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Racism: Focus on Myanmar’s Islamophobia!

By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
July 19, 2015

Racism sponsored or promoted by a state, like terrorism of all sorts, remains an ugly embodiment of modern corrupt civilization. Today, in the post Sept-11 hoax setting, Islamophobia and media targeting of Muslims serve the racial cause for brutality in many anti-Muslim nations.

All racist states use Islamophobia as the most useful tool to advance their anti-Islam and anti-people agenda by splitting the populations on religious lines.

Asian racism

A global phenomenon, racism in Asia exists for similar reasons like elsewhere in the world. In general, racism exists in these countries due to historical events that occurred either recently or even thousands of years ago. Overall, racism exists in Asia because of ethnic conflicts that existed in the region for thousands of years. Racism leads and is very similar to apartheid.

A few examples would illustrate the point. Myanmar, Thailand, Australia and Israel practice this evil as state policy. In 1991-92, South Asian Bhutan is said to have deported between about 100,000 ethnic Nepalis (Lhotshampa). In March 2008, this population began a multiyear resettlement to third countries including the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.

In Israel, racism exists between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian. Racism in Israel stems from the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict created with the founding of Israel. In Cambodia, one of the biggest genocides in history occurred, with the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot persecuting ethnic Chinese and other foreigners living in Cambodia. This conflict stems from Chinese involvement in Cambodia before the Vietnam War.

Organizations such as Amnesty International, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the United States Department of State have published reports documenting racial discrimination in Israel. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) published reports documenting racism in Israel, and the 2007 report suggested that racism in the country was increasing. Most of Israeli teen consider Arabs to be less intelligent, uncultured and violent. Over a third of Israeli teens fears or hates Arabs all together. 50% of Israelis taking part in March 2007 ACRI's racism poll said they would not live in the same building as Arabs, will not befriend, or let their children befriend Arabs and would not let Arabs into their homes. The report says the trend of increasing racism in Israel is continuing.

Anti—Muslim policy of Chinese government, like other Western powers, is well known. Anti-Japanese sentiment in China is an issue with old roots but anti-African mindset is a new phenomenon. Japan started off by annexing land from China towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. 

Dissatisfaction with the settlement and the Twenty-One Demands by the Japanese government led to a severe boycott of Japanese products in China. Bitterness in China persists over the atrocities of the Second Sino-Japanese War, such as the Nanjing Massacre and Japan's post-war actions. Several clashes between African and Chinese students have occurred since the arrival of Africans to Chinese universities in the 1960s. Many African students come to China on a scholarship through the government to study at a university. A well-documented incident in 1988 featured Chinese students rioting against African students studying in Nanjing. In 2007, police anti-drug crackdowns in Beijing's Sanlitun district were reported to target people from Africa as suspected criminals.

The Varna system in Hindu India became hereditary and a Shudra's son would remain a Shudra, and became to known as caste system. During the British Raj, Racist views against Indians based on the systemic scientific racism practiced in Europe were popularized. India has known racialism in all its forms ever since the commencement of British rule. The idea of a master race is inherent in imperialism. India as a nation and Indians as individuals were subjected to insult, humiliation and contemptuous treatment. In the post Independent era, Indian rulers and allies ill-treat and discriminate Muslims in a manner worse than even racist. Hindutva forces now target Muslims for Hindu votes and power. Hindutva mindset was discernible in their ghastly destruction of historic Babri mosque in India a cultural heritage of Mogul era that created whole range of architectural marvels, including world famous Taj Mahal. 

Interestingly, some RSS historians claim Taj Mahal to be a Hindu treasure while most Muslims working as vote bank agents for political parties for survival money are busy minting easy money. 

Burmese racism

Burmese military hates Islam and Muslims. During the second wave of violence, however, it was not only the Rohingya, but also Kaman Muslims from coastal fishing villages in southern Arakan were forced to flee as their communities were attacked. Although the Kaman are a recognised ethnic group with full citizenship rights, those rights did not protect them from racist state-sponsored violence that destroyed homes and livelihoods.

Nor has citizenship protected those thousands of Muslims currently subjected to a vicious wave of anti- Muslim violence across Myanmar - in Meiktila, Yamethin and in the Pegu townships of Zigon and Nattalin. These attacks, which left many dead and thousands displaced, demonstrate that citizenship is no protection against the communal violence and Islamophobia.

The targets of these attacks were not the Arakan Rohingya as much as Muslim citizens, their mosques, businesses and homes. State-sponsored violence against Muslim communities has been orchestrated by Myanmar's security forces - specifically the NaSaKa border force and assisted by Arakan nationalists, paramilitaries and extremist Buddhist monks. They have been able to act with impunity. 

Ne Win's rise to power in 1962 and his persecution of "resident aliens" (immigrant groups not recognised as citizens of the Union of Burma led to an exodus of some 300,000 Burmese Indians from discriminatory policies, particularly after wholesale nationalization of private enterprise a few years later in 1964. Some Muslim refugees entered Bangladesh, but continued to suffer there as the Bangladeshi government provided no support as of 2007
Myanmar's Rohingya suffer brutal state crime because of deeply entrenched and unchecked Islamophobia. It is the story of the Rohingya: rendered stateless at the hands of the military junta, brutalized by armed Buddhist nationalists, abused, dehumanized and displaced by the current Myanmar state and now fleeing the country which refuses to recognize them. It is the story of the Rohingya: rendered stateless at the hands of the communalized military.

The Rohingya are surely entitled to Myanmar citizenship and ethnic minority recognition. 

Instead, theirs is a "bare life" in which every aspect of social and political life is restricted and diminished. The racist violence experienced by the whole Myanmar Muslim community is drawn into arcane legal debates around the rights and wrongs of immigration and citizenship policy which pertain most specifically to the Rohingya.

There are an estimated 800,000 Rohingyas living in Arakan state, but the number is dwindling fast. Thousands have fled and continue to flee on boats into the Bay of Bengal to escape the anti-Muslim state-sponsored violence which took the lives of nearly 200 in late 2012. Tens of thousands of Rohingya people were displaced in the terror that ensued, and 130,000 were forced into detention camps near Sittwe after their homes were destroyed in June and October. 

According to UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, the camps in Sittwe, Myaybon and Pauk Taw evidence a "dire humanitarian situation" and are characterised by overcrowding, a lack of access to clean water and sanitation, a high risk of disease, food insecurity, child malnutrition, and "harsh and disproportionate restrictions on the freedom of movement".

Expelled refugees

There are also between 200,000 and 300,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees living outside camps in Bangladesh, in addition to 29,000 registered in camps assisted by UNHCR. In Thailand, the coordinator of the Arakan Project and Rohingya expert, reports that conditions for the 1,600 or so Rohingya men in immigration detention centres are appalling. "They are jails," she says, "where people cannot even lie down."

Recently, Malaysia has detained more than a thousand Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees, including dozens of children, a day after authorities rescued hundreds stranded off Indonesia's western tip. There has been a huge increase in refugees from impoverished Bangladesh and Myanmar drifting on boats to Malaysia and Indonesia in recent days since Thailand, usually the first destination in the region's people smuggling network, announced a crackdown on the trafficking.

Over 100 refugees from Burma were found wandering around in southern Thailand last week, apparently having been abandoned by smugglers. An estimated 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar boarded rickety smugglers' boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the UN refugee agency UNHCR has said. Most land in Thailand, where they are held by the smugglers in squalid jungle camps until relatives pay a ransom.

Police on the northwest Malaysian island of Langkawi, close to the Thai border, said three boats had arrived in the middle of the night to unload refugees, who were taken into custody as they came ashore. The boats contained 555 Bangladeshis and 463 Rohingya, who were being handed over to the immigration department.

Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia's wealthier economies, has long been a magnet for illegal immigrants. On July 05 this year, nearly 600 migrants thought to be Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis were rescued from at least two overcrowded wooden boats stranded off Indonesia's Aceh province. 33 bodies, believed to be of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were found in shallow graves in the south, near the Malaysian border. Of those rescued off Indonesia, around 50 were taken to hospital. "In general, they were suffering from starvation and many were very thin," said North Aceh police chief Achmadi. They came onshore and found out it wasn't Malaysia."

In Bangladesh, where the authorities are trying to stamp out the crisis at its source, police say they have arrested more than 100 people traffickers in recent months. Mohammad Ataur Rahman Khandaker, a senior police officer in Teknaf, close to the Myanmar border, said that four "notorious" traffickers had been killed in gun fights with police. Mohammad Kasim, a 44-year-old Bangladeshi migrant on one of the boats, said that each passenger paid 4,400 ringgit ($1,200) for the journey. Three people died on the way and were dumped in the sea. Kasim said he had left the Bangladesh town of Bogra a month ago on a small boat with 30-40 others in the hope of finding a job in Malaysia.

Neo-Nazi Buddhist racism

Myanmar has been plagued by neo-Nazi Buddhist racism and organized mob violence targeting the country's minority Muslims of diverse ethnic and historical backgrounds. The military-controlled state which has long institutionalized racism as its guiding philosophy causes the sudden and deeply troubling eruptions of mass violence against Myanmar's Muslims. At the very heart of Myanmar's Islamophobic campaign lies the state and its successive leaderships, which continue to operate within a concrete set of political economic relations wherein they pursue their typically sinister Machiavellian politics in defense of corporate, clique and personal agendas. 

Time magazine's cover story discussed on Buddhist terror as elaborately as possible. The various cliques of generals and ex-generals, and their instruments of power - the state and its security and propaganda apparatuses - have been directly and indirectly involved in the brutal attacks on Muslim communities and then in the actual mob attacks against them, including the slaughter, destruction, looting and burning of Muslim communities and their sacred mosques. 

The 1982 Citizenship Act of Ne Win spelled out his official justifications for enshrining racism in law and pursuing it as a matter of "national security''. His speech sheds light on the deeply racist nature of the Act, which in the wake of the pogroms against Rohingya Muslims last year has become a focus of international concern and controversy. 

Ne Win unequivocally put it that all immigrants with foreign roots, referred to by him as "mixed bloods", were in Myanmar due to the legacy of British colonial rule. From that fateful day in 1982, successive military government leaderships have as a matter of policy purged their power base - the 400,000-strong armed forces - of officers of Chinese and Indian ancestry, notwithstanding a few exceptions. 

Yet one contradiction in Ne Win's policies favoring "pure bloods" and "true children of the land" is that Ne Win himself could be characterized as "non-pure" ethnic Bama, as were many of his racist deputies and ideological heirs

Over the past 50 years, successive military leaders - from General Ne Win to the recently retired despot Senior General Than Shwe - have not only played the race and faith cards as a matter of political and military strategy, but they have also enshrined Buddhist racism as a key foundational pillar of what is known to many as the Golden Land of Buddhists, reference to the country's many gilded temples and gold-colored, harvest-time paddy fields. 

The unfolding process of Myanmar's nightmarish slide towards "ethnic and religious purity" stands in sharp contrast with the multiculturalist perspective of martyred independence hero Aung San, the father of current opposition leader supporting military racism Aung San Suu Kyi, and his multiethnic and inter-faith comrades. 

State prejudices

Islamophobia vitiates societal environment in non-Muslim nations. State prejudices are responsible for the poor fate of Muslims in Myanmar and elsewhere and core media feed the populations with hatred against Muslims and Islam. 

The Burmese military state security forces have terrorized the entire Myanmar population for five brutal decades. The more pervasive violence is corrupting Myanmar's transition from dictatorship. 

The ethno-economic nationalism has long been a pillar of Burmese nationalism throughout both historical and post-independence eras. Unfortunately, Buddhism and violence have always been an empirical paradox and historical oxymoron. Empirically, the state and its military leaderships are at the very least guilty of negligence of the unfolding racist "Buddhist" campaign against Myanmar's Muslims.

The sectarian dimensions of the racial conflict and rule of military and monks does not let the issue to get solved. It is really the state and its leaderships that have modulated, mobilized and facilitated multiethnic and multi-faith communities' prejudices against Myanmar's peoples of Chinese, Indian and mixed ethnic origins, as well as religious minorities.

Institutionalised Islamophobia, deeply embedded and historically informed is the cause of the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar's Rohingya community in Arakan. The state racial policy has created deep-seated prejudices among Myanmar's different communities.

The "reforming" government of Thein Sein has shown no sign of affording the Rohingya anything but continued persecution, dehumanization, discrimination and violence. Unconscionable, therefore, that the International Crisis Group chose to honour Thein Sein with its peace award this year, in fact made a complete mockery of international peace awards. 

It is Myanmar's icon of freedom and democracy and Nobel peace winner Aung San Suu Kyi's refusal to speak out against the crimes endured by the Rohingya that has provided cover for the international community's failure to intervene. At the outset of the recent waves of anti-Muslim violence, rather than stand up against Buddhist-led racism, she has pegged her colors firmly, not to the oppressed Rohingya, nor to the increasing victims of Islamophobia, but to her former military jailors, for whom she shares a "great fondness" and whom she now charges with the task of implementing the rule of law. 

State racist prejudices are harmful to peaceful environment of any modern state. However, neither the so-called civilized Western nations nor the UN, committed to solve the racist issues, have taken up the issue of racism seriously. Islamic world is not powerful enough to help minority Muslims living particularly in non-Islamic world to regain their human status, let alone Islamic way of life.

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