Recent wave of sectarian violence in Burma has resulted in loss of lives and properties on both sides; Burmese and Bengali (so called Rohingya). It has threatened her road toward democracy and fledgling reform process. It is imperative for all Burmese and Bengalis no matter any race or faith they belong to should restrain and refrain from committing further violence. Restraint from one side is not enough. Both sides must realize that sectarian clashes always bring destruction to both sides. Therefore, both side must show restraint.
The current clashes in Burma impacted and got impacted by not only Burmese inside the country but also people around the world. For better or worse, media, Facebook and non-governmental organizations have all contributed a great deal. While some people are trying to calm both sides, some people feel compelled to take side. However, at this time of high racial tension, it is important for people from both sides especially those from international community to stop feeding incitement and “fanning the fire”.
On June 16, 2012, The Daily Star, online newspaper of Bangladesh published an op-ed titled “The Rohingya question” written by Ashfaqur Rahman. He blatantly wrote, “Indeed up to 1784, Arakan was an independent Muslim kingdom. In that year it was colonized by a Buddhist Burmese king called Bodawphaya.” All experts and Burmese people know the statement is totally false. Such statement has caused widespread anger among Burmese who are very proud of their rich history and heritage. It clearly indicates Mr. Rahman has never been to Arakan where Buddhism has flourished for over 2000 years and where Buddhist pagoda shines on almost every hilltop.
Ashfaqur Rahman’s op-ed on The Daily Star
There is a saying in Burmese, “Don’t just see the baton. See who is holding that baton”. So I wonder where Mr. Rahman gets all of his information.
Blogs and websites developed by Bengalis around the world have been propagating such fabricated history for over a decade. Due to the lack of internet access in the past and slow internet connection at the present in Burma, most of the Burmese were not aware of such manufactured stories until very recently. In fact, a lot of people from Burma have never heard of the term Rohingya until recently. Though there are some Burmese experts who know about it and who have long been standing their ground on truthfulness and been critical of such fabricated stories, the majority of Burma did not realize the magnitude of those impacts on Burma.
On June 19, 2012, Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a long time staunch supporter of Bengali wrote a commentary titled “A friend’s appeal to Burma” on Mizzima. He claimed that “I am biased not in favor of one community over another, in favor of one race or religion over another, in favor of one particular political party over another.” But he wrote, “Homes burned, mosques desecrated, women raped, people killed”. To be fair, he did point out both sides suffered. But if he is not biased, why was he emphasizing only mosques? During the riots, Hindu and Buddhist temples were torched and burnt down to the ground by Bengalis. Why did he leave them out if he is not biased? Why was he particularly pointing out mosques?
So far, the clashes have been between Burmese and Bengali; not between Buddhists and Muslims. We all people of Burma from different religions and ethnic groups especially Ko Mya Aye who is a Burmese Muslim and one of the leaders of the prominent 8888 Generation Students have been working very hard to contain the crisis and to prevent the situation from turning into a religious one. Burmese organizations; religious, political and social, have been calling for restraint from further clashes. Through the unified statement signed by 20 Arakanese organizations from Burma and released on June 16, 2012, Arakanese have called for restraint. World Arakanese Organization, one of the largest oversea Arakanese organizations has called both sides to end violence on its statement dated June 9, 2012.
However, both press releases, before and after (dated June 3 and June 19, 2012) Maungdaw riot, by so called Arakan Rohingya Union, the largest oversea Rohingya Bengali organization did not call for either restraint or peace. Instead, June 3 press release blamed ethnic Rakhine for Taung Goke incident while it is still under investigation and while it is so far believed to be staged by a third party. Such emotional and immature action on the part of ARU instigated anger among Bengalis and encouraged them to commit unwarranted arson and murder in Maundaw. Like Burmese organizations, both Ben Rogers and Bengali should try their best to contain the current crisis and should stop pushing the current Arakan conflict into religious one.
We all have to very careful of what we say and write at this time. We all should avoid provoking anger and hatred. One action can result in loss of many lives and property especially when one acts upon receiving information from one sided source. Ben Rogers and his Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) based their actions on Rohingya sources as they have admitted on their press release dated June 12, 2012. In every race, there are bad people and good people. In his commentary on Mizzima, Ben Rogers wrote, “The Rohingya (Bengali) I know are among the most hospitable, kind, gentle, decent, tolerant, peace-loving human beings I have met. They have clung on to human decency, even when others have tried to deny them human dignity.” Just because one has a few nice Bengali friends, that does not mean a thing. Is Ben Rogers saying that all Rohingya are kind and gentle and all Burmese are unkind and cruel?
In his op-ed titled “Why are Rohingyas being refused entry into Bangladesh” on The Daily Star, Barrister Harun Ur Rashid explained one of the reasons why they are not allowing Bengali to come back into Bangladesh, “Rohingya refugees have reportedly created a bad image of Bangladesh in the Middle East. It is alleged that most of the “Bangladeshis” who committed crimes in Saudi Arabia were Rohingyas with fake or forged Bangladesh passports.” So according to Mr. Rashid, could we say all Rohingyas are bad? Who is right? Mr. Rogers or Mr. Rashid? The answer is simply neither. With one-sided information source Mr. Rogers receives, no one would be surprised that he is biased and a racist against Arakanese and Burmese. But he should stop feeding biased information and opinion to incite more racial hatred.
When it comes to Bengali issue, Mr. Rogers has a quite long record. The most interesting and mendacious that people have witnessed so far was his blatant lie to the whole world a few years ago. Ben Rogers brought Tun Khin from Burmese Rohingya Organizaiton UK to Washington and asked one Congressman to push for Bengali rights in Burma. Later he produced a statement saying that “US Congress calls” Burmese military government to recognize Bengali as citizens. In fact, it was not the whole U.S Congress but one U.S Congressman out of 541 elected officials. At this sensitive time, Burmese people need no incitement from a person with mendacious record like Ben Rogers and he should show some restraint.
Ben Rogers with Tun Khin on their lobby trip to Washington D.C.
If one looks back at Maungdaw riot, it started on Friday after prayer service at the mosque. Between Taung Goke incident which occurred on June 3 and Maungdaw riot on June 8, no violence erupted. One of the main reasons is in all towns of Arakan where Arakanese are the majority, parents and religious leaders strictly prevented the locals from instigating or committing violence against the minority. In Yangon, Ko Mya Aye successfully urged a group of Burmese Muslim protesters to remain calm and disperse. Instead, in Maungdaw where Rohingya Bengali makes up about 97 percent of the population took advantage of Friday prayer mass and started a rampage against the minority Arakanese.
Foreign press tends to refer Rohingya Bengali as minority. However, the term minority is location dependent. In Taung Goke, Arakanese would be the majority but in Maungdaw, Rohingya Bengalis are the majority. As Ko Min Ko Naing, a prominent 8888 Generation Students leader said, “At one place, Buddhists would probably be a majority but at another place, there are many Buddhists who live among majority Muslims.” Majority must protect the minority. Those who have never been to Arakan and who has no idea about Arakan history and current demographics or who receive Arakan and Burma news from one sided information source must not instigate any racial or religious hatred to cause more bloodshed. Both side must show restraint. One sided restraint is nothing but will prolong the conflict.