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The Rohingya: The Wretched of Myanmar
Special Contribution
By Prof. Abdelkader Zerougui
American University
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein

Franz Fanon — a well-known- advocate of minorities and indigenous people's rights — called upon the European settlers in the 1950s to direct their anger not the dispossessed Africans, but to their colonial governments which refuse to recognize Africans as equal citizens. In his writings this trained psychiatrist articulated the necessity to overcome the atrocities of genocide and warfare by creating a form of reconciliatory commissions on the South African model. Violence begets more violence, and only peaceful coexistence, and harmony can save humanity from the cycle of vengeance.

Today, Myanmar’s ruthless leaders can learn a lot from Fanon’s treatise. The crisis that is facing the Myanmar is the colonial syndrome of superiority. It is only by recognizing the others as part of the social fabric of the country that Myanmar can join the world community. The genocide in the former Yugoslavia and in the Congo is a constant reminder about the atrocities that can be committed against defenseless minorities, when leaders and international organizations are looking the other way Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has appointed 28-member commission to investigate the most recent Rakhine destruction.

Under pressure from international organizations, the government revised its earlier numbers on deaths from two to 112 and the destruction of more than 3,000 Rohingya homes. Independent reports, however, point to a much bigger number of deaths that runs into the hundreds.

Without effective government protection, and with sympathizers within the security services and the army, the Rohingya are becoming an easy prey to the Buddhist mobs, who continue to view this defenseless minority as “Bengalis” who must be deported to their homeland. The violence that ravaged Myebon, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Ramree, Kyauk Phyu, Kyauktaw, Rathedaung and Pauktaw townships few months ago, has been shelved by the authorities. It is clear this ignoring this violence is precipitating Myanmar’s entering another dark tunnel with no light in the horizon.

Ashin Wirathu known as – Burma’s Bin Laden - has been engaged in a crusade against Muslims in Myanmar. Ashin’s 969 slogan which calls for the use of all means to subdue and cleanse Burma from Muslims is echoing in most of the country, and deepening the divide between the two communities. Human Rights Report (May 2013) indicated that 20 children and four teachers were massacred and their bodies were set on fire in Meikhtila own in central Burma, whereas state authorities stood by watching the events unfolding.

NGOs have long criticized the continuous cleansing of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, but the world remains passive in bringing about a stop to this mass killings in the name of religion. The military junta have enacted heavy-handed rules that restrict the movements of the Rohingya, as Muslims needed special permission to move from one city to another and to get married. Now the Junta is reviving the two-child limit child policy for Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists.

The UN secretary Ban Kin-moon strongly condemned what he called –vigilante attacks against the Rohingya and urged the government of Myanmar to intervene in defending the Rohingya minority. Moreover, the UN secretary and some Western countries have threatened to end their support to the economy of Myanmar. Ignoring the Rohingya’s plight could seriously damage the future of this pariah state which continuously tries to derail its own reform process.

Thein Tun Aye , a Buddhist radical and co-founder of the Wan-Lark Rural Development Foundation accused the President of caving in to international pressure, and called Thein Stein’s administration of “divide and rule.” Thein Tun Aye and considers the Rohingya "intruders" and expressed his distrust to any future peaceful resolution to the this minority, and sees their transfer to another country, the only feasible solution to the conflict.

Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) urged the 10-member group, which includes Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, to search for avenues to quell the violence in Myanmar and become more involved in the providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya. The secretary-general warned against the radicalization of the Rohingya minority, as its plight is continuously ignored by the Burmese government.

The European Union, the United States, Turkey and representatives of international organizations have been trying to bring about change in the government's attitude to addressing the Rohingya question. The UN, Japan, and Western countries have rushed to lift the sanctions against Myanmar hoping that such gesture will give the Burmese leadership the possibility to convince the populace that peaceful resolution to the ethnic and religious strife is in the interest of the country. Such approach is better perceived than the ill-advised Organization of Islamic Conference’s proposals, which can be perceived as partial, and religiously motivated, which most probably alienate the Myanmar government and the Buddhist population.

Myanmar needs to take courageous steps towards the establishment of the rule of law, and move on to integrate with the world economy. The ruling elite must espouse the new world order that calls for greater integration and respect of human rights. Authoritarian states can no longer continue to exist, and international law cannot tolerate genocide and the cleansing of defenseless minorities. The international community must send a clear message through the ASEAN that the Rohingya must be protected as equal citizens of Myanmar, and if needed UN forces must be put on the ground to establish peace and trust between the communities.

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Prof. Abdelkader Zerougui is an adjunct professor of sociology at American University in Washington DC, where he received his MA and PhD in sociology. Prof. Zerougui’s writings have appeared on many respected media including the Washington Times and The Seoul Times.






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