Here’s the follow-up to a post earlier this week, Award-winning journalists call out pro-Muslim bias in AP, Reuters, BBC Myanmar coverage.
Let’s refresh our memories of what has been going on in Myanmar this last month. All the news reports coming from Myanmar (Burma) tell the same story: tens of thousands of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have been fleeing into Bangladesh, to avoid the sudden upsurge in violence from both Burmese military and civilians. The Rohingya are presented as the innocent and long-suffering victims of “racist” Burmese Buddhists (Islam being, for propaganda purposes, a “race”). Only a handful of the reports mention, and only briefly, as if in passing, that the current violence began when, in mid-August, Rohingya fighters attacked 30 different police stations and an army base, as part of their campaign to stake their claim to Rakhine State, in western Myanmar, and showing themselves able “to strike terror in the hearts” of the Infidels to get it. The attacks left more than 70 dead, Muslims and Buddhists.
The Rohingyas unleashed still other attacks, and the Burmese army then retaliated, and the Rohingya continued to strike back during the last two weeks in August, and then there was more retaliation from the Buddhists. Many Rohingya have fled the retaliatory violence — a violence which they began — for Bangladesh, but it is their flight, and that retaliation by the Buddhists, which is getting almost all of the attention in the Western press, complete with photographs of victims of other conflicts who are presented as Rohingya (the “fake news” of which Aung San Suu Kyi complained), rather than what prompted it.
Seldom mentioned is that the August attack by the Rohingyas was preceded by a similar attack, last October, by the Rohingyas on the Burmese (Buddhist) police, and again, it was not their initial attack, but almost exclusively the retaliation by the Buddhist army, that was the focus of reports in the foreign press last fall. Reports of Rohingya villages being burnt down are reported uncritically. The Myanmar authorities have claimed that Islamic militants, having infiltrated Rohingya communities, have themselves been setting fire to houses in Muslim villages in order to get the world even more on their side. Instead of assuming these claims must be false, why not investigate them?
The Western media have uncritically repeated the Rohingya claim that they have inhabited Arakan for many centuries or “since time immemorial.” Others beg to differ, among them a well-known historian, and author of many works on Burma, Professor Andrew Selth of Griffith University in Australia. He has stated categorically that the name “Rohingya” was taken by “Bengali Muslims who live in Arakan State…most Rohingyas arrived with the British colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries.” It is true that a handful of Bengali Muslims drifted down to Burma over the centuries, but Professor Selth makes the important point — unknown to Western reporters — that the vast majority of Rohingyas are recent arrivals, their great migration made possible by the fact that Burma was administratively part of British India until 1937, which meant there was no formal border to cross.
Particularly disappointing for many in the West (not to speak of the reactions of Pakistan, Al Jazeera, and Tariq Ramadan) has been what they regard as the unforgivable silence of Aung San Suu Kyi, currently the head of the Myanmar government. For Aung San Suu Kyi was formerly the leader of the nonviolent opposition to the Burmese military, placed under house arrest by the generals, then freed, and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. For more than two decades she was, for her continued defiance of the generals, and willingness to endure that house arrest, a darling of the international media. Since the end of military rule, which she helped to bring about, she has held a number of important government posts, and is now the State Counsellor (equivalent to Prime Minister) in Myanmar.
But in her continuing refusal to condemn outright the attacks on the Rohingya, and in her insistence that in Myanmar there has been “violence on both sides” — for which there is ample evidence — Aung San Suu Kyi is now seen by many outside Myanmar in quite another light. Many have criticized Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the 2012 Rakhine State riots, when, after the rape and killing of a Buddhist woman by three Rohingyas, Buddhists retaliated, and then the violence escalated when hundreds of Rohingyas went on a rampage following Friday prayers at a mosque, throwing rocks and setting fire to houses and buildings. Four Buddhists, among them a doctor and an elderly man, died of multiple knife wounds. Recent accounts in the foreign media ignore all that. For the Western media, the narrative remains the same; the Rohingya are always the victims, and the Buddhist violence against them is always unwarranted.
If we examine the last 150 years of Burmese history, we may find that Madame Suu Kyi has more of a point than her foreign critics think. It is that history that is in the minds of, and explains the behavior today of, the Buddhists of Myanmar. In 1826, after the Anglo-Burmese War, the British annexed Arakan (Rakhine State), where almost all of the 1.1 million Rohingyas now in Myanmar still live, to British India. And they began to encourage Indians, mainly Muslims, to move into Arakan from Bengal as cheap farm labor. They continued to encourage this migration throughout the nineteenth-century. The numbers of Bengali Muslim migrants is impressive. In Akyab District, the capital of Arakan, according to the British censuses of 1872 and 1911, there was an increase in the Muslim population from 58,255 to 178,647, a tripling within forty years. At the beginning of the 20th century, migrants from Bengal were still arriving in Burma at the rate of a quarter million per year. In the peak year of 1927, 480,000 people arrived in Burma, with Rangoon in that year surpassing New York City as the greatest migration port in the world. And many of these migrants were Bengali Muslims who joined the Muslims already in Rakhine State, renaming themselves the Rohingyas. The Buddhists continued to call them, as they still do today, “Bengalis.” And the immigration of Bengali Muslims continued for decades. In a 1955 study published by Stanford University, the authors Virginia Thompson and Richard Adloff concluded that “’the post-war (World War II) illegal immigration of Chittagonians [i.e., Bengali Muslims from Chittagong in East Pakistan] into that area [Arakan state] was on a vast scale, and in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung areas they replaced the [Buddhist] Arakanese.”
The Buddhist Burmese looked on helplessly at the arrival of these hundreds of thousands of Muslims, but there was nothing they could do against the policy of their British colonial masters. During World War II, the British retreat in the face of the Japanese led to a power vacuum, and simmering inter-communal tensions erupted, with the Arakanese Massacres of 1942, when 50,000 Buddhist Rakhines were killed by the Rohingyas in Rakhine (Arakan) state. In retaliation, the Buddhists then killed as many as 40,000 Rohingyas. (In another account, with much lower figures, the Rohingyas killed 20,000 of the Buddhists, who then killed 5,000 of the Rohingyas.) The origins of the mass killing instigated by the Rohingya Muslims in 1942 have a simple explanation: they had been left weapons by the retreating British, who had been assured that the Rohingyas would use the weapons against the Japanese. Instead, as soon as they acquired these arms, the Rohingyas attacked the Buddhists, mainly Arakanese, in Rakhine State, And after World War II, illegal immigration by Bengali Muslims “was on a vast scale.” For the Western media, none of this matters. History doesn’t count. For the Buddhists of Burma, this history matters a great deal.
And what the Rohingya did next also matters. In May, 1946 Rohingya leaders met with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Muslim leader who founded modern Pakistan, and asked that the northern part of Rakhine state be annexed by East Pakistan. Then, when Jinnah refused to interfere in Burmese affairs, they founded the Mujahid Party in northern Arakan in 1947. The aim of the Mujahid Party was initially to create an autonomous Muslim state in Arakan. The local mujahideen – that’s what the Rohingya warriors proudly called themselves — fought government forces in an attempt to have the mostly Rohingya-populated Mayu peninsula in northern Rakhine State secede from Myanmar (then Burma), and after that secession, the Rohingyas hoped that territory would be annexed by East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). Fighting between the Rohingya and the Burmese state, then, is not a new thing; it has been going on intermittently since 1947, and it was started by the Rohingya. The Rohingya revolt eventually lost momentum in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and many of the Rohingyas surrendered to government forces.
The Muslim insurrection by the Rohingya did not end, but was revived in the 1970s, which in turn led to the Burmese government mounting, in 1978, a huge military operation (Operation King Dragon) that inflicted great damage on the mujahideen, and bought a decade of relative calm. But again the Rohingya rose up against the Burmese state, and in the 1990s the “Rohingya Solidarity Organisation” attacked Burmese authorities near the border with Bangladesh. In other words, this war on the Buddhist Burmese conducted by the Muslim Rohingya has been going on – waxing and waning – ever since that massacre of Buddhist Rakhins in 1942. It is by keeping in mind that history,, and the memory, too, of how the Rohingya tried on several occasions to secede from Burma and become part of East Pakistan, that Buddhist fears of a Muslim takeover of northern Myanmar should be taken seriously, and viewed sympathetically. The Burmese monks who have recently been whipping up anti-Rohingya sentiment are not behaving out of motiveless malignity; they are keenly aware of all this history. The current reports by journalists are singularly one-sided, and lacking in any historical context. Not a single Western reporter has mentioned that 1942 massacre of the Buddhists by the Rohingya; not a single Western reporter has mentioned the attempts by the Rohingya to join Arakan state to East Pakistan. Not a single Western reporter has noted the Rohingya insurrections of the 1970s and 1990s. Not a single Western reporter has provided the data that shows just how many Bengali Muslims poured into Burma in the late 19th and early 20th century, that certainly calls into question their claim that “Rohingya have been living in Arakan from time immemorial.” Not a single Western reporter has noted, either, that the Hui Panthays — a Muslim Chinese people — live in perfect security, free to practice Islam, in Myanmar, perhaps because that doesn’t fit the narrative of anti-Muslim mad monks that has been so successfully peddled in the West. Unlike the Rohingya, the Hui Panthay have not attacked and displaced Buddhists, as the Rohingya, Bengali Muslims, attacked and displaced the Buddhist Rakhine people in parts of Rakhine state.
For the Burmese — and not just a handful of monks — the Rohingyas are not a true indigenous people of Myanmar, but the descendants of the Muslims who began arriving from East Bengal in the 19th century. Today’s Rohingyas, for the Buddhists in present-day Myanmar who are leading the anti-Rohingya campaign, are the same people who attacked Buddhists in Rakhine State in 1942, who tried to secede and join Pakistan in 1946, who, as self-described Jihadist warriors (“mujahideen”) conducted a violent insurrection against Burmese authorities that began in 1948 and lasted to the 1950s, in order to make Rakhine an autonomous state under Muslim control, and then, in a second attempt, to possibly have it annexed by Pakistan. These are the same Jihad warriors who conducted an insurrection against the Buddhist government in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. For the Buddhist monks of Myanmar, the Rohingyas are Bengali Muslims– the Buddhists have never called them “Rohingyas” but, rather, “Bengalis” — who migrated south to Burma, and are the local branch of the world-wide Muslim umma that has been in continuous warfare against Buddhists and Buddhism for centuries, and is again becoming more aggressive and violent all over the world.
Should the history of Muslim-Buddhist relations in Myanmar be better known, with journalists taking it upon themselves to learn about, and then to transmit, this history, it is possible that the “international community” would address the current violence differently. Imagine the effect on Myanmar’s anxious Buddhists if those now lecturing them so unsympathetically instead demonstrated by their statements that they were well aware of the flood into Myanmar of Muslim migrants over a half-century, recognized that the inter-communal violence in 1942 had started with massacres by the Muslim side against unsuspecting Buddhists, conceded that the Rohingyas had tried for many years, as self-described mujahideen, to seize part of Myanmar, and to make it an autonomous Muslim state, and that it is this past, as well as the actions over many centuries of Muslims against Buddhists (and Hindus) in south Asia, that has deeply affected how the Burmese Buddhists view their own situation.
That might help calm the Burmese Buddhists, make them feel less anxious, now that their fears were not being cavalierly dismissed, but given a sympathetic hearing. And they, in turn, might ratchet down their own violence if they no longer feel quite so alone. It should be possible for the West to come to its senses about the Rohingyas and the Buddhists of Myanmar. What is needed is for the Western media to study the history of the Rohingyas in Myanmar, when they arrived, and from where, and what has been the nature of their interactions with the Buddhists. And the Western journalists on whom we rely will learn that beginning in the 1940s it was the Rohingyas who struck first against the Buddhists, militarily with the massacre of 50,000 in 1942, and diplomatically with the appeal to Pakistan’s president in 1947 to make Arakan (Rakhine State) part of Pakistan, and continued to strike against the Buddhist authorities in Myanmar intermittently, over several decades of conflict. That history can’t be restated often enough.
Read it all.
Also watch the video of the 2012 Muslim attacks. Click the link if it doesn’t embed.
Below is a separate, rare, and likely short-lived video on Youtube that is not pro-Rohingya Muslim propaganda.
Muslims from Bangladesh and Myanmar, so-called Rohingya’s, are being imported to the U.S. Just yesterday we posted on one of them: New Hampshire: Muslim refugee sexually assaults 4 girls, including a 7-year-old.