Millions of residents of western Myanmar have been stripped of citizenship and basic human rights. Will Suu Kyi help?
PKR has accused Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad of having close ties with Zionists and pro-Israeli US leaders back when he was prime minister, stating that these were well-recorded facts.
Dr Mahathir had yesterday labelled arch rival Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as a Jewish sympathiser and a leader who disregarded the plight of the Palestinians. The former prime minister was responding to Anwar’s recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, in which the latter expressed support for “all efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel.”
In a statement today, PKR communications director Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (picture)
said Dr Mahathir had “twisted” Anwar’s remarks, and that the former PM had conveniently forgotten his “close ties” with the US and pro-Jewish lobbyists.
“Anwar has explained that his statement in the Wall Street Journal played up by Umno and their media is consistent with a two-state solution which is an initiative accepted by the Arab world, Malaysia as well as Hamas, who are Palestinian freedom fighters.
“Mahathir might seem to be against Zionists and the West but he actually has a good relationship with them, to the point where he was willing to sign a private military agreement with America in 1984 — the Bilateral Training and Consultation Agreement (BITAC) which enabled the US to conduct military training in Malaysia,” said Nik Nazmi.
The PKR leader claimed that Dr Mahathir paid Jack Abramoff, a Zionist lobbyist, US$1.2 million (RM3.7 million) to arrange a meeting with former US President George W. Bush shortly after Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister.
“This has been admitted by Dr Mahathir himself,” said Nik Nazmi, adding that Abramoff had close ties with Bush as well as Israeli extremists.
The Seri Setia state assemblyman said that according to a Newsweek article Abramoff collected funds for the Jews in Israel to be used in their fight against the Palestinians, and that he (Abramoff) eventually pleaded guilty to charges of corruption and fraud in 2006.
“It looks like Dr Mahathir stills harbours his old grudge against Anwar. He and the Umno leadership cannot seem to stop their slander just so it could be a distraction from numerous scandals that have plagued them,” he added.
Anwar has since clarified his remarks by saying he was referring to a “two-state solution”, and that his support was also contingent on Israel respecting the aspirations of Palestinians.
Dr Mahathir had also claimed that his former protégé had close ties with many US elected representatives who were Jews, and that he was their “friend”, and named Paul Wolfowitz as one of them.
Wolfowitz, a former US Secretary of Defence and World Bank president, is of Jewish descent.
Anwar came under heavy fire from Umno and its media after his statement was published by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
The opposition leader was forced to defend himself by stressing that his remarks in the newspaper meant that he supported a two-state solution, which he said was mentioned by Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman when the latter addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September last year.
But Anifah responded by saying Anwar’s interview “clearly shows full support for all actions taken by Israel to protect its security, unless he is accusing the Wall Street Journal of making a mistake.”
Muslim-majority Malaysia is a staunch supporter of Palestine and has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
Muslim politicians have long vied for support from Malays by denouncing what they say are inhumane acts of aggression by Israel towards its neighbour.
Anwar has previously been attacked as a supporter of the Zionist movement due to his interaction with prominent Jewish figures in the West.
But the opposition leader turned the tables on Umno and Barisan Nasional in 2010 when he claimed public relations firm APCO Worldwide, then contracted by Putrajaya, was responsible for both the 1 Malaysia and 1 Israel campaigns.
why mahathir spoeak about other muslims who are have been stripped of citizenship and basic human rights
HARMJAHDA is Chandra Muzzafar BOUGHT AND PAID FOR BY Mahathir Mohamad
Malaysia’s ruling party has again brought out its anti-Jew drum in a bid to discredit Anwar Ibrahim, the popular Opposition Leader and his resurgent Pakatan Rakyat coalition.
Among those leading the charge for Prime Minister Najib Razak and former premier Mahathir Mohamad is Chandra Muzzafar, a Brahmin who gave up Hinduism to embrace Islam. Chandra’s latest tirade on national television on Saturday night against Anwar on the question of Israel — and by extension Palestine — must be the most outrageous lies ever concocted by anyone, politician and non-politicians, alike.
This article is the first in a series by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK, exploring how a litany of volatile centre/periphery conflicts with deep historical roots were interpreted after 9/11 in the new global paradigm of anti-terrorism – with profound and often violent consequences. Incorporating in-depth case studies from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Ambassador Ahmed will ultimately argue that the inability for Muslim and non-Muslim states alike to either incorporate minority groups into a liberal and tolerant society or resolve the “centre vs periphery” conflict is emblematic of a systemic failure of the modern state – a breakdown which, more often than not, leads to widespread violence and destruction. The violence generated from these conflicts will become the focus, in the remainder of the 21st century, of all those dealing with issues of national integration, law and order, human rights and justice.
Washington, DC – The image of a smiling Daw Aung San Suu Kyi receiving flowers from her supporters is a powerful message of freedom and optimism in Myanmar, the symbol of democracy in a country which has known nothing but authoritarian oppression for decades.
Yet few ask one of the most pressing questions facing Daw Suu Kyi. How will she deal with the Rohingya?
“The Rohingya,” you will ask. “Who are they?”
The Rohingya, whom the BBC calls “one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups”, are the little-publicised and largely forgotten Muslim people of the coastal Rakhine state of western Myanmar. Their historic lineage in Rakhine dates back centuries, as fishermen and farmers. Over the past three decades, the Rohingya have been systematically driven out of their homeland by Myanmar’s military junta and subjected to widespread violence and the total negation of their rights and citizenship within Myanmar. They are a stateless Muslim minority.
The continued tragedy of the unrecognised Rohingya, both in Myanmar and as refugees abroad, casts a dark shadow over the bright hopes and prospects for democracy in a country plagued by violence and civil war. Suu Kyi is ideally placed to extend democratic reforms to all ethnic peoples, including the Rohingya, in a free Myanmar.
Though the Rohingya may be small in number at less than two million, the real lesson of the Arab Spring is that no notion of democracy can succeed without the inclusion of all people within a country’s borders. Every member of society, regardless of race and religion, must be given their due rights as citizens.
|“While many ethnic minorities in Myanmar have been the victims of the central government’s oppressive measures, the Rohingya stand apart in that their very existence is threatened.”
While many ethnic minorities in Myanmar have been the victims of the central government’s oppressive measures, the Rohingya stand apart in that their very existence is threatened. The Rohingya’s plight abroad as refugees in places such as Bangladesh and Thailand has seen glimmers of the media spotlight, but less attention has been brought to the underlying cause of their flight: the violence and cultural oppression at home.
These policies were enacted by Myanmar’s government to force the Rohingya outside of Myanmar as a result of their being Muslim and ethnically non-Myanma. The government erroneously labelled them as “illegal Bengali immigrants” in their efforts to eradicate the Rohingya culture.
Kings to refugees
Yet, the long history of the Rohingya and the Rakhine state contradicts the government’s claims. The medieval Kingdom of Arakan, encompassing the Muslim Rohingya, was once an enlightened centre of culture, knowledge and trade, displaying a harmonic blend of Buddhism and Islam in its administration and court life. The kingdom’s cosmopolitan and international capital city, Mrauk U, was described in the 17th century as “a second Venice” by a Portuguese Jesuit priest and was often compared to Amsterdam and London by travellers and writers of the time.
It was the 1784 military conquest by Bodawpaya, the king of Burma (now Myanmar), that transformed this once vibrant kingdom into an oppressed peripheral region. After this, many haunting tales began to circulate of Burmese soldiers rounding up the Rohingya in bamboo enclosures to burn them alive, and marching thousands to the city of Amarapura to work, effectivley as slave labour, on infrastructure projects.
With the rise to power of the military junta in 1962 under General Ne Win, a policy of “Myanmarisation” was implemented as an ultra-nationalist ideology based on the racial purity of the Myanma ethnicity and its Buddhist faith. The Rohingya, as both Muslims and non-Myanma, were stripped of their legitimacy and officially declared foreigners in their own native land. With the passage of the junta’s 1982 Citizenship Law, they effectively ceased to exist legally.
Stripped officially of their citizenship, the Rohingya found their lives in limbo: prohibited from the right to own land or property, barred from travelling outside their villages, repairing their decaying places of worship, receiving an education in any language or even marrying and having children without rarely granted government permission. The Rohingya have also been subjected to modern-day slavery, forced to work on infrastructure projects, such as constructing “model villages” to house the Myanmar settlers intended to displace them, reminiscent of their treatment at the hands of the Burmese kings of history.
The denial of citizenship and rights was accompanied by a military strategy of physical and cultural war designed to drive the Rohingya out of Myanmar
The initial push of the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign came in 1978 under Operation Naga Min, or Operation King Dragon. The purpose of this operation was to scrutinise each individual within the state as either a citizen or alleged “illegal immigrant”. This resulted in widespread rape, arbitrary arrests, desecration of mosques, destruction of villages and confiscation of lands among the Rohingya people. In the wake of this violence, nearly a quarter of a million Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, many of whom were later repatriated to Myanmar where they faced further torture, rape, jail and death.
In 1991, a second push, known as Operation Pyi Thaya or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation, was launched with the same purpose, resulting in further violence and another massive flow of 200,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.
Non-governmental organisations from Europe and North America estimate that 300,000 Rohingya refugees remain in Bangladesh, with only 35,000 residing in registered refugee camps and receiving some sort of assistance from NGOs.
Acknowledging the Rohingya
Those remaining, more than 250,000, are in a desperate situation without food and medical assistance, largely left to slowly starve to death. The December 2011 refugee repatriation agreement reached between Myanmar President Thein Sein and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will exclude the Rohingya, due to their lack of Myanmar citizenship, one of the conditions for repatriation for the expected 2,500 returning refugees.
The Rohingya predicament underlines a paradox for the world’s great faiths, straddling the divide between Islamic Asia and Buddhist Asia. Each emphasises compassion and kindness and yet, we see little evidence of this in their dealings with the Rohingya people.
As part of this current study on the relationship between centre and periphery in the Muslim world, we recently interviewed Dr Wakar Uddin, Chairman of The Burmese Rohingya Association of North America (BRANA). A gentle and learned man, he is an energetic ambassador for his Rohingya people with a firm grasp of regional history. All the Rohingya want is the reinstatement of their citizenship in their own land, as revoked by the former dictator General Ne Win, and the dignity, human rights and opportunities that come with it.
Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy have a unique opportunity to reach out to the Rohingya people and include them in the new democratic process. The NLD should work with the central government to expand the role of all ethnic minorities as full Myanma citizens.
By acknowledging their rights, the government will bestow upon the Rohingya the dignity and the responsibilities of citizenship and present opportunities for mutual cultural understanding and the repatriation of the thousands of refugees existing in purgatory, separated from their homes and families. Great strides have recently been made by the Myanmar government towards the creation of an open and democratic political system and an end to ethnic violence, yet this is only the beginning.
With the recognition of the Rohingya as Myanma citizens, Suu Kyi will honour the memory of her father, Aung San, as he, before his untimely and tragic death, also reached out to ethnic minorities to participate in an independent Myanmar. Only then can a democratic and modern Myanmar be legitimate and successful in the eyes of its own people.
But the first step is to acknowledge the Rohingya exist.
This article is based on research being conducted by Professor Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Washington, DC, and Harrison Akins, a Research Fellow attached to the Chair, for the forthcoming study, Journey into Tribal Islam: America and the Conflict between Center and Periphery in the Muslim World, to be published by Brookings Press, exploring the conflict between Muslim tribal groups and central governments across the Muslim world in the context of the US-led ‘war on terror’.
Ambassador Ahmed is a former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and former administrator in Waziristan and Balochistan. He is the award-winning author of numerous books, including Discovering Islam, and Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (Brookings Press, 2010).