Imam Qari Asim, MBE
Chief Imam, Makkah Mosque Leeds
The minority of Myanmar, known as the Rohingya, is being violently attacked with impunity and driven from their homes. The mass killings, setting of human beings on fire and raping of women and young children is being carried out against the Rohingya minority in the Rakhine state of Burma, but the dreadful plight of the Rohingya is going unnoticed by world at large.
There are about 1.3 million Rohingya among Burma’s predominantly Buddhist 52 million population. The Rohingya is a distinct Muslim ethnic group, largely descendants of Arab traders, who have been in the region for generations. However, most people view them as foreign intruders from neighbouring Bangladesh, which, while hosting many Rohingya refugees, refuses to recognise them as citizens. The killings and persecution of the Rohingya is clearly designed to change the ethnic composition of the region. The recent violence is the most serious bloodshed in Rakhine since communal clashes in 2012. It is human suffering on a horrific scale being played out in full view. It is a complete outrage, racism and intolerance, discrimination and persecution at its worst – simply a crime against humanity.
International observers have documented the systematic disenfranchisement and discrimination that Rohingyas have faced for decades, including government restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education and freedom of movement. More than half of the Rohingya population has been displaced in recent years. Some have tried to escape to other Southeast Asian nations -Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia – on rickety boats often operated by human traffickers; in many instances the stateless people have not been welcomed by neighbouring countries.
Whilst the world focuses on the atrocities committed by the ISIS, vigilante Buddhist mobs continue to slaughter men, women and children. They have burned down entire villages with people trapped in their homes. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says satellite imagery shows 1,250 houses and other structures have been burned down. The United Nations has labelled the Rohingya community as one of the world’s most persecuted people. The UN human rights agency says Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims are victims of crimes against humanity, yet it is extremely heartrending that no one is trying to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya.
The Burmese government and progressive elements of the civil society have either gone silent or joined in anti-Muslim and anti-ethnic rhetoric, complicity endorsing the genocide. In particular, lack of clear condemnation and decisive preventive actions by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – who is now Burma’s de-facto leader – has been of most significance. San Suu Kyi, whose years of pro-democracy activism made her into an international hero, is now acting as a cynical politician who is willing to put politics ahead of principles and innocent lives.
This crisis also says a lot about the political leadership of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASAN). The ASAN region is far from fully realising its ideal of becoming a multicultural, sharing and caring community. The Western political leadership must also be consistent with its approach to human crisis and human rights. Fortify Rights, which has been working with the Rohingya community, says ‘systematic violations’ have been ‘overlooked’ by Western powers.
Some claim that the reason for a lack of political and economic pressure on the Burmese government is due to Rohingya issue being made out to be a ‘Muslim issue’ rather than a human rights issue. But this is not – and must not be – treated as a faith related issue. This is a humanitarian crisis – a vulnerable community is being ethnically cleansed and the global citizens must play their role to bring an end to yet another minority community suffering persecution, torture and killings at the hands of terrorists. All victims of violence, irrespective of their ethnicity or religious background deserve to be treated with respect, compassion and consideration.
I have visited the brutal concentration death camps and gas chambers in Auschwitz and where mass scale murder of Jews took place. The genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 is a stain on our civilized world. My visit to schools, warehouses and football pitches in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where mass scale killings took place as part of the genocide of Bosnian Muslims still haunts me. Not to forget the dreadful situation in Syria, where Eastern Aleppo has been turned into one giant graveyard. It is beyond human comprehension that how, despite all of our resources and access to information, we can allow hatred for one minority community to reach such low level that people do not hesitate to wipe minorities off the face of the earth.
We must learn the lessons of history to help tackle hatred, racism and demonisation in whatever form and against whomever it may occur in our shared world. It isn’t enough to condemn and move on. The political leadership of the world must take decisive and robust actions to stop the genocide of the Rohigya minority community. It is high time for regional governments to step up to the challenge and address this humanitarian crises head on. Let there not be another genocide in our time.
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