The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Government-led Oppression of Muslims Continues in Burma

After months of violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities in western Burma, the authorities are making a big move to prevent further conflict, reports the Myanmar Times:

More than 1000 people suspected of taking part in the intercommunal violence in Rakhine State have been detained, and nearly 5000 weapons have been seized by the government. [...]

A total of 4802 weapons, including guns, knives, javelins, crossbows, arrows, slingshots and harpoons were seized in 11 townships in the state.

However, it looks like the arrests are skewed: Lieutenant General Thein Htay, a border affairs official, says 849 “Bengalis” were arrested but just 233 Rakhines. Rakhines are ethnic Burmese people, largely Buddhist, and in Rakhine state (allegedly with government support) they are trying to push out the Rohingya people, Muslims who the Rakhines label Bengali immigrants, even though many Rohingya have lived in Burma for decades.

The oppression of the Rohingya extends to the refugee camps where many are living after fleeing their homes and widespread violence, reports Jonah Fisher for the BBC:

Taung Paw Camp … is a squalid muddy mess with raw sewage running through its open drains. The tents are ramshackle and the people inside hungry and desperate.

Aid workers told me this is one of the worst camps in Asia, if not the world.

Deliveries to both camps on Myebon have to be made by boat, and attempts to get proper sanitation and supplies into Taung Paw have so far been blocked.

Rakhine Buddhists control the jetty and are refusing to allow aid agencies regular access to the Rohingya camp, thwarting attempts to improve conditions.

The Burmese government has been accused of looking the other way (at the least) during the communal violence that swept Rakhine this year. An Al Jazeera documentary released this week that investigated the violence and alleged that government policies amount to “a deliberate attempt to end the Rohingya as a people” earned a formal rebuke from the Burmese government.

With the government arresting so many more “Bengalis” and allowing Rohingya refugee camps to wallow in filth while nearby ethnic Rakhines, also displaced, are given easy access to medicine and food, the government is making a bad situation worse. But some of the worst damage is taking place far beyond Burma. Throughout the Islamic world, the tragedy of these poor Muslims is seen in a narrative of persecution and suffering of Muslims — in Kashmir, in Chechnya, in Bosnia, in (always and everywhere) Palestine, and now in Burma. The suffering of the innocent people caught up in this ugly madness is bad enough, but the news of that suffering, spreading and sometimes hyped in the the media hothouse of the contemporary world, is a destructive force likely to have serious consequences thousands of miles from Burma.

The Burmese government, with help from its new friends in the region and beyond, should protect and defend its reigious minorities — because it is the right thing to do, first and foremost, and also because no other course of action can help keep the peace in our troubled world.

Published on December 15, 2012 10:00 am