The horrors endured by the Rohingya should not be turned into fuel for extremist agendas
Bangladesh has been rightly praised for its compassionate care of the 700,000 additional Rohingya refugees, who have crossed the border from Myanmar since the 2017 campaign of mass killings, rape, and deportation perpetrated by the military and government of Myanmar.
But it’s a situation that is not sustainable -- for Bangladesh, for the Rohingya refugees, and for international justice. The Rohingya crisis is having far-flung ramifications and we need to address the situation for what it is: An international tragedy that requires an international solution.
We must double down on the push to hold those responsible for these atrocities to account. The Rohingya must see justice.
Why is this relevant to me, a man sitting on the other side of the world in Birmingham in the United Kingdom?
Well, I work closely with young Muslim youth who may be at risk of radicalization.
Many of the young men I work with are drawn from the British-Bangladeshi community and time and time again I am faced with having to explain and contextualize the indefensible: Why is the international community not doing enough to help the men, women, and children from Syria, from Palestine -- and increasingly the Rohingya from Myanmar?
Why, once again, is it Muslims who must suffer as those in power turn a blind eye?
The fear of radicalization within the Rohingya community has continuously failed to be substantiated, despite so many of the known drivers being self-evident: Poverty, marginalization, religious intolerance, and a well-deserved sense of injustice.
The biggest threat of radicalization and extremism does not stem from within the community, but from the intolerable injustices they have suffered. The images and stories of the Rohingya people -- the horrors they have endured -- is providing a powerful narrative driving the recruitment of the next generation of global extremists.
Social media only exacerbates the problem. Those who work in Asia and worldwide are increasingly seeing the Rohingya invoked as a recruiting tool by those who seek to exploit their hardship to radicalize and recruit.
My work with young men from British Muslim communities is both a vital source of information as well as resistance to extremism. I can tell you this; young people see an international community that pays lip service to human rights and acknowledges ethnic cleansing but fails to demonstrate action towards providing justice.
They see a grand game of global politics with elites pushing against the powerless, and so often many of the powerless are innocent Muslims.
I know a thing or two about radicalization and extremism. In the 1990s, I was a foreign fighter in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Kashmir. Like most other foreign fighters I’ve met, I didn’t start out with the goal of travelling to far away countries to fight in foreign wars.
For me, it started while I was still in the UK, when images of suffering civilians in Bosnia filled our television screens and newspapers.
I was moved to act and travelled to Bosnia to provide humanitarian assistance.
It was my first-hand experience in central Bosnia, where I met and spoke to those who had escaped the horrors inflicted on them by their Christian Serb and Croat compatriots that lit the fire within me. I could no longer sit idly, and was drawn into the murky web of extremists who inhabited the fringes of the Bosnian war.
Hatred amongst neighbours, killing, brutalization, the mass rape of women and children, deportation, and expulsion. The parallels to the Myanmar Rohingya are so clear.
In Bosnia and Afghanistan, I fought alongside Bangladeshi “brothers,” some of whom were drawn from the same community as me; second generation British Muslims. It is now the children of this generation that I work with.
Their kids are bright, inquisitive, and glued to social media. They feel the same injustices borne of years of seeing images and stories of suffering and injustice in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, and now the Rohingya from Myanmar.
Most of these young men are satisfied just to talk and vent their frustrations but we know we are fighting against hidden powers that seek to exploit compassion, despair, and frustration to recruit our sons and daughters to extremist networks.
We must have justice for the Rohingya people. We must put an end to the suffering of the Rohingya people and stop a tragic series of events being exploited and allowed to cause more harm to more innocent people across the world.
Shahid Butt was a foreign fighter is Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Kashmir. He spent five years in prison in Yemen. He now works for the Birmingham-based Organization for Community Development, preventing the radicalization of young men.