Recent wave of sectarian violence in Burma has resulted in loss of lives and properties on both sides; Burmese and Bengali aka Rohingya. It has threatened her road toward democracy and ongoing reform process. It is imperative for all Burmese and Bengali no matter any race or faith they belong to should restrain and refrain from committing further violence as sectarian clash always brings destruction to both sides.
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. At this time of high racial tension, people from both sides especially those from international community cannot afford to appear as inciting racial or religious hatred.
On June 16, 2012, The Daily Star, online newspaper of Bangladesh published an op-ed titled “The Rohingya question” written by Ashfaqur Rahman, a “former Ambassador and commentator on contemporary issues”. 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 Buddhist pagoda shines on almost every hilltop.
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 Bengali 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.
So far, the clashes have been between Burmese and Rohingya 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 (ARU), 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 created more anger among Bengalis and encouraged them to commit unwarranted arson and murder in Maundaw.
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 urged a group of Burmese Muslim protesters to stay calm and disperse. Instead, in Maungdaw where Bengali makes up about 97 percent of the population Bengali took advantage of Friday prayer mass and started a rampage against the minority Arakanese.
International media tends to refer Bengali as minority. However, the term minority is location dependent. In Taung Goke, Arakanese would be the majority but in Maungdaw, 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 the majority Muslims.” Majority must protect the minority. Both sides must show restraint and respect not revenge.
To reconcile, one must recognize. One must recognize that Arakan was never a Muslim kingdom. One must recognize that there are some legal Bengali immigrants in Burma and there are many illegal immigrants who came through the porous border with Bangladesh. One must recognize that there has been lack of rule of law in Burma. One must recognize that there have been many corrupted immigration and law enforcement officials who have produced a number of citizenship to illegal immigrants. One must recognize that “Rohingya” is not one of the ethnic groups of Burma. Most urgently, one must recognize that violence can bring nothing but destruction to both sides.
Kyaw Aung (U.S.A)