How To Be An Ignoramus In Just 80 Words: The Rob Liddle Edition

“— ARE you sure we’re being told the full story about those Muslim Rohingya refugees who are flooding into Bangladesh from Burma?

All we get is a BBC correspondent crying in front of the refugee camps every night.

It’s probably true that the Burmese government has been a bit, um, heavy-handed.But shouldn’t we be told a little more about the causes of the problem?

The countless terrorist attacks against Burmese police stations and Buddhists? Just askin’.”  (The Sun, 13 September, 2017)

This is what happens when columnists are paid to write text by the inch and they don’t even bother to research what they are spewing. Well Mr Liddle, since you are asking, perhaps you might be interested in an answer. Just on the offchance that you are, here it is. Here are the causes of the problem.

Burma was part of the British Raj until 1948. During WW2, the Buddhist majority in Burma, and especially the pro-Independence armed rebellion which would later become the Burmese Army and from 1962 onwards the ruling military junta, sided with Japan. The Rohingya Muslim minority in Arakan state sided with the Raj and remained loyal to the British Empire.

What is more, upon independence in 1947-48, the borders between Burma and the rest of the Raj were drawn upon the 1824 border between the two, before Burma was absorbed in the Raj. Arakan state fell on the Burmese side of the border, and along it, its indigenous Muslim populations, the Rohingya – also referred to as the ‘Rooyinga’ in pre-colonial British surveying documents. But because of the bad blood established between the Rohingya and the Burmese Army during WW2, some Rohingya leaders also thought it would be wise to secede from Burma and attach to Muslim Bangladesh. The attempt did not garner enough support so was dropped, but after the event, the Army did take to calling the Rohingya ‘Bengalis’, portraying them to the rest of the country as foreign trespassers.

For their efforts, the ‘Bengalis’ were not given citizenship in the then newly formed Union of Burma. Instead they were given some ID cards which were supposed to entitle them to citizenship later on. Except that by the 1982 Citizenship Act the entire ethnic group numbering in the region of 1.5 to 2 million people was effectively excluded from the right to citizenship in the land of their birth entirely. Incidentally, that is in direct contravention of international law on statelessness. What is more, various iterations of the Burmese/Myanmar constitution stipulates which “races” are indigenous to Burma and therefore entitle to full citizenship, and that list deliberately excludes the Rohingya.

Between the British victory in WW2 and last year, the Rohingya have been the least militant of the border ethnic groups in Burma. For example, when Aung San Suu Kyi came to power she set up a commission to examine the various civil wars in the country. Almost every border minority group was at war with the state: the Kachin, Chin, Shaan etc. But the Rohingya were not included in such discussions because they did not have a militant wing and were recognised as being non-violent – even by Myanmar’s own military. Such has been the way in the country since 1948. Nevertheless, the Rohingya have almost always been the most targeted minority for being both the most visible, being South-Asian as opposed to Indo-Chinese in appearance, and for being Muslim. Much of the violence being instigated by the extreme Buddhists who follow a very militant form of Theravada Buddhism which believes all other ideologies have to be kept suppressed for Buddhism to thrive and that the Rohingya have been reincarnated from snakes and insects and are therefore not even complete humans.

Repeated waves of abuse from the Army or from their Buddhist Rakhine ethnic groups in Arakan state, had seen 1.5 million pushed out of the country with only around 1 million left before August this year. That was well before your militants came on the scene. That was what the state and the Burmese population had done over the decades.

As for the “a bit, um, heavy handed”, what can I say? When you push over 400,000 people out 1 million of your country in less that one month, it is more than a bit, um, ethnic cleansing. But Heaven forefend a BBC reporter might take the side of innocent women and children fleeing full fledged military assaults on the villages by a state Army. That is clearly liberal tear-jerking.

The only question I have regarding this whole thing: why is the Sun paying someone an actual salary to be an ignoramus in short form? Just link to his Twitter feed on your website and be done with it.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Policy and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide (Hurst Publishers & Oxford University Press).

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