MYANMAR’S DILEMMA: THE MUSLIM IMMIGRANTS
Dr. Daya Hewapathirane
The Muslim community associated with Myanmar or former Burma, known as Rohingya Muslims are not indigenous to Myanmar. They are a relatively recent migrant community of Myanmar. Most of these Muslims are illicit immigrants who migrated from Muslim neighborhood regions of Bengal India during the British colonial period and later from East Pakistan or the present Bangladesh. The Myanmar government s of the past and present do not consider Rohingya Muslims as legitimate citizens of Myanmar. The people of Myanmar consider the Rohingya people as illegal immigrants. Myanmar’s Muslims account for an estimated 04% of the total Myanmar population of about 60 million. In 2012, there were about 800,000 Rohingya Muslims living in Rohang, the western state of Myanmar known officially as Rakhine or Arakan.
THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF BURMA (MYANMAR)
The indigenous people of Myanmar are ethno-linguistically Sino-Tibetan and are predominantly Buddhists as opposed to the Rohingya Muslims who are ethno-linguistically related to the Indo-Aryan Bengali people of India and Bangladesh and their religion is Islam. The language spoken by the Rohingya Muslims is different from that of the indigenous people of Myanmar. It is derived from a Indo-Aryan sub-branch of the greater Indo-European language family and is closely related to the Chittagonian language spoken in the southernmost part of the present Bangladesh bordering Myanmar. Therefore, culturally the Rohingya Muslims are quite different to the indigenous people of Myanmar.
ROHANG AND THE RAKKHITA BUDDHIST COMMUNITY
It was mostly during the British colonial period that these Muslim people crossed the borders and settled in border regions of Burma, concentrating largely in Rohang which was also known as Rakhine or Arakan, located in the immediate neighborhood of Bengal. Their numbers increased substantially during the British colonial period, and thereafter. Rakhine State consists of a population of about 3,8 million, with the indigenous Rakhine people forming the overwhelming majority in the State, who live mainly in the lowland valleys. Most of the indigenous people living in Rakhine State adhere to Theravada Buddhism. In spite of the government rule limiting Muslims to two children per family, the Muslim population in Myanmar shows an increasing trend.
According to historians of Myanmar, the name ‘Rohingya' is of recent origin and appears to have been created in the1950’s, by the descendants of the Muslim Bengali people who settled down in the Rohang or Arakan region of Myanmar. The name Rohingya has not been used or recognized in the Burma population census conducted by the British in the year 1824. It is also noteworthy that the name Rohingya is not found in any historical source in any language before the 1950’s.
Rohang is an important region of Myanmar inhabited from ancient times by the Rakkhita, Rakkha or Rakhaing people, who belong to the indigenous Buddhist community of Burma. From historic times, this was a highly respected Burmese community, well known for the honourable life they led. They were well known for their contribution to the development and preservation of the national cultural heritage and Buddhist spiritual values. These Rakkhita people had their own language and their livelihood was strongly based on Buddhist principles. The name of the state Rakhine is derived from the Pali word Rakkhita or Rakkhapura which means "the land of the Rakhasa" or Rakkha or Rakhaing.
There were striking differences in the customs, traditions and livelihood patterns of the two communities – the indigenous Burmese Buddhists of the Arakan region, especially the Rakkhita community and the Muslim immigrants from Bengal. These cultural incompatibilities and differences resulted in open conflicts between the two communities, which were well evident from about the mid 20th century. Soon violence broke out in the Arakan region and the Muslim Rohingyas became a serious threat to the people of Myanmar. Occasional isolated violence involving Myanmar's majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities has occurred for decades, even under the authoritarian military governments that ruled the country from 1962 to 2011.
BRITISH RESPONSIBLE FOR AGGRAVATION OF THE PROBLEM
According to Aye Chan, a historian at the Kanda University, communal violence between the Arakanese or the indigenous Myanmar (Burmese) Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims began during World War -II in 1942. The British were primarily responsible for the aggravation of disharmony between the Rohingya Muslims and the indigenous people of Myanmar.
During the World War, when the British were retreating, they took action to arm Muslim groups in Northern Arakan in order to create a buffer zone against the Japanese invasion. Furthermore, the British promised the Muslims living in Burma (Myanmar) at this time, that if they supported the British during the war, the Muslims will be given their own "national area" within Burma.
Once acquiring arms, the Muslim Rohingyas became a serious threat to the people of Myanmar. They soon began a spree of violence against the Buddhists of the Arakan region. They began destroying Buddhist villages in Arakan, using the firearms given to them by the British. In 1942, a major armed confrontation occurred between the Rohingya Muslims and indigenous Arakanese people which led to many casualties on both sides. Rohingya Muslims massacred about 20,000 Arakanese in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. In retaliation, about 5,000 Muslims in Minbya and Mrauk-U Townships were killed by the Arakanese.
In the mid 20th century, Rohingya Muslims living in Arakan organized into several militant groups. They formed an aggressive movement known as the Mujahideen movement which was active during the 1947 to 1961 period. There were several Mujahideen uprisings in Arakan. The aim behind the riots of the Rohingya militant groups was to separate the northern part of Arakan, or the Muslim populated Mayu frontier region and create an independent Muslim state for the Rohingya Muslims and annex it to the newly-formed Muslim East Pakistan as an exclusively Muslim country.
In 1947, when a new Islamic country of Pakistan was about to be formed, Rohingya Muslims who had already possessed arms from the British, wanted to obtain a "national area" for them within Burma, in accordance to the assurance given to them by the British. They formed the North Arakan Muslim League and met Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and requested that Mayu region of Myanmar be annexed to East Pakistan which was about to be formed. Jinnah however, was not in favour of such a move. This did not stop the Rohingya Muslims in their agitation for separation from Myanmar. During the 1960’s and early 1970’s, there were several uprisings which were popularly known as Arakan State Riots. A widespread armed insurgency started with the formation of a Muslim political party called Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam, demanding separation.
The Burmese central government refused to grant a separate Muslim state in the Mayu region and the Muslim militants of Northern Arakan declared jihad on Burma. The Mujahid militants began their insurgent activities in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships within the Mayu region that lies on Burma-East Pakistan border, led by a long-term Muslim criminal named Abdul Kassem who was a leader of the Mujahid movement. There was widespread violence in the Arakanese villagers and the Buddhist Arakanese inhabitants of Buthidaung and Maungdaw were forced to leave their homes. By June 1949, the Mujahid rebels were in possession of all of northern Arakan. In the meantime, the Mujahid extremists encouraged and supported illegal immigration into the Arakan region of thousands of Muslim Bengali people from the over-populated East Pakistan.
CONTAINING MILITARY OPERATIONS OF MUJAHID MILITANTS
When the rebellion was becoming intensified the Burmese government declared martial law and took firm action to contain the militants. This led to the subjugation of the Mujahid insurgency and the Muslim insurgents fled to the jungles of northern Arakan. Between 1950 and 1954, the Burmese army launched major military operations against the Mujahid rebels in Northern Arakan. All major centres of the Mujahids were captured and several of their leaders were subdued. Towards the end of 1961, most Mujahids surrendered, but some formed small armed groups and continued to loot, harass and terrorize the Burmese Buddhists, especially in remote regions in Northern Arakan.
THE RADICALIST MOVEMENTS (1971-1988)
During Bangladesh Libration War in 1971, the Rohingya Muslim who resided in the Myanmar-Bangladesh border had the opportunity to collect weapons. In 1972, the Rohingya Muslims formed the Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP) with activities based in the jungles of Buthidaung. Military Operation conducted by the Burmese Army in 1974 led to many Muslim insurgents fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
In March 1978, the Burmese government launched a campaign to check illegal immigrants residing in Burma. This led to many thousands of Rohingyas in the Arakan region crossing the border to Bangladesh. Arrests of illegal migrants by the Burmese army created unrest in Arakan and as a result, there was a mass exodus of around 252,000 refugees to Bangladesh.
In late 1982, the Burmese Citizenship Law was introduced and most of the Rohingyas were denied Burmese citizenship. Radical Rohingya militant group took this opportunity to recruit many Rohingya Muslims who were occupying the region along the Bangladesh-Burma border. In the early 1980s, radical Muslims formed the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) which soon became the most militant faction among the Rohingyas on the Burma-Bangladesh border. Using the Islam religious card the RSO was able to obtain various forms of assistance and support from the Muslim world, including the JeI in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami (HeI) in Afghanistan, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir and the Angkatan Belia Islam sa-Malaysia (ABIM), and the Islamic Youth Organization of Malaysia.
In 1991 and 1992, there was forced relocation of Muslims by the government and the creation of new Buddhist settlements in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. This provoked another mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh.
CONNECTIONS WITH TALIBAN AND AL-QAEDA (1988-2011)
The military camps of Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) were located in the Cox's Bazaar district in southern Bangladesh. In 1991, it possessed a large number of military equipment, including light machine-guns, AK-47 assault rifles, RPG-2 rocket launchers, claymore mines and explosives. They were equipped with UK-made 9mm Sterling L2A3 sub-machine guns, M-16 assault rifles and point-303 rifles. Afghan's Taliban instructors were associated with RSO camps along the Bangladesh-Burma border. Many RSO rebels were undergoing training in the Afghan province of Khost with Hizb-e-Islami Mujahideen.
The expansion of the RSO in the late 1980s and early 1990s made the Burmese government launch a massive counter-offensive to clear up the Burma-Bangladesh border. In December 1991, Burmese troops crossed the border and attacked a Bangladeshi military outpost. The incident developed into a major crisis in Bangladesh-Burma relations, and by April 1992, more than 250,000 Rohingya civilians had been forced out of Arakan, western Burma.
In late 1998, Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) combined to form the Rohingya National Council (RNC) with its own armed wing, gathering the different Rohingya insurgents into one group. In 2001, they underwent training in Libya and Afghanistan, in guerrilla warfare and the use of a variety of explosives and heavy-weapons. They had several meetings with Al-Qaeda representatives.
Throughout 2012 and in 2013, there have been a series of riots and much violence in Northern Arakan in the Rakhine State, between extremist Rohingya Muslims and the indigenous Rakhini or Arakanese people. Muslim fanatics are largely responsible for the outbreak of violence. The 2012 riots began after a Rakhine teenage girl was brutally raped and cut into pieces by three Muslim fanatics. This immediately led to an outrage and retaliation by the Rakhine community. This was followed by the extremist Muslims resorting to extreme forms of violence, destroying many villages in their entirety and murdering many innocent people. Those displaced by these riots exceeded 50, 000. The situation in the Rakhine state remains tense.
In 2013, the worst violence in Myanmar was in Meikhtila city, which resulted in widespread bloodshed and destruction of property, and the displacement of nearly 10,000 people who were forced out of their homes. A State of Emergency was declared and the army took control of the city. The devastation was reminiscent of last year's clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left hundreds of people dead and more than 100,000 displaced. The struggle to contain the violence has become a major challenge to the government. Buddhist and Muslim communities live in near-total segregation, constantly fearing more violence. The violence in Meikhtila city began once news spread that a Muslim man had killed a Buddhist monk. Soon, Buddhist mobs rampaged through a Muslim neighborhood and the situation quickly became out of control.
CRIME AGAINST BANGLADESHI BUDDHISTS
Buddhists of Bangladesh have been subject to untold violence by Muslims in recent years. The Chakmas form the community of Buddhists that inhabit the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Chakma Buddhist monks were forced to flee their traditional lands due to Islamic persecution and violence in the early 1990s. Some obtained Indian citizenships and formed the organization called Peace Campaign Group and are actively focusing on working against human rights violations systematically carried out by Muslims in Bangladesh.
According to Jumma Buddhists, successive governments of Bangladesh were engaged in implementing a policy of ethnic cleansing to eradicate the indigenous Jumma Buddhists. The government has settled more than 400,000 Muslim settlers in the ancestral lands of Buddhists in the Chittagong Hill Tract region. This encroachment of land owned and occupied previously by Buddhists is said to be continuing on a rapid scale even at present. In addition, more than 100,000 military and paramilitary personnel have been stationed in the Chittagong Hill Tract making life insecure and miserable for the Jumma Buddhist community. The region today is crime prone, characterized by arson, killing, rape, land grabbing, and destruction of Buddhist temples, extra-judicial arrest and detentions. Between 1986 to1989 more than 70,000 Jumma Buddhists have fled Bangladesh and sought refuge in the Tripura state of India.
ARMED STRUGGLE AND PEACE ACCORD
Violence centering on land issues has been going on in this region since 1978, when the government decided to settle Muslim people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts which is land traditionally owned and occupied by Buddhists. Many Buddhists were harassed and were forced to leave their traditional land. Owing to continued harassment the Buddhists collectively protested and launched an armed struggle during the early 1980s, demanding full autonomy for the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This continued for two decades and an Accord was signed between the Jumma People’s political party of the Buddhists and Bangladesh government in December 1997, to withdraw the new settlers and the military from Chittagong Hill Tract. Expecting a peaceful situation following the Peace Accord, many indigenous people who had fled to refugee camps in India during times of violence, started returning home, only to find their land encroached upon by Muslims. The Buddhists allege that the Accord was not respected by the government.
VIOLATION OF BUDDHIST RIGHTS
Thousands of Jumma Buddhist families who were displaced owing to violence have not been resettled as yet, and the number of poverty-stricken Jumma refugees have increased substantially. Among them are thousands of children who are deprived of their education. Human Rights abuses continue to occur with the military resorting to violence against Buddhists. On 20th April 1999, the military and Muslim settlers attacked the Jumma Buddhists at Babuchara bazaar killing and wounding many Jumma Buddhists. In recent years Muslim extremism and violent tendencies appear to have intensified. In the early part of 2010, the Chittagong Hill Tracts region was rocked by violence, flaring up decades old ethnic-religious tensions, as Muslim settlers set fire to hundreds of homes of indigenous Buddhists resulting in many deaths and many injuries. Thousands of Buddhists have been left homeless. These attacks were meant to forcibly grab land and properties of Buddhists. This violence was committed in the presence of law enforcement officers including soldiers who were Muslims. According to Jumma people, Muslim military personnel have been involved in gross human rights violations with impunity, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts for many years. Many indigenous Buddhist people of affected villages continue to live in hiding, in dense forests and some have abandoned their ancestral land and had moved to other villages and are leading desperate lives.
In the last three decades the exclusively Muslim Army of Bangladesh, motivated by religious fanaticism have caused havoc to Buddhists of Bangladesh and destroyed many Buddhist shrines and monasteries. Religious persecution and destruction of places of worship is commonplace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts ( CHT ) even in present times. Religious persecution takes place in the form of torture, murder, intimidation of Buddhist monks and deliberate and systematic destruction of their places of worship. Fanatical Muslims destroyed and desecrated the renowned "Navajyoti Buddhist Vihara" (Navajyoti Buddhist Temple) at Lalyaghona Village in Baghaichari Upazillact) breaking down many Buddha images. Muslim religious fundamentalism and intolerance of Buddhists and other religious minorities are on the rise in Bangladesh. The country’s military has become ruthless in this regard. In 2006, a group of illicit Muslim settlers led by Rafique Uddin destroyed the Buddhist temple of Challyatali village under Longadu, Rangamati and occupied the temple land.
VIOLENCE AGAINST THE THAI BUDDHISTS
Muslims are a very small minority settler community in Southern Thailand, smaller than the Muslim settler community of Sri Lanka. Their objective is to have a separate country for Muslims in Sothern Thailand. Buddhist civilians and monks have been frequent targets of Muslim attacks in Southern Thailand in recent years. In late 2005, Muslims again started killing Buddhists in Southern Thailand. The bloodshed here could mark a resurgence of a long-simmering Muslim insurgency and, some officials fear, fertile ground for Islamic terrorists. More than 500 people were killed in 2006, in three southern Thai provinces, including attacks targeting Buddhists in possible bids to drive out non-Muslims.
Authorities are investigating possible links between these Muslim separatist groups and Islamic terrorist organizations such as Jemaah Islamiyah, which seeks a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia. It is blamed for attacks including the 2002 bombing in Bali that claimed 202 lives. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an assistant professor of international relations at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University says "We have not yet seen escalation, "but I still think we may be headed from bad to worse." "The gruesome fashion of beheadings of Buddhists by Muslim assailants ... is not normal violence," said Pongsudhirak. "It is driven by deep animosity and hatred."
ISLAM AND VIOLENCE
Buddhists cannot consider Islam as a religion of compassion and peace. Those professing Islam have been the biggest enemies of Buddhists and Buddhism throughout history. There are ample historic records which describe vividly the atrocities committed against millions of Buddhists in several countries. Their criminality has not subsided in spite of their living among other religions in different countries.
It is a well known fact that Buddhism disappeared from India under the sword of Islam. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the great Indian Buddhist leader said that there is absolutely no doubt that the fall of Buddhism in India was due to the invasions of the Musalmans or the adherents of Islam. For five centuries, from the 13th to 17th centuries, most parts of India were under Muslim rule. Over 50 million Buddhists and Hindus were massacred by Islamists in greater India (which in the past included Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afganistan).
Islam destroyed Buddhism not only in India but wherever it went. Before the onslaught of Islam, Buddhism was the religion of almost the whole of Asia - ancient countries/regions such as Bactria, Parthia, Afghanistan, Gandhar, Chinese Turkestan, along with Tibet and Inner Mongolia were Buddhist nations that formed almost the whole of the Asian continent. Buddhism was the dominant religion of the people of this vast area of the Asian continent. Islam destroyed and eliminated Buddhism from almost all these countries.
Those conversant with global affairs, are aware of the fact that, especially in recent years, Muslims have become a curse to humanity, resorting to violent and unethical means of serving their religious ends, or to ‘resolve’ their obsessive religion-based issues and self-created problems. Peace and harmony in many countries in the West and East, have been impaired greatly owing to unwholesome actions of Muslim religious fanatics.
MUSLIM EXTREMISM IN SRI LANKA
Islamic community in Sri Lanka is a small non-indigenous minority amounting to about 9% of the total population. There is clear evidence of disregard and disrespect on the part of most Muslims, for the Buddhist cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. In recent years, it is noticeable from their attitude and actions, that the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has posed a threat to this predominantly Buddhist nation, its national culture, way of life and in a covert manner to the democratic principles and rule of law of the country. There is clear evidence of disregard and disrespect on the part of most Muslims, for the Buddhist cultural heritage of the country. They have been instrumental in the destruction of Buddhist archeological remains and historic cultural monuments in areas inhabited by them.
During the last few decades, the Muslims have gained strength in Sri Lanka owing to their increased economic power largely owing to tangible and moral support received from Muslim countries and also owing to the political patronage. The younger generation of Muslims are being brainwashed with extremist Islamic fundamentalism, in the so-called ‘Madrasas or exclusively Muslim schools that have sprung up in the country in recent years. The fundamentals of ‘Islam’ that are widely propagated in these Madrasas have serious negative implications as far as the national culture is concerned. Their new male and female attire displays their desire to look different and to be exclusive and separate from the nation’s mainstream. This polarization tendency of the Islamic community is self-imposed. It is definitely not because they feel marginalized. This divisive spirit of Muslims is owing to the influence of Islamic teachings to keep away from non-Muslims who are considered as inferior to Muslims. The Koran forbids Muslims to closely associate non-Muslims. Islam has dualistic ethics with one rule for Muslims and one rule for non-believers and there is no exception to this rule. Today there is increased interest in general, in the country, for the consolidation of national unity and under the circumstances, extreme forms of divisive tendencies of the Muslim community is subject to intense criticism in recent years.
The ‘Halal’ practice of animal slaughter practiced by Muslims is a most repulsive practice involving extreme form of cruelty towards animals, where animals are tied down and their throats slashed, letting their blood ooze out slowly and making animals die on their blood. This is a practice that should not be tolerated in any civilized society. In a Buddhist society where non-violence towards all living beings is a fundamental tenet, practices of this nature cannot and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. The deceitful and exploitative nature of the covert “halal’ business venture of Muslims has been exposed and action taken against it in recent years.
Muslims are well known to be running successful businesses in predominantly non-Muslim Buddhist majority areas. They have shown greater interest in furthering their own community interests and not the general public interest. They have not contributed to or invested in activities that are of common benefit, such as on hospitals, schools and other national social welfare activities. It is common practice for Muslims to refrain from hiring non Muslims in their establishments.
In Sri Lanka although they are a relatively small settler community, the Muslims insist on living an alienated and un-integrated life and are agitating for concessions specified by their Islamic religion and Muslim Shariah law. The interests of the country as a whole is not their concern, because Sri Lanka is not an Islamic country. They are least interested in joining the national “mainstream” and work towards national unity and well-being.
RISE IN ISLAMIC FUNDAMANTALISM
In the last few decades, owing to the newfound wealth of oil rich Islamic countries and massive immigration to the West, Islamic fundamentalism has been on the rise and the dormant spirit of Jihadism has been rekindled. This fervor has been translated into upheavals, revolutions and terrorism , and world peace has been put in jeopardy. Millions of lives are now in danger. Islam encourages aggressive spirit explicitly. Muslim believe that he can go to paradise if he kills non Muslims. The Quran tells Muslims to slay the unbelievers wherever they find them (2:191), do not befriend them (3:28), fight them and show them harshness (9:123), and smite their heads (47:4). It prohibits Muslims to associate with their own brothers and fathers if they are non-believers (9:23), (3:28).
Buddhists have been the most victimized and harassed religious community in the world, owing to actions of Muslims guided by their theistic traditions and beliefs. Throughout the ages the Buddhist religion experienced many calamities. As far back as in the 10th century, as a result of the Muslim invasion of what is modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the Buddhist religion which formed the basis of life of the people of this part of the world, was viciously wiped out in an act of virtual genocide. In some Asian countries indigenous Buddhist spiritual traditions have been severely weakened by decades of persecution. Muslim terror and atrocities have inflicted severe damage to Buddhism in many Asian countries, some of which were exclusively Buddhist at one stage in their histories. The destruction of the colossal Afghan Bahmian Buddha statues is not the first destruction resulting from Muslim fundamentalism.
The biggest problem with Muslims is their belief that Islam is one and only ‘chosen religion’ and Muslims are the one and only ‘chosen people’. In an Islamic state people of other faiths are not tolerated. Non-Muslims cannot establish their shrines or monasteries in any of the Middle Eastern Muslim countries. They cannot hold their religious functions or prayers in public in these countries. No meaningful dialogue on Islam or on the divisive attitudes and activities of Muslims is possible because they unnecessarily feel intimidated whenever legitimate questions on Islam or the Quran are posed. Those who question are immediately branded as racists or anti Muslim. Most Muslims lack the courage to respond to even the most abject injustices evident in Islamic beliefs and practices. . No Muslim gives any other religion a status of equality with Islam. They fail to realize that true open-mindedness consists of contemplating all premises and weighing the evidence. Reasoning involves deduction and induction. Why do Muslims cause disharmony and bring about conflicts and confrontational situations in all societies they infiltrate? Why? Buddhists need to be vigilant and need to initiate actions against the abuse of privileges, aggression and misdemeanor by Muslims.
Dr. Daya Hewapathirane