actions are required.
UN is already losing its credibility in the Muslim world. In the case of Iraq, UN/NATO was completely ignored by US. Iraq was attacked without any proper permission from UN/NATO for the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that were never found. Kashmir, the oldest dispute at the UN Agenda is still unsolved. Palestine problem is not solved by the UN where killing of innocent Palestine’s is happening on daily basis. UN is an international organization and it will have to treat all the member nations equally, if it will continue the “might is right” policy, it will soon be taken to the edge of collapse.
International Media is also silent on the killings of Muslims in Burma. They can arrange hours long talk shows and discussions against Taliban on the demolishing of Buddha statue. But when the followers of the same Buddha are killing thousands of Muslims in Burma, International media does not seem to be much bothered about that. Even our Pakistani media is not covering the news related to Muslims in effective way, they are more busy in searching bold and controversial actresses and dancers for their Ramadan transmissions; they don’t care how the Muslims of Burma will spend their Ramadan in the refugee camps in Burma, Bangladesh and Thailand.
Before it’s too late, International Media, United Nations, United States, European Union, ASEAN and Muslim World should pressurize the government of Burma to allow an independent and thorough investigation of the violence, and to ensure that the basic rights of those detained are respected. They should also call upon the Bangladesh authorities not to return or push back those fleeing violence and to provide them temporary protection.