Gut-wrenching tales and grisly images are trickling out of Myanmar over a month after sectarian violence flared in its western Rakhine state. Hundreds of Rohingyas — a destitute, marginalised Muslim community disowned by the state — have been killed and maimed and tens of thousands made to flee their homes following organised attacks on villages by local Arakanese Buddhists. It started off when an Arakanese woman was raped and killed by Rohingya Muslims in late May. In a bloody reprisal, an Arakanese mob plucked 10 Rohingyas from a passenger bus and lynched them. The violence escalated to other villages and towns as mobs killed the Rohingyas wantonly and burnt down their properties.
Media reports suggest that the violence has not subsided despite a slew of ‘cosmetic measures’ by the quasi-democratic government of President Thein Sein. Alarmingly, state agencies — the border security force in particular — are colluding with marauding Arakanese mobs in what is now being dubbed as ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingyas.
Local media blames the Rohingyas for setting off the latest upsurge in violence. Given the pathetic conditions of the Rohingyas, who live in squalid towns as ‘lesser’ citizens of the Buddhist-majority land, and given a history of state discrimination against them, the Rohingyas are unlikely to have invited the wrath of their ‘superior’ fellow countrymen.
Independent observers suspect a bigger conspiracy at play. They believe that Myanmar’s powerful military has unscrupulously planned the violence to cash in on popular anti-Rohingya sentiment in an effort to reassert its importance and discredit the iconic pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. A statement in favour of the Rohingyas would definitely damage Suu Kyi’s popularity among the majority Arakanese community. Perhaps, Suu Kyi knows this and this is why she did not respond to calls, including one from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, to use her clout to get the violence stopped.
Rakhine is facing a media blackout: foreign journalists are denied access to the strife-torn region, while local media persons are barred from reporting on the violence. President Sein has spurned calls from Amnesty International and the top US envoy for his country to hold an independent inquiry into the deadly rioting. Instead, he has set up an official inquiry commission. How can one expect an ‘impartial inquiry’ from President Sein, who believes that the expulsion of all 800,000 Rohingyas from Rakhine is the only solution to the communal discord in his country?
Aside from subdued condemnations from some Muslim states, no serious effort has been made to get the bloodletting stopped. Regrettably, Pakistan has not offered even the ceremonial lip-service. This pogrom against the Rohingyas also does not figure on the priority lists of our ratings-hungry media, squabbling politicians and spotlight-savvy rights crusaders.
The international community should pressure the Myanmar leaders to get the senseless violence stopped. Inaction would only help radicals and jihadists, who might use the ‘Muslim genocide’ in Myanmar as a rallying call. They are already flooding the social networking websites Facebook and Twitter with disturbing images and hearsay accounts of the violence to build their case.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2012.
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