EXCLUSIVE: 'Rohingya issue, not Muslims v/s Buddhist paradigm'

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EXCLUSIVE: ’Rohingya issue, not Muslims v/s Buddhist paradigm’ 
 By Mehmet Ozturk, Iftikhar Gilani, Sorwar Alam and Ahmet Gurhan Kartal –Anadolu Agency                                      

Dr. Maung Zarni, 56, scholar and activist, known for his opposition to the violence in Myanmar and his support to the Rohingya population said the Burmese military was taking advantage of strategic rivalry between China and India and blamed genocide of Rohingya to an institutional hate campaign. 

 Born in a Burmese Buddhist family, Zarni said a campaign of ignorance was manufactured in his country through schools, mass media, and Buddhist organizations against Rohingya, which eventually culminated in the genocide.  “The Burmese public has been made ignorant of the facts about Islam and Muslims,” said Zarni in an exclusive interaction with Anadolu Agency.

Co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition and the Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia, the UK-based scholar said there was no reason for the Burmese government to target Rohingya as they do not demand secession, independence, or even a regional autonomy.  “Rohingya are not fighting with any community or with the government. They want to live in Burma as peacefully as anybody,” he said. 

He said it is Rakhine Buddhists who are fighting the central government of ethnic Burmese to reclaim their sovereignty, they have lost 200 years ago. Zarin said the Rohingya have become sandwiched between the two waring Buddhist parties.  “That is the only conflict there, “he said, adding that the world does not know these facts about Myanmar and tends to focus on Muslims versus the Buddhist paradigm.  The activist further said that the Burmese military was also taking advantage of strategic rivalry between China and India in the region.

“The multi-billion-dollar projects along the Arakan the coastline, or like giving the mineral rights concessions or gas exploration rights, you will see a pattern of the Burmese military, making sure both India and China received something. In other words, while they are playing India and China against each other, to maintain the benefits of being allies with both powers,” he said.

It triggered what you call uprising. But I think it is more than an uprising as it triggered a new global consciousness among non-black people, that something is fundamentally wrong, and needs to be changed.  White supremacy or what racism is not about the skin color of white people. It is about devastatingly harmful ideology, about institutions, histories, and structures and practices of discrimination, exploitation, looting, and land grab.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade went on for 350 years. All the leading European countries, France, Britain, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, who are champions of human rights and liberalism today, were in the slave trade in the US, Caribbean, and Brazil.  These leading European powers looted Africa of its most precious resources. That is not diamonds, gold, or copper, but its humans.

We today witness the lootings in New York and other places and feel uncomfortable. Leading European nations looted Africa of its humans, making them commodities, chained in the basement of ships. The slave trading was endorsed by the Catholic Church and the rulers of Europe.  The wealth of Europe, all the beautiful cities of Europe, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague were built on the corpses and labor of non-European people.

I think fear and hatred are rooted in ignorance. Ignorance is not something that comes naturally. It is taught in school, promoted by demagogic politicians, propagated by religious leaders, and amplified by mass media. So, these institutions are involved in making public ignorant.

I am a Burmese Buddhist from Myanmar. I lived there. We were made ignorant of the fact that Rohingya belong to Burma. Burmese Buddhists susceptible to the propaganda of the Burmese military since the 1960s have been made to believe that they do not want Muslim Burmese whether they are Rohingya ethnic, or Gujarati or others who may have migrated to Burma centuries ago.

The Burmese military systematically engaged in propagating Islamophobia: Muslims are bad and evil and Islam is invasive and a conquering ideology. And they will destroy a Buddhist country and Buddha’s way of life. Therefore, we, the Burmese public has been made ignorant of the facts about Islam and Muslims. Muslims want peace as much as any other, Christian or Buddhist or Hindu. Because of this manufactured ignorance, Burmese think to get rid of the Rohingya and discriminate and persecute other Muslims.

There are also economic gains that accrue in the Rohingya genocide. Every genocide benefits the killers, the perpetrators. If you look at Nazi Germany, when the Nazis mass-exterminated the German Jews everything that belonged to the victims was confiscated by the killers – land, building, treasures of all kinds including jewelry, gold, art objects, even shoes!  Likewise, the Burmese military and the political state took the abandoned land, warehouses, paddy, un-destroyed buildings, etc.

Out of 14 provinces in Myanmar 11 are embroiled in some or other forms of strife. Rakhine is the only province where the conflict has attained communal proportions. Why is it so?  Concerning the Rohingya, there is no conflict. Because genocides are no conflicts. Rohingya are not fighting with any community or with the government. Rohingya wants to live in Burma as peacefully as anybody. They even do not demand independence or regional autonomy – only basic rights, civil rights, and equal citizenship which they had lost at the hands of the Burmese state.

So, the conflict in Rakhine is actually between Rakhine Buddhists who lost their old kingdom 200 years ago and the Burmese Buddhists who rule the center. That is the only conflict there. Rakhine Buddhists are fighting through armed struggle against the Burmese Buddhists. This is something new. But the question is why the world does not know that there are other armed resistance movements and conflicts in Myanmar? Because the western media wants to focus on Muslims versus the Buddhist paradigm. They want to use this narrative of religious conflict – or “the clash of civilization”, if you want, which fits the larger Islamophobia which seeps through western media being that whenever there is Islam, there is a war, conflict, and suicide bombing.  But in the case of Burma, in the case of Rohingya, the violence is perpetrated not by the Muslims, but by the Burmese military and Buddhist majority.

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