Burma, officially referred to as Myanmar, currently represents a positive story that is reflected in the Western media as one of political opening, of a military dictatorship emerging into an era of democracy, human rights, development and hope for the future. This narrative might be true for much of the country, but it significantly leaves out the struggles of the Rohingya.
The mobs that took place that early morning in March were Buddhists enraged by the killing of a monk. Yet the victims were Muslims who had nothing to do with it – students and teachers from a prestigious Islamic school in central Myanmar.
In the last hours of their lives, police had been dispatched to rescue them from a burning compound surrounded by swarms of angry men. And when they emerged cowering, hands atop their heads, they only had to make it to four police trucks waiting on the road above.
It wasn’t far to go – just one hill.
What happened along the way is the story of one of Myanmar’s darkest days since this Southeast Asian country’s post-junta leaders promised the dawn of a new, democratic era two years ago – a day on which 36 Muslims, most teenagers, were slaughtered in front of police and local officials who did almost nothing to stop it.
And what has happened since shows just how hollow the promise of change has been for a neglected religious minority that has received neither protection nor justice.
The president of this predominantly Buddhist nation never came to “Meikhtila” to mourn the dead or comfort the living. Police investigators never roped this place off or collected the evidence of carnage left behind on these slopes. And despite video clips online that show mobs clubbing students to death and cheering as flames leap from corpses, not a single suspect has been convicted.
But not only are the” Rohingya” a disenfranchised people, they are dark-skinned Muslims with little relevance, representation and significance to anyone. The much-vaunted Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has not adequately handled this issue, and the western world also tiptoes around it. Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence is evidently an attempt to placate her constituency ahead of general elections in 2015, and to criticize her now would be like admonishing Nelson Mandela in the run-up to the 1994 election in South Africa. However unlike South Africa in the 1990s, Burma is not on the verge of some tremendous political shakeup; while the” Rohingya” are being sacrificed as collateral damage in the greater project of the democratization in Burma, “Aung San Suu Kyi” is missing an extraordinary opportunity to live up to her reputation as a human rights activist.
A massacre took place shortly after reports began to circulate about the alleged rape and murder of an Arakanese woman by three” Rohingya” Muslims in late May 2012. A large Buddhist mob surrounded a bus filled with non-Rohingya Muslim pilgrims, who were leaving Taungup for Rangoon, dragging off several passengers and beating them to death with clubs and sticks.
One suspect reportedly escaped, while the others are being detained in Sandoway awaiting charges.
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch in August 2012, “local police and soldiers stood by and watched the killings without intervening.”
An initial probe into the massacre reportedly floundered after investigators were unable to find a witness who was willing to testify against the killers.
Five days later riots kicked off in Maungdaw town in northern Arakan, pitting Buddhists against the stateless Muslim Rohingya, who are widely despised and considered illegal Bengali immigrants by most locals. It resulted in four days of rioting that spread throughout the coastal state, killing dozens of people and leaving more than 100,000 people displaced.
Nevertheless, in a bid to solve the disagreement between Muslims and Buddhists, the Myanmar government follows an exclusionary policy regarding the six million Rohingya Muslims. The president proposed expulsion or the collective gathering of minority Muslims in refugee camps as the only solutions for the Muslim minority in this country.
Wirathu, the extremist monk behind the hateful 969 movement in Burma, which has been fueling hatred against Muslims, calls himself the “Burmese Bin Laden,” according to a report by The Guardian.
Edited by Anna Jacobs
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