Tariq A. Al-Maeena
While most of the media’s attention is focused on Syria, the state of the euro or the US presidential elections, very little is being said about state sponsored ethnic cleansing in Myanmar or Burma. Perhaps it is because the unfortunate victims happen to be Muslims and there are no strategic gains to be garnered by allying with them.
Ten Burmese Muslims on their way to a spiritual place of worship last month were attacked by a large number of Rakhine Buddhists who butchered and killed them with knives. Five others escaped. One man from the village where the attack took place said a mob of ethnic Rakhines set upon the bus carrying the pilgrims and carried out the massacre.
“More than a hundred people beat and killed those people. The residents even torched the bus,” he said, adding that the police arrived but were unable to control the baying crowd. “There are not many people at the scene now, only dead bodies on the road. The senior town residents are trying to comfort the people,” the man added. The Rakhine Buddhists are also threatening Muslims from the other towns of Rakhine state with the same fate.
There was a lot of fanfare and noise by the West on the repressions by the military regime against its people. The pressure by Western governments intensified in the form of sanctions against the regime which resulted in the generals allowing a small amount of democracy to creep in.
This also brought notable Burmese activists working for democracy such as Aung San Suu Kyi to the front pages and television screens and calls for the continued democratization of the country. Amidst this fanfare of publicity, the plight of the minority Muslims somehow failed to attract any headlines or generate any sanctions.
A government statement following the massacre of the Muslims last month which was published in the New Light of Myanmar added more fuel to the burning embers when it warned against “anarchic and lawless” acts, but referred to the victims as “kalar” (blackie), a racial slur used for persons of Indian appearance.
Dozens of people marched in Yangon to protest growing anti-Muslim violence and accused the government of stoking the flames of sectarian tensions. Political leaders and civil society groups appealed for calm and called on the government to issue an apology.
“The newspapers should not stoke this conflict. Are they trying to suggest that one race is more violent than another?” said an MP from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. The state media has since issued a retraction for the use of racially offensive language in its official appeal for calm and urged readers to refer to the victims as “Islamic residents”.
In the past, the Nobel Prize winner and democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy have gone to great lengths to avoid discussing the country’s Muslim minority, especially the Rohingyas, for fear of alienating many of their supporters. But following the brutal slayings, which was one more chapter of targeted violence against the Muslim minority, she was compelled to speak out.
Finally breaking her silence, she joined the fray in the debate by calling for the perpetrators to be held to account in accordance with the rule of law. She added that “the majority of the people in a society should have sympathy for the minority.”
“Maybe some people would not like me saying this but I have to say what I must say regardless of whether they like it or not. When you are the majority in a society, then you are the strong party. If you are strong then you must be generous and sympathetic. I would like to see all people in Burma get along with each other regardless of their religion and ethnicity.”
This pattern of violence against the Muslim minority should be brought to light. The safety and security of all minorities in any society must be guaranteed.
World governments and international human rights organizations that were so focused on the democratization of the Burmese in the past must now focus their attention on saving one of the country’s minorities in the present.