Faizel Patel, Radio Islam News, 2014-01-30
“Muslims in Myanmar are treated like animals.” That’s according to a prominent Rohingya political activist.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity to the Business Times UK, the activist has accused Burmese authorities of treating Muslims like “animals” amid reports the Buddhist mobs have torched dozens of Rohingya homes in Arakan State.
“I’m feeling very afraid. We don’t have any kind of protection in this country.
“We haven’t got anything here. Our government is against us,” the activist added.
Over the last two years, several violent episodes against Muslims led by angry Buddhist mobs have tainted the picture of a progressive Myanmar painted by president Thein Sein.
The latest attack occurred over the past few days when UN humanitarian chiefs and human rights organizations reported credible evidence of a massacre of at least 48 Rohingya Muslims, mostly women and children, in Burma’s western Rakhine State.
The Myanmar government has flatly denied the killings, describing reports of a massacre as “misinformation”, and accusing foreign media of distorting the situation.
However, a Thailand-based NGO, the Arakan Project, said it had received multiple reports that dozens of Rohingya Muslims were killed by security forces and Arakanese Buddhists.
The incident, just the latest in a string of attacks that left at least 240 people dead and more than 140,000 homeless or displaced in prison-like camps, caused terror in the Muslim Yangon community
Despite announcing a “zero tolerance” approach to religious violence, and launching a commission of inquiry into the conflict in Rakhine State, the Myanmar government’s response to the nationwide increase in religious tension has been muted, and has failed to protect Muslims under attack.
There has also been no move to block hate speech, with Myanmar’s president Thein Sein publicly defending extremist monk Wirathu and the anti-Muslim 969 movement, describing him as a “son of Buddha” in a public statement last year.
The activist asserted that some people have been threatened by extremists and told “you have to leave, otherwise your fate is going to be like your other Muslim people.”
Others living as a minority in Buddhist areas have simply fled out of fear, he added.
Acting like “mafia”, extremist monks have been exerting powerful influence over local communities, threatening anyone who might be associated or do business with Muslims, the activist added.
“They say ‘if you do business with the kalar [racist slur for Muslims]… we will brand you as a traitor to the nation, to the religion and to the community’,” he said.
Human rights campaigners have accused the government of doing too little to stop anti-Muslim discrimination.
“There is a growing movement designed to isolate Muslim communities socially and economically,” Matthew Smith, executive director of rights group Fortify Rights, told IB Times UK.
“Buddhist citizens have faced ridicule and worse from their peers for patronizing Muslim-owned shops and businesses. Unchecked community-level intimidation against Muslims is occurring in many areas.”
David Mathieson, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, added that the government response to violence and discrimination against Muslims has been “inadequate to the point of complicity”.
According to Smith, discrimination against Muslims “runs deep in Myanmar officialdom”.
Smith said that at least 40 Rohingya were killed, although, “the actual number of deaths may be higher, but information is circumscribed by the government-imposed restrictions on access to the area”.
Analysts point to the upcoming 2015 elections as a key driver in political decision making, and suggest that any attempts at providing support to Rohingya or Muslims in general would likely be wildly unpopular amongst Myanmar’s majority Buddhist population.
Described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term “Rohingya”, referring to them as “Bengalis”.
About 90% of the country’s population of 55 million are Buddhist, with Muslims making up between 4% and 8%. Despite tensions, the Buddhist majority has lived largely peacefully along with the Muslims for the past decades.
The anonymous Rohingya political activist who was interviewed said: “We just want to go back to the normal life [we] used to have.
“[But] if you are Muslim, there is no place for you.” – IBT