By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
The House Foreign Affairs/Asia Sub-committee of the U.S. Congress recently held a hearing to examine the current political environment inside Burma (Myanmar), the growing human right abuses among its ethnic groups, and assess U.S. policy towards the country. The sub-committee was also interested to assess the Obama Administration’s decision to start military-to-military relations with Burma.I find the decision of the Obama administration quite problematic for a plethora of reasons:
1. As a concerned citizen of this planet, my preference would have been to avoid military relationship with any government that is guilty of some of the worst crimes of our time.
2. A visit to the ethnic territories in the Arakan (Rakhine), Chin, Kachin, and Karen states inside today’s Myanmar and/or a mere research on what the Tadmadaw – the Burmese military and its hated NASAKA have done or have been doing for years would have been sufficient to show the unfathomed inhumanity and brutality of the apartheid regime. The Burmese military continues to practice and adopt means that are illegal and unacceptable per international laws and are simply criminal to the core. Such practices need to be condemned by all, and surely, not condoned.
3. So when a government like the USA, which is respected around the globe for its advocacy and promotion of law and order, human rights and integration of all people, is seen cooperating with a government that epitomizes intolerance, abuse, racism and bigotry and is known as the worst den of hatred and inhumanity in our time – it sends a very wrong message. It is immoral and wrong. The military collaboration with Myanmar should have been shunned and not promoted.
4. Having said that, it would be foolish of anyone to ignore the importance of Burmese military (Tadmadaw) in all things related to Myanmar. It has a long history dating back to the colonial times. It has ruled the country for almost its entire life. Her much celebrated founder Aung Saan (the father of Aung Sann Suu Kyi) himself was a military man who first collaborated with the Japanese Army against the Allied forces during the World War II, when Burma was a British colony and then switched side before the Allied victory.
Ever since General Ne Win, a former comrade of Aung Saan, took power in 1962 through a military coup, military has continued to run the country. The current president Thein Sein is a former general, too. Most of the ministers and those in authority within the country have military connections. As a matter of fact, hardly anything happens without military involvement. The military continues to dominate the parliament and write policies and draft constitution so that none could challenge its grip on the country either today or tomorrow.
Its philosophy has been described by area experts as Myanmarism – a toxic cocktail of militarism, neo-Nazi fascism and ultra-racist-religious-Buddhism in which the Bamar (Burmese ethnic group) primarily rules and other secondary and tertiary races support the pyramid structure in an apartheid system. It is feudal and not progressive at all in its character. It is built on myths and astrology – concepts that are outdated and absolutely pre-modern.
5. Whether we like it or not, the military will continue to play a dominant role inside Myanmar for a foreseeable future. Its grip on power of more than half a century would not go away that fast and it won’t allow such from happening by hook or crook. It would, therefore, be years before we see a real transition to democracy in which the faces of leadership are all or mostly civilians.
6. Thus, I cannot imagine the US government to have military-to-military relationship with an apartheid regime which is guilty of some of the worst crimes of our time. Lest we forget, the regime exploits such collaboration with a powerful country to boosting its image, solidifying its legitimacy and avoiding or delaying the true reform from taking place. What the ethnic minority states like Karen, Chin, Kachin, Rakhine (Arakan) and Shan, etc. need is a federal structure that allows all its people inclusion and not exclusion where they feel secure and safe, and enjoy the same rights and privileges, and surely not a program that strengthens the killing machines – killing them, dehumanizing and marginalizing them, and eventually pushing them out, leading them no option but to fight guerilla wars with no winners at the end.
The Congressional sub-committee was interested to learn about the implication of the growing conflicts between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority, and how to end to inter-ethnic conflict and bring about a national reconciliation, and how the US should better respond to escalating human rights abuses and mounting doubt that reforms would continue. Here below are my views on these:
1. Since Thein Sein floated his so-called ‘reform’ government, the ethnic-religious-racial tensions are worse. In the last 17 months, we saw the worst violence against the minority Muslims not only in the Arakan state but also all across Burma. In May of last year, nearly a dozen innocent Muslims – heading for Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, were pulled out from their bus and lynched to death mercilessly.
Days later, Muslim villages and townships were burned down in a very organized manner in which the local Buddhist security forces, the police, politicians and preachers (monks) collaborated, inciting the Rakhine mobs to kill and destroy everything Muslim or Islamic. Even the government security forces were seen taking part in this murderous orgy. As a result, there is not a single functioning school, mosque, shop or business in territories that once had a solid Muslim majority in many parts of Burma, esp. in the Rakhine state. The pogroms against Muslims continued unabated for months and the entire city/town zones and villages in which they once lived became ghost towns with no Muslims to be found.
2. According to reports shared by human rights groups, some 140,000 Muslims remain as IDPs (internally displaced people) inside the Rakhine (Arakan) state alone. Many of them are now living in squalid camps with less-than-adequate supplies. Many have tried to flee the country as unwanted refugees to places like Bangladesh, Thailand and beyond. They have been denied access in Bangladesh, imprisoned in Thailand and/or repatriated forcibly back to Myanmar, and worse still, some have been enslaved by Thai fishermen. Many have died trying to brave the ocean.
3. The condition in these refugee camps where Muslims are kept are beyond description. From the statement of Thein Sein, it is obvious that the Myanmar authorities don’t want the Rohingya Muslim minorities living anywhere inside Myanmar. Thus, they are determined to starve them to death, unless they flee the country on their own. Even while fleeing the country, these unfortunate human beings have been shot at by the security forces.
4. The international NGOs and human rights agencies were barred from opening offices to monitor and provide necessary humanitarian aid to Muslim victims. Even the OIC could not open office in the Rakhine state. Government sponsored mob demonstrations provided the justification to deny such rights to the OIC.
5. The Buddhist monks have demanded that laws should be enacted that penalizes people from selling to and buying from Muslims. They also demanded that maximum quota for children for a Muslim family be limited to only two. It is all copycat of the Nazi era Germany that is being promoted in Buddhist Burma with the perpetrators being Buddhists and victims the Muslims. The formula is essentially the same!
6. The situation of the Muslims in other parts of Myanmar is equally bad. Recent months have seen organized mob violence in many parts of the country that are far away from the Rakhine state. The Buddhist terrorist monks like Wirathu are increasingly playing a very divisive, an evil, role in such pogroms against the Muslim minorities. Muslims are safe nowhere today inside Myanmar. Just like in Nazi Germany, the Muslim properties are easy targets for destruction, looting, and pillage. Just a mere rumor is enough to incite such organized mob violence against them in which everyone in this Buddhist country is a participant. Even the so-called democracy icon –Suu Kyi – is a silent endorser to such horrendous crimes!
7. In recent days, parts of Myanmar have seen demonstrations held by racist Buddhists opposing the resettlement of the Muslim victims.
8. It would be utterly foolish to ignore the evolving signs of genocide of the Muslim minorities inside Myanmar. It has become a national project in which every Buddhist is playing a role inside the country – overtly or covertly, if not silently through their impotence or hesitance to condemn what is morally wrong and unjustifiable.
9. Many outside observers were surprised to see such outbreaks of targeted violence that have seen wholesale destruction of hundreds of Muslim villages and townships, esp. in the Rakhine state, the internal displacement of some 200,000 Muslims all across Burma, deaths of innumerable victims and rape of so many. But we knew better. Years before the current tragedy had hit Burma, we asked the leaders of the ENC and other so-called democracy groups operating inside Thailand and other parts of the world for a dialogue to discuss the problem of racial and religious tension and ethnic division inside Burma, and its transition to democracy but what we got was outright contempt and rejection. From the level of arrogance and intolerance, hatred and racism displayed by the so-called leaders and members of the ‘democracy’ movement, we knew too well that a simple transition to democracy won’t be able heal the wounds and stop the bleeding process; democracy would be abused, democratic means of voting would be used to impose majoritarian narratives on the marginalized minority, denying them basic rights. As we feared, mob violence against the targeted minorities is the new face of democracy in Myanmar. Apparently, minority rights have no place in this new jargon. The denial of citizenship right to the Rohingya and other Muslims is seen as a necessary means to cement this process of keeping them out of the political process – permanently denied and ignored.
10. For a national reconciliation process to succeed, I suggest that Rohingya and other minority Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Christians who have been born and live in Myanmar be given full citizenship rights forthright. They need to be integrated within the Myanmar society with all the rights and privileges as now enjoyed by the Buddhist majority. Quota systems must be allowed for these vulnerable minorities to make sure that not only are their views heard in the parliament but they have equitable representation in all sectors of the government. Without such a massive program to integrate the once-persecuted minority, there is no way to fully reconcile the various peoples who live in this fractured country on the right track.
11. As to the refugees, now stranded or forced to live as unwanted refugees or temporary workers in foreign countries, provisions should be made under the supervision of the UN for their quick resettlement inside Myanmar.
12. Due compensation for the loss of properties should also be made by the Myanmar government to each of the victims so that they could restart their lives.
13. On its part, the ruling elite and the dominant Bamar race ought to understand that ethnicity is a colonial era concept, which has no place in our time when we have moved to citizenship to foster group identity towards shared responsibility of nation building. By holding onto its divisive and racist character, Myanmar, instead, is doing harm to its own long-term goal of keeping the country together. It needs a federal system where every state from the western most Arakan state to the eastern-most Shan state would have rights similar to those enjoyed in the USA by any of its 50 states. Minus that formula, Myanmar will fight internally and eventually become a failed state disintegrating along ethnic/religious lines. Thus, it is to Myanmar’s best interest that I suggest that Rohingya and other minorities be accepted as full citizens of the country, allowing them every opportunity to build the country up so that once again Myanmar could become strong politically and economically.
14. Xenophobia and racism are widespread inside Myanmar, and continue to remain such because of the poisonous roles played by several ultra-racist provocateurs who continue to foment hatred in this country. Sadly, many of these ultra-racists, whose role have become akin to those played by Julius Streicher of the Nazi-era, have settled in the liberal west. The late Dr. Aye Kyaw (a Rakhine academic) who drafted the 1982 citizenship law disbarring the Rohingya was a professor at the NYU. Dr. Aye Chan, another academic, notorious for describing the Rohingya people as ‘virus’ and inciting extermination campaign against them is a US resident who teaches in Japan. There are many such hate provocateurs who don’t mind enjoying the liberal, open status that they enjoy in the liberal West as a Buddhist minority, but are outright rejecters and deniers of such rights and privileges for the minority Muslims in their native country. Since their writings have been feeding hatred and justification for current and previous ethnic cleansing drives against the Rohingya and other Muslims, it is pertinent that such provocateurs of hatred and violence be prosecuted in the land of their residence. Those who incite genocide should never be allowed to continue their hateful mission that translates into loss of so many lives! They need to be held accountable for spreading intolerance and violence.
15. As I have noted last year in my keynote speech at Thammassat University, Bangkok, Thailand, a massive government undertaking is necessary inside Myanmar for eradicating hard-core racism and xenophobia that has hitherto allowed the brutal military regimes to exploit the country through the old maxim of divide and rule. But in the new setup, such old techniques will prove to be devastating and suicidal. Old myths that degrade and dehumanize the ‘other’ people need to be replaced with new realities through massive education and propaganda campaigns that unite and foster citizenship with shared responsibility.
16. The USA can play a very important role in this latter goal of reconciliation and nation building sharing its own experience how it has become a beacon of hope for all to jointly collaborate and gain, thereby strengthening the nation. Pluralism, integration and multi-culturalism are the answers for curing Myanmar’s disease.
– Asian Tribune –
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