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Burma’s forgotten Muslims – even more forgotten

By Bakir Oweida
Al Arabiya
July 21, 2014

I wanted to take a break from the scenes of murder and destruction in Gaza so I grabbed the latest edition of TIME magazine which I bought last Saturday. The contents page gave me a rough idea about the magazine's features this week but it did not prepare me for the shock that was awaiting me. A photo of Abdul Kadir (65 years old) was published on a two-page spread. He lay on the floor as the terror in his eyes stared straight at me. It's as if I was now in his shoes. The headline above the image read: "The Rohingya, Burma's Forgotten Muslims." The photo's caption clarified that Abdul Kadir is one of the 140,000 minority Rohingya Muslims who have been forced to live in camps where disease and despair have taken root. 

TIME magazine is one of the few prominent, global journalistic magazines which are objective when it comes to humanitarian cases and don't discriminate between one man and another on the basis of religion or race. It allocated 10 pages for shocking photos taken by James Nachtwey. The photos reflected the terrifying and bleak situation of Myanmar's Muslims in refugee camps. The least that can be said is that this is a disgrace tarnishing the military junta that has held power in Burma for nearly half a century. Commenting on Nachtwey's photos, Hannah Beech wrote: "Sittwe, a drowsy town in western Burma, is a shattered place. I was first here five years ago, back when ethnic Rakhine Buddhists sold vegetables next to Muslim Rohingya fishermen. At the time, a Buddhist abbot and a Muslim cleric blessed me in whispers, as both spoke out against the repressive junta that had ruled Burma — also known as Myanmar — for nearly half a century. Today, Sittwe, like much of the surrounding state of Rakhine, exists in virtual apartheid."

Discriminatory resentment

Where do we run then? I don't only mean where do Burma’s Muslims run to in order to escape their suffering, but where does a man run to in order to escape his brother's injustice? What produces injustice? I am not alluding to anything that's not well-known here. What provokes people to injustice? I think the answer is resentment. Resentment fosters injustice among humans. Resentment easily finds its way around men as it knows no color, no religion, no race and no ethnicity. As a matter of fact, resentment uses all of the latter as a means of obscuring the facts and creating further resentment. The problem is that everyone knows that. However most people ignore it.

But what's most dangerous is that most people who already know that also ignore how dangerous this is - especially as intellectuals fail to use their knowledge to confront the threats of resentment. Don't they know that if a field is sewn with seeds of resentment, then evil will grow and expand? Don't they know that if the fire of resentment burns down a house, it will sooner or later spread to other houses? Yes, they do know but most of them turn a blind eye.

Buddhists' discriminatory resentment caused the misery of 140,000 Rohingya Muslims and made TIME magazine scream out against this disgrace. But then, what's the most appropriate description of resentment or even hatred that caused the misery of 10 million and 800,000 Syrians to the extent where they need international aid inside their own country? The term "disgrace" probably doesn't justly describe the extent of resentment which has divided Syria and its people. The situation does not differ much in other areas where resentment has spread and manifested itself in acts of murder and destruction.

The head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has called for international protection for the Palestinians from the violations of the Israeli response to "Hamas" provocations. Libya's semi-paralyzed government is also considering calling for international help to save the Libyans from the militias' internal resentment. It's possible to understand how Hamas' rockets - even if they haven't killed anyone - can soothe people's anger as Palestinians fatalities keep rising. But how can one understand that Libyans are shelling one another with Grad missiles at Tripoli airport, killing one another and torching most of their country's jets? What about Iraq? How will these acts of resentment end there? Is there any hope left that Iraq will remain loyal to its centuries-old heritage when it was the cradle of civilizations, where religions and races co-existed and enlightened humanity with knowledge?

This is only the fruit of a few years of pain inflicted by resentment. Is it necessary to remind us of what some Algerians did to Algeria or to other fellow Algerians; or to remind us of what some Egyptians did to Egypt or other Egyptians; or what some Sudanese did to Sudan, from Darfur to Juba; or what some Lebanese did to Lebanon, from Sidon to Beirut to Tripoli? I don't know but I remember how during my early years of political and academic work, I kept silent and never defied sayings like: "Noble resentment triggers revolutions." How can "resentment" be described as "noble?" No. Resentment is resentment and it can only produce the darkest of injustice.


Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on and

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