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Slow Genocide of The Rohingya People of Myanmar (Burma)

By Mass L. Usuf
June 30, 2015

When The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof asked a Buddhist boy of around 12 years old, “what would you do if you meet a Rohingya Muslim boy?”. He nonchalantly replied, “I will kill him”. (NYT, The-21st-century-concentration-camp video). Curious about this, I asked a Sri Lankan Buddhist boy (Kavinda), “what would you do if you meet a Muslim boy?” He shyly replied, “I will ask his name”. I then asked him, after that what will you do ? He innocently said, “I will ask him if he will play with me”.

It is not that the Buddhist boy of Burma was a devil and the Sri Lankan boy an angel. What it means is that one is indoctrinated and the other is not. The Burmese boy’s response was not a sudden eruption of religious sentiments but the result of carefully cultivated hatred. Hatred that generates a situation of anger, making one community inflamed against another.

This is exactly what responsible, unbiased, civic minded Sri Lankans should fear against happening to our children, the innocent Sri Lankan masses and, most significantly, to the Samaneras (the novice monks). Hatred and violence should not be seen by these novice monks as the proper way to achieve their goals. Indications are that indoctrination is taking place in Sri Lanka too, in a subtle way, unduly exploiting the honour and respect of the robe.

False Propaganda

The sinister strategy is to alienate or distance a minority people from the majority population. This methodology is adopted by first constructing a negative identity about the targeted minority group. The labeling of Muslims of Sri Lanka as extremists, the bygone halaal issue, symbolization of the Islamic dress code, threat of population increase etc. are good examples of the construction of that identity. This is followed by false, distorted, unfounded, make believe propaganda. The consistent perpetuation of this propaganda creates an unwholesome identity about the Muslims in the minds of the majority. The extent of the bias will be such that whenever a Sinhalese sees a Muslim person, he sees him with the tainted lenses of these carefully fostered lies. This over a period of time cultivates hatredness and alienates one from the other. It is our responsibility to ensure that Kavinda does not become a killer. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen recently speaking at the Harvard Global Equity Initiative describing propaganda against the Rohingyas said, “you can make a people totally beastly by just propaganda and creating a condition in which they feel justified in doing it”.

Misusing the Sivura

The saffron robe (sivura) which is a symbolic homage to a great Teacher is respected by the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people alike. The Buddhists also accept with reverence and acknowledge with complete trust the physical person who dons the robe. This noble trust can be easily misused or violated by any monk as the average Buddhist cannot think beyond the robe. The monks and the Buddhist laymen running amok in Sri Lanka in the past years is concrete proof of this.

The rogue monk of Burma with his coterie of monks also misused this trust to mislead, misinform and misdirect people towards hatredness. Today, Ahsin Wirathu is infamous as the face of Buddhist terror. His hands are bloodied by the blood of the Rohingya men, women and children. It is a tragedy that he too is a saffron robed Bhikku. A gross insult to the serene, noble, tranquil personage of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha and his teachings. One of the greatest human beings who has walked this earth.

“The Bhikku Sangha was set up by Lord Buddha for Bhikkhus to become inspirational leaders by learning, practising, and developing certain perfections such as Generosity, Morality, Renunciation, Wisdom, Patience, Truthfulness, Determination, and Loving kindness to total completeness and teach the Doctrine (Dhamma) to all human beings, regardless of their status in society.” (Gamini Jayaweera, The Colombo Telegraph, 22/5/2015)

It is disconcerting to note the unabashed desire of a minority of the Sri Lankan “Bhikkus” competing to follow the path of the so called Buddhist terror Wirathu than the enlightened path of the Dhamma.

Slow Genocide

The mass and indiscriminate killing of people by weapons in Rwanda, Khmer Rouge etc. is considered genocide. It is sensational, fast and evidential. Slow genocide is a process of killing people without these characteristics ? The 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II (c) states :

“Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(c) “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; …”

The Rohingya people is a reflection of this Article. They are denied the basic needs of food, clean water, health and sanitation. Denial of opportunity to work and feed the family, forced displacement, relocation in squalid camps, restricting movement, torture for violating restrictions, starvation etc. It is beyond belief that the doctor-patient ratio of the Rohingya people is One doctor for every 80,000 patients.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Doctors without Borders, the only organization providing health care, was deeply shocked when they were expelled by the Burmese government last year. This had left the Rohingya people without medicine and without hope for more than a year. It is recorded that many with curable diseases have died because of the lack of medicines and doctors. For the tens of thousands, the decision to deny them basic health care is a death sentence – Slow Genocide.

The Government

Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Laureate of Peace, has not spoken a word about the Rohingyas. Her fear is that she will alienate the majority Buddhists. Aung says to BBC in June 2013, “I want to be President”. It is, therefore, politically risky for Aung San to speak about the reviled Rohingya. Surprised at her silence, even Dalai Lama urged her to come out with a statement on the Rohingya but to no avail.

Is it out of fear that the government of Sri Lankan, like Aung San is also maintaining a stoic silence on the Rohingya issue ? Silence may be interpreted by the international community as an endorsement and misinterpreted by the local “wirathus” as tacit approval for their rampage. Our free media by an “oversight” has missed to cover this institutionalized slow killing of a people in the name of Buddhism. While in false pride, we brag about Sri Lanka being the sanctum sanctorum of Theravada Buddhism. Where are our values ?

The Government, the Noble Maha Sangha and the Buddhist people cannot just be spectators. This is not internal politics or interfering in the sovereignty of another country but protecting the Dhamma, which is Universal. They have a duty to clear the Dhamma from being tarnished. Here genocide / ethnic cleansing / violation of human rights is perpetrated in the name of Buddhism like ISIS is using the name of Islam to massacre people. In principle, it will regarded as a moral and ethical failure not to condemn such acts of violence especially, emanating from a philosophy advocating Ahimsa (non-violence).

Like many other world leaders, Amartya Sen asks, “What are Buddhists, the followers of Buddha a teaching of non-violence doing in this conflict ?”

Let us be cautious, the world is not blind to what is happening.

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