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The friendless Rohingya

  • Published at 11:51 am October 19th, 2017
  • Last updated at 12:34 pm October 19th, 2017
The friendless Rohingya
The attempted ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya by the Myanmar Army has devolved into one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. There have been deaths, rapes, arsons, and burning of whole villages, setting off a huge exodus of Rohingya refugees into neighbouring Bangladesh. The Myanmar government maintains that Rohingya are Bengalis and some Bengalis also claim that. But the Rohingya say they are Rohingya. The Rohingya appear to be particularly friendless, especially among stakeholders who matter and not Erdogan-type neo-fascist Ottomans who want to project a sort of leadership position among the Sunni “Ummah” through public acts of benevolence, relief-giving, photo-ops of his wife, and an offer of building 100,000 shelters. But at this point, everything counts -- even aid from the US and India. Nothing to offer The so-called Sunni “Ummah” does not treat brown Muslims as equals, so naturally, the great defenders of the two holy sites of Islam are busy devastating Yemen and have not made any offer to provide refuge to the fleeing, predominantly Muslim, Rohingya. China has sided with the Myanmar government. The US seems unmoved by their plight. The Indian Union has sent token relief to Bangladesh but has proclaimed Rohingya inside the Indian Union as illegal immigrants and not refugees and has instructed its Border Security Forces to confront Rohingya with pepper spray. It is sick but that is to be expected from a government in New Delhi that is driven by Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology. In many ways, this reflects the sad reality of a post-Cold War, quasi-unipolar world where effective multi-polarity is still more theoretical than real. The Soviet Empire, with all its ills, was an effective check against the unipolarity of the Yankee Empire. Thus, when a huge humanitarian crisis happened, if one of them sided with the perpetrators, the other sided with the victims. Rohingya today are friendless largely due to the loss of that global political balance. China has had a long standing relationship with Myanmar during its wilderness years -- thus acquiring mineral resources, mineral exploration rights, and crucial infrastructure including a port and pipeline project that will enable oil supplies to come from the Gulf to China bypassing the straits of Malacca. The Indian Union is playing a make-up game for the benefit of its own big Banias who bankrolled BJP’s rise to power in 2014. It’s payback time. There are projects in Myanmar for Delhi to grab and handout to these big Banias and some such projects are already in place. There is nothing that the Rohingya offer to anyone in any cost-benefit analysis. And so, the poor state of Bangladesh is left holding the bag and the refugees on its own land that is already one of the most densely populated on Earth.
The Rohingya issue becomes a ‘Muslim’ humanitarian issue and Erdogan becomes neo-Suleiman, the magnificent
The Muslim factor In this context, the enthusiasm and solidarity of pan-Islamists of all hues, from the benign to the out-and-out genocide supporters during 1971, have been the biggest impediment for non-Muslim solidarity, especially among non-Muslims in the Indian Union and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. If these pan-Islamists actually cared about the plight of the Rohingya, instead of using images -- in many cases fake ones -- of the crisis, they would have desisted from playing sectarian political games in their own domestic context. From the moment the Rohingya crisis erupted, “Islamic” solidarity erupted too with full vigour and it asked, without irony, the question: “Are Rohingya Muslims not human?” Such is the strength of this narrative that even Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mentioned in the parliament the Muslim aspect of Rohingya. As it turns out, most, but not all, Rohingyas are Muslim and many of the Hindu Rohingyas are also among the refugees and disturbing reports have emerged from TV media in Bangladesh about Hindu Rohingya refugees being raped and tortured in Rohingya camps. Additionally, the BBC has reported a mass grave of Hindu Rohingya, mostly female, in the Rakhine. Though not independently verifiable, the Myanmar army claimed that this was the work of Muslim Rohingya insurgents, whose coordinated attacks on police outposts triggered the brutal military campaign that caused the mass exodus. Reality is always more complicated than narratives that emerge out of it.  Otherwise, this sub-continent would not have produced so many Muslims who believe that Hindus are the worst type of human being and vice versa. In such critical times, the Rohingya issue becomes a “Muslim” humanitarian issue and Erdogan becomes neo-Suleiman, the magnificent. But one must try to understand why Sheikh Hasina, too, had to underline the “Muslim” bit when she meant Rohingya. There is a context. The Islamists of the opposition, including those who opposed the independence of Bangladesh, have charged the ruling party with “minority appeasement.” Minority appeasement is an accusation that is always stuck to anyone who does not seem to actively promote hatred towards the communal “other” in this subcontinent made up of byproducts of a communal Partition. Dhaka has responded way beyond its means in this human disaster, but the tacit Bengali nationalist understanding is working at the relief camp level. The strong promotion of contraception among the Rohingya who are largely unaccustomed to birth control, sends a message to the refugees: “Refuge is okay for now but we would ideally want all of you to go; and while you are here, we do not want you to increase in number in comparison to us who increase in much lower rates.” Identity politics Islamists have not missed an opportunity to spin the situation in accordance with their own divisive agenda through this issue and that has become one of the main, if not the main, narrative of why the Rohingya issue concerns Bangladesh. The reason is Muslim solidarity  And that creates a highly fertile ground for a most hateful form of Islamic terrorism. And that association makes most governments wary about getting associated (if being resource-less, poor, brown people without a state with its biggest neighbours hardly rushing to rescue altogether is not already bad enough). My friend and noted columnist Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury sums this up succinctly: “The beastly Islamist radicals and terrorists have brought so much bad name for the Muslims that even on a genuine and dire case of persecution of ordinary Muslims, the latter fail to draw appropriate empathy and necessary supportive action from the rest of the world.” Only fools would believe that the governing principle of white people’s charity money is human compassion, and not prejudiced ideology. A more acceptable veneer has been attempted by claiming Rohingya to be Bengalis and hence it is one of national solidarity but even that doesn’t cut it since Rohingya themselves do not say they are Bengalis. They say they are Rohingyas.

* * *

When solidarity becomes faith-based, the lens through which the perpetrators of violence against the Rohingya are viewed is coloured by that. Thus, the Buddhists become the perpetrators. No doubt hate-filled political Buddhism in Myanmar is part of the ideological frame, which makes this sort of ethnic cleansing possible. But then the response widens. There have been cases when some Buddhists in Bangladesh have been harassed and threatened by some Muslims as revenge for the Rohingya. Thus, the actions of the majority Buddhist-Burmese do not help the case of the minority Buddhist citizens of Bangladesh, a community already at the receiving end of attacks and destruction of Buddhist places of worship in Bangladesh. And it is also simultaneously true that for some CHT Buddhists -- this is akin to the long-awaited “Gujarat silent support” of some Hindu Bengalis in Bangladesh -- a rare, celebrated moment of counter-punch for all the punches they have received at the hands of Muslims, Urdu and Bengali, in Bangladesh. United by hate Nothing could be sadder than this -- that of victims of hate united with perpetrators of hate. That is a moment of dehumanisation. The Muslim reference of Sheikh Hasina was probably avoidable, given this complex context in her own country. In West Bengal, the Rohingya issue has had some play in public discourse. There are a few Rohingya refugees in West Bengal. The Union government has announced that it considers them as illegal immigrants and not refugees, and hence liable to be deported. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made her stance very clear on this issue. It is a humanitarian issue and she will not allow any Rohingya refugee to be deported from West Bengal. The Union government’s attitude on this humanitarian issue has been one of inhumanity, given its otherwise open-door policy on not deporting persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring states.
It is an intersection of stupendous hate from an assemblage that collectively represents a significant section of the scum of the earth
Thus, Sunni Muslim minorities persecuted in their homeland are not fit for the even token verbal compassion compared to other persecuted religious minority groups. Like Sheikh Hasina, in the eyes of anti-Muslim Hindu communal forces of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology, Mamata Banerjee too is a minority appeaser. The few Muslim refugees apparently plan to completely Islamise West Bengal under the watchful and willful actions of Mamata Banerjee, who they also accuse of being a closet Muslim. We’ve been here before The fantastic, if not borderline insane, claims of this political front of West Bengal feeds off partly from the Delhi plan of making West Bengal a vassal state, an extension of the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan hegemonic space, partly from the pathological hatred of Muslims many of them actually harbour because of the action of Islamists in West Bengal. On this Rohingya issue, multiple protests were held in West Bengal. In Kolkata, the consulate was gheraoed by students and youths. Islamists didn’t join. Some Muslims did. Various hues of Islamists held their own protests. The one by the Student Islamic Organisation held banners which talked about “genocide of Muslims in Burma,” without even mentioning the term “Rohingya.” This is ironic, because, at this point, it still does not fulfill the internationally accepted definition of genocide, neither is it only Muslims who have been affected among the Rohingya, and Burma is now Myanmar, a name change that reflects an ideological shift. Another such protest by Islamists in Kolkata had a prominent Urdu-speaking loudmouth, with the self-certified authority of talking on the behalf of Muslims, the 95% Bengali-speaking Muslims of Bengal, conjuring up gory images of mass violence. He said that “our” people might lay down 72 lives, but will make sure that the other side has 10,000 funerals. Such things were said in broad daylight peppered by chants of “Allahu Akbar.” One of the main organisers of this protest was also one of the main organisers of the biggest protest in Kolkata (and read the next bit carefully because this is quite amazing and shocking) in support of war criminals of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. These are the kind of elements and characters that the Rohingya have in their support, and that do not help the Rohingya cause, but the utterly friendless Rohingya cannot practically do much about it, even if they wanted to. And that is the tragedy of this entire crisis. In the thick of it The Christian fundamentalist nonchalance of the US, the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan imperial ideology of the Indian Union, the local variants of a hardline pan-Islamist ideology in Bangladesh, West Bengal, and in Rakhine state, and Burmese-Buddhist ethno-nationalism of Myanmar are the major narrative shapers here. It is an intersection of stupendous hate from an assemblage that collectively represents a significant section of the scum of the earth. The Rohingya are in the middle of it. And every other ideological “enemy” of the different stake-holders are smaller co-victims. And yet, the Rohingya issue -- and all the associated victims of communally inspired oppression -- are also products of colonialism and the inherited political and structural nature of the successor states. And these narratives of competitive hate often miss out on the various powerless ones, counted as members of such armies of hate but are people who are victims along multiple axis with little real freedom to stand apart in any meaningful way. That is often the majority of the people caught under terms like “Rohingya,” “East Bengali Hindus” and such. Thinker and political activist Khalid Anis Ansari of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, drives this point home: “Rohingya is an ethnic issue and a product of the constitutive violence of the nation-state in general. Homologically, it needs to be placed alongside the Tibet, Kashmir, Baloch and other similar conflicts. “The framing of the Rohingya violence through the ‘Islamophobic’ lens is part of the white imperial ‘clash of civilisations’ project and legitimises all right-wing ‘native’ voices, through competition and symbiosis, thereby excluding subaltern concerns.” History bears this out. It had different names in different times. From the Rohingya of Myanmar to the Hindus of Bangladesh to the Muslims of Hindustan, what unites most of them is a lack of equal citizenship. Garga Chatterjee is a political and cultural commentator. He can be followed on twitter @gargac.
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