By S. M. Hali

While the rest of the Islamic world engages in rituals of the Holy month of Ramadan, fasting, praying and giving alms, the Muslim community of Rohingya in Burma is being incessantly targeted and slaughtered mercilessly with nary a voice raised in condemnation. Thousands of Burmese Muslims have been massacred while a large number have been forced to flee for their lives and dwell in squalid conditions. Who are the Rohingya and why are they being persecuted by the majority Buddhists?

The term “Rohingya” has been derived from the Arabic word “Raham” meaning sympathy and is used for the Muslims residing in the Arakan state of Burma (Myanmar), they began settling in the region following the arrival of Arab traders in the 8th century. Currently over 800,000 Rohingya subsist in Burma and have been described by the UN as “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities”, yet the UN has never raised a finger in their defence. The root of the problem is that the repressible Burmese regime does not recognize the Rohingya Muslims as citizens or grant them the status of an indigenous ethnic group with full citizenship rights. The Burmese junta considers them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh while the Burmese law enforcing agencies are not ready to protect them from rioters.

The persecution of the Rohingya continues unabated since General Ne Win usurped power in 1962 in a coup d'état and stripped the Muslims of their Burmese citizenship and cracked down on them mercilessly. Thousands were forced to flee to neighbouring territories of Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand but it was a case of “out of the frying pan into the fire.” They were turned back callously or forced to suffer more persecution. In February 2009, five boats with Burmese Rohingya packed as sardines were taken out in the high seas and abandoned to die. Four of the boats sank in a storm while one was washed ashore the few survivors narrated horrifying accounts of torture by Thai authorities before being abandoned at open sea. The Bangladeshis too have been rather coldhearted in turning the Rohingya away.

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One would have expected greater compassion from Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, but the champion for the oppressed masses, who has spent decades of incarceration too, has disowned the Rohingya Muslims, categorically stating that they “should not be considered (Burmese) citizens.”

The Rohingya Muslims have been subjugated and repressed for decades, but the cause of the immediate carnage is reported to be that last month, three Muslim boys were accused of raping and killing a Buddhist girl and were arrested. One of them purportedly committed suicide, while the remaining two were sentenced to death after a trial of 4 days. The Rohingya version differs, claiming that a Muslim boy fell in love with a Burmese girl and the couple eloped but were captured and tortured to death in custody while the other two innocent boys were persecuted. Resultantly, in retaliation to the Muslim youth’s alleged crime, the local Buddhist community attacked a bus brutally killing 10 Muslims. The Military moved in after 30 Muslims had been hacked to death but apparently it only aided the marauders, since within 2 days, the death toll for Rohingya Muslims rose to 680 and continues to this day.

The miserable plight of the 800,000 Rohingya Muslims merits immediate attention of the world and more importantly, the powerful and oil-rich Islamic states and the Organization of Muslim Countries (OIC), who should take up the cudgels on their behalf. The so called peace-loving Buddhists have demonstrated that they can be more violent and gruesome than the worst murderers of history.  Surely Buddha must be writhing with pain and agony in his grave as his disciples are ignoring his lessons of harmony and peaceful coexistence, having turned to brutish beasts in Burma.

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Devoid of even an identity and citizenship, the Rohingya Muslims patiently await the grim reaper “death” to come and make short work of them ending their misery because the world remains oblivious to their suffering. Gruesome images of the tortured and badly mauled carcasses of the Rohingya are pasted on websites and personal blogs, but the same have failed to create a furor either in the Muslim Ummah or the champions of human rights. Must the Rohingya continue to perish in one of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing, putting to shame the concentration camps run by Nazis to exterminate Jews or the killing sprees of the Mongol hordes, while the world watches coldheartedly? 

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