October 22nd, 2017

Sad story of the Rohingya Muslims


By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on September 23, 2017.

Mansoor Ladha

The year 2017 will go down in history as the most devastating and distressing year for Muslims. This is a year marking a significant increase in anti-Muslim incidents, escalation in Islamophobia and open episodes against Muslims, not only in Canada but all around the world.

The latest large-scale assault on Muslims has been happening in Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s Myanmar, where the country’s >Rohingya Muslim minority has been systematically terrorized and harassed by the state. Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled violence, killings, rape and massacre while several Rohingya drowned attempting to cross into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Rohingya, who >have been described as the world’s most persecuted people, totalling 1.1 million people, live in Myanmar, >predominately in Rakhine state, where they have co-existed fearfully alongside Buddhists for decades.

In an interview with Aljazeera, 33-year-old Mohammed Soya, a farmer from Myanmar, described his existence under a brutal regime. “We did not have the right to work or the right to education >so we could not get jobs in the police, military or other smart offices. We had to work on the farms, or collect bamboo from the forest. >

“It was a hand-to-mouth existence, somehow, we survived even though we did not have any freedom – we just got through life, one day at a time,” he added, lamenting that “humans are all the same, religions do not make us differentÉ we are all human and all born equal.”

In July 1995, Aung San Suu Kyi >was, after Nelson Mandela, the most important global symbol of defiance against tyranny. She was described as a heroine by the world’s media when she defied soldiers with their rifles levelled in her direction.

As recently as last December, Suu Kyi >has rebuffed Vijay Nambiar, the UN Special Representative to Myanmar, who urged her to visit Rakhine state. Despite the world outcry, she has never conceded that the Rohingya Muslims are being subjected to ethnic cleansing, not even when tens of thousands are being burned from their homes amid widespread reports of killing and sexual violence.

History can provide examples of politicians who have come out in defence of minorities to prevent violence. One can still remember Nehru wading into Hindu mobs to prevent sectarian violence marking one of the 20th century’s defining acts of personal courage. While we do not expect such a bold action on Suu Kyi’s part, it is the absence of even rhetorical intervention that disturbs many former supporters

A time has come when the world should heed this message from Mohammed of Myanmar. Pressures should be exerted on the Myanmar government, especially on Suu Kyi, who is holding a prominent position in the government. Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, who is in the habit of championing refugee causes, has also been notably silent on this international massacre on a Muslim minority.

We just cannot turn a blind eye when an estimated over 300,000, mainly women and children, have fled to Bangladesh to avoid indiscriminate violence, which has been described as “ethnic cleansing.” Suu Kyi, who dedicated her life to establishing democracy in Myanmar, was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship for her brave efforts. Today, despite provocations from fellow Nobel Laureates like Malala Yousafzai and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu to do something to prevent the atrocities on her countrymen, she has remained silent.

“Stop the violence. Today we have seen pictures of small children killed by Myanmar’s security forces. These children attacked no one, but still their homes were burned to the ground,” Yousafzai said. “The world is waiting.”

The 85-year-old Tutu had this to say: “Your emergence into public life allayed our concerns about violence being perpetrated against members of the Rohingya. But what some have called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and others ‘a slow genocide’ has persisted – and recently accelerated.”

“It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country,” said the anti-apartheid activist. “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in >Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize or having honorary citizenship of a country is considered a prestigious honour and a global recognition. These honours are bestowed on individuals as a tribute for their work in science, literature or peace. However, if such high achievers are guilty of doing things contrary to the mandate and code of conduct expected of them, or if their activities are in gross violation of the idea of “peace” on whose basis they had been awarded this prestigious honour, then the awarding authorities should have no hesitation to rescind the honour.

Global human rights bodies should put pressure on the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and the Canadian government to rescind the honours bestowed on Aung San Su Kyi. They should make it clear to the recipient that the honour bestowed on them is in recognition of good behaviour and sentiments consistent with the award’s philosophy and values. The troubling question is whether her long-declared devotion to universal human rights will ever encompass the beleaguered Rohingya Muslims in her Buddhist majority country? Only Suu Kyi can answer this question.

Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist, travel writer and author of “Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims” and “Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West.”


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