Rohingya Muslims’ Right of Self-Determination and the Responsibility of the Ummah
The massive campaign of ethnic cleansing currently taking place in Myanmar provides little option for the Rohingya Muslims. Former Muslim majority state of Arakan,now called Rakhine, is being rapidly transformed to a Muslim-free zone. The current regime in Myanmar has proven that they offer no peace or security for the Rohingya Muslims. The head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Zeid bin Ra’ad, has described the ongoing killing, rape, and eviction as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director, has stated, “The evidence is irrefutable – the Myanmar security forces are setting northern Rakhine State ablaze in a targeted campaign to push the Rohingya people out of Myanmar. Make no mistake: this is ethnic cleansing.” She continued, “There is a clear and systematic pattern of abuse here. Security forces surround a village, shoot people fleeing in panic and then torch houses to the ground. In legal terms, these are crimes against humanity—systematic attacks and forcible deportation of civilians.”
Sadly, as history shows, those who engage in persecution and brutality do not respond to moral and humanitarian appeals to conscience. Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor (a position similar to prime minister)has proved totally impervious to such appeal. Even calls upon Myanmar to stop the carnage by Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama of Tibet, and many others, have made little impact.
Now it is very clear that relief goods, shelter, sympathy,and/or prayer are necessary; but that is not enough to solve the problems of the Rohingya Muslims. The Palestinian people were given shelter in neighboring countries following their expulsion from Palestine.And they have received relief goods for more than 70 years. But that didn’t end the Israeli occupation. They still suffer the curse of an occupied people. All victims of persecution or occupation must be given full opportunity to exercise the fundamental right of self-determination. Failure of a peaceful solution only pushes persecuted people to take up arms to try and liberate themselves. In fact, the Rohingya Muslims are being pushed to that desperate response.
The ongoing killing and eviction of the Rohingya Muslims didn’t start in 2017.Myanmar authorities claim that the Rohingya Muslims came to Rakhine in 1971. But as early as 1947, Rohingya leaders requested Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Pakistani independence movement, to incorporate the state of Arakan into the newly forming nation of Pakistan. The danger of living under the authority of the Burmese supremacists was not unknown to the Rohingya Muslims even before the creation of independent Burma. This historical fact demonstrates that Muslims were living in Rakhine in 1947.
In 1977, the ruling military junta declared Rohingya Muslims as a defense and security threat to Burma, as part of Operation Nagamin which aimed to rid the population of “foreigners.”More than 200,000 people fled to Bangladesh as a result of human rights abuses by the military. Then, a year later, Bangladesh and Burma reached an agreement, brokered by the U.N., which repatriated a majority of Rohingya. It was a secret agreement at the time, but when it was disclosed, it showed that Burma recognized the legal residence of the Rohingya. But the persecution continued and in 1982, the government introduced a new immigration law that declared people who had migrated to Burma during British colonial rule as illegal immigrants and they designated the Rohingya as part of this designation. At the same time, the Rohingya Muslims were put under restrictions on travel, education, jobs, health care, marriage; and a two-child limit per family was instituted in 2013.Roughly 120,000 Muslims were evicted in 2011 and 2012. In September of this year around 400,000 fled Myanmar into Bangladesh. The centuries-old Rohingya Muslim state of Arakan is being emptied of Muslims.
The Quranic Call
The Quranic call to help those who are oppressed is obligatory on every Muslim.The call comes in the following verse: “And what is the matter with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and for the oppressed people among men, women, and the children who say, ’Our Lord, take us out of the city of the oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?’” (Quran 4:75).The call of Allah (SWT), however, as revealed in the above verse, is falling on the deaf ears of 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. The suffering and sorrow of the Muslim men, women, and children of Arakan bring no helpers from the Muslim World. The Organisation of Islamic Conferences (OIC) is known for remaining silent or taking no action when needed. Myanmar is a member of ASEAN block, of which 42 percent are Muslim. But it does nothing to help the Rohingya victims. The failure of the U.N. to stand for justice and end persecutions, whether in Palestine, Kashmir, or Myanmar, is demonstrated again and again.Such incompetence of the world bodies, especially the cowardly inaction of Muslims, has emboldened the Burmese supremacists to take the quickest, most brutal route to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya people from their homeland. It has also increased the concern of the Bangladesh government that the evicted Rohingya Muslims will never be given any chance to return to Myanmar. The stay of several hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims in refugee camps in Bangladesh for more than 30 years makes their apprehension understandable.
Cutting Through the Lies
The U.N. Human Right Commission has described the Rohingya Muslims as the “most persecuted minority” in the world. Yet, the Nobel laureate and de-facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has proven her unwillingness to end the brutal persecution. She blames “Muslim extremists” for all the problems in Rakhine. Thus, she creates a rationale to justify the army’s genocidal cleansing as an appropriate response. She conveniently ignores the truth that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army that killed 12 police officers the end of August first came to the fore in 2016 when it attacked police outposts, killing nine officers. Maung Zarni, an adviser to the European Center for the Study of Extremism, says that the group’s actions result from the military’s “systematic abuses of genocidal proportions.” He notes,”This is not a terrorist group aimed at striking at the heart of Myanmar society as the government claims it is. They’re a group of hopeless men who decided to form some kind of self-defense group and protect their people who are living in conditions akin to a Nazi concentration camp.” The Rohingya Muslims didn’t take the route of armed insurgency until recently. The peaceful approach produced nothing but death, rape, and eviction.
On September 7, Aung San Suu Kyi ended her silence, saying in a press conference that whatever is happening in the Rakhine state has a long history with roots in the colonial past. She argued that the Myanmar government can’t solve such a complex problem easily or quickly. But one should question whether the government has, or ever had, any intention to solve the problem.In fact, the problem was created when the government denied citizenship to the Rohingya people who trace their heritage back to the Muslim communities in Arakan of the 9th century. This is not complex, but rather very simple. As a part of the same ongoing obfuscations, Aung San Suu Kyi blames the international community for stoking the fires of conflict by voicing support for the Rohingya. Yet, she has not allowed independent journalists to enter the Rakhine state to report what is actually taking place.
Behind the Scenes in Rakhine
Although Rakhine is the poorest state of Myanmar, its geopolitical and economic importance is significant. The coastline of this fertile land is longer than that of Bangladesh. In 2004, a huge deposit of oil and gas was discovered in the seabed off the coast. China and other countries have already been involved in exploration. Rakhine has miles of beachfront that offers tourism opportunities. The government of Myanmar wants to exploit Rakhine’s economic and strategic potentials for its national interest. The Indian government also casts its greedy eyes on Rakhine; they want to build a seaport there to connect its land-locked eastern provinces. But the ethnic and religious identity of the area poses an obstacle against such a strategic goal. Both India and the supremacist regime of Myanmar can’t tolerate a Muslim majority population in Rakhine. They consider such a population a threat to their economic interests and investments.
Arakan: A Divine Trial
Now is the time for those who have real concern for the victims of the horrific atrocities in Myanmar to show their moral courage and solidarity with the oppressed. Otherwise, the regime will fulfil their genocidal objective. Inaction in the face of ethnic cleansing is indeed an act of collaboration in the crime. Human rights and moral values only survive if people show their courage to stand for justice.
A believer’s iman is truly tested in these instances. In Islam, standing for the truth and fighting for the oppressed is indeed a great ibadah. In fact, the greatest ibadah in Islam is not done in any mosque or on a prayer mat. It takes place in the battle against corruption, exploitation, injustice, and persecution. Allah (SWT) selects His best heroes from this battle,a battle whichindeed decides the destiny of the Muslim ummah. In the absence of such heroes, humanity, morality, Divine truth, and the rule of law perish from the surface of the earth,as criminals and corrupters tyrannize people everywhere.Standing against the evil forces is indeed standing for Allah (SWT) and His revealed Truth. And such standing for Him is so crucial that it is obligatory on every Muslim. It is revealed in the holy Quran: “[Muhammad] Say [to the people], ‘I advise you only one thing, that you stand for Allah in pairs or alone” (Quran 34:46). This command played such a pivotal role in the early Muslims’ lives that more than seventy percent of the companions were martyred in their fight against the Quraish persecutors. As per the above verse, if one fails to find a partner in the fight against persecution, he should stand alone.
The brutal, murderous forces in Myanmar are showing their corrupted humanity in their actions against the innocent Rohingya Muslims. They are destroying their homes and villages. Mosques are being burnt to ashes. They are destroying the chastity of women and the innocence of children. The Myanmar forces could only dare to commit such crimes because they see that none is there to challenge them. It is a failure as well as a shame for the whole of mankind. But what is the role of the people who believe in Allah (SWT)? Believing in Him means standing for Him. But where are the Muslims willing to play that role against such evil? Such a role indeed defines a man — whether he is a part of the evil or one who stands up against the persecution and injustice. That indeed also decides one’s success or failure in the hereafter.
Dr. Firoz Mahboob Kamal is a medical doctor, having studied in the U.S. and UK. He researches and writes on many social sciences issues. He contributes to a number of Bangladeshi dailies and periodicals
Rohingya Muslims’ Right of Self-Determination and the Responsibility of the Ummah