July 20, 2012.
Mohammad Hossein Nikzad, a close personal friend and a senior student of political science just called me a few hours ago, worriedly talking about the dire situation of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the atrocities the Buddhist Rakhines are committing in the East Asian nation.
He called my attention to the mainstream media's flagrant inattention to the heartrending genocide of the Muslims in Myanmar, saying that they are only a few second-rate news websites and some of the Iranian news agencies which have given coverage to the course of events.
And unfortunately, he was right. My searching for factual reports and articles regarding the massacre of Muslims in Myanmar by the extremist Buddhists yielded no significant results. I only found some pictorial reports of the burning of Myanmarese children published by Iranian news websites, an article by Ramzy Baroud which was republished in some Asian newspapers and an editorial by Dr. Ismail Salami on Press TV. Neither Reuters, nor New York Times, nor Washington Post, nor Fox News nor their comrades and cronies in France, Germany, Britain, Australia and Canada had uttered a single word regarding the painful days the Muslims of Myanmar are experiencing.
Rohingyas are a Muslim people living in the Arakan region. As of 2012, 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar. The United Nations says that they are one of the most persecuted minorities of the world. As a result of systematic discrimination they have endured over the past years, many of them have migrated to Bangladesh and Malaysia and currently 300,000 Rohingya Muslims live in Bangladesh and 24,000 in Malaysia.
The persecution of the Rohingya Muslims dates back to the early World War II when the Japanese forces invaded Burma which was then under the British colonial rule. It's said that on March 28, 1942, about 5,000 Muslims were massacred in Minbya and Mrohaung Townships by the Rakhine nationalists. According to Amnesty International, the Rohingya Muslims have long suffered from human rights violations and as a result, scores of them immigrated to neighboring Bangladesh for better living conditions.
One instance of discrimination against the Muslims of Rohingya is that they are denied the right of citizenship by the government. Many of them have escaped to Bangladesh and as many as 111,000 of them live in the Thai-Myanmar border.
According to the website of Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), Rohingya Muslims require government permission to marry, are forbidden from having more than two children per family and are subjected to modern-day slavery through forced labor. Because the national government denies them the right to citizenship in their homeland, many Rohingyas have their land confiscated and they are restricted from travel.
The Human Rights Watch considers the denial of the right of citizenship the most important problem the Muslims of Rohingya face. The government of Myanmar considers the Rohingyas to be "resident foreigners." This lack of full citizenship rights means that the Rohingya are subject to other abuses, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, and arbitrary confiscation of property.
Some independent sources have told the Human Rights Watch that the government authorities continue to require Rohingya Muslims to perform forced labor. According to HRW, those who refuse or complain are physically threatened, sometimes with death, and children as young as seven years old have been seen on forced labor teams.
But what brought to light the deplorable situation of the Rohingya Muslims once again was the "2012 Rakhine State riots" which led to the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims who were murdered by a Rakhine mob of 300 while on their way back from the country's former capital Rangoon. It said that three Rohingya youths raped and killed a Rakhine woman and as the government sentenced two of them to death, a self-directed group of extremist Rakhine nationalists attacked a bus of Rohingya Muslims and killed ten of them. According to a group of UK-based NGOs, 650 Rohingya Muslims were killed from June 10 to 28, 1,200 went missing and more than 80,000 others were displaced as a result of rioting, arson and rape.
As reported by Associated Press, 1,336 homes belonging to the Rohingya Muslims were burnt during the unrest. However, The Platform, a UK-based human rights organization puts the number at 6,000. The Burmese army and police were accused of playing a leading role in targeting the Rohingyas through mass arrests and arbitrary violence.
Due to a media blackout in Myanmar and the lack of direct access by the independent journalists to the region, it's impossible to verify the number of those who have been killed or the homes which were destroyed in the recent riots; however, what is clear is that the Rohingya Muslims are undergoing intolerable hardships and should be paid due attention by the international community.
In the recent weeks, the Burmese opposition leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi made the headlines when it was announced that she finally delivered her Nobel acceptance speech at Oslo's City Hall two decades after being awarded the prize and almost two years after being released from house arrest. Suu Kyi, however, unpardonably ignored the plight of the Rohingya Muslims and never spoke a word about the hardships and injustices that have befallen them.
In a blatant act of censorship, the Western mainstream media have also stayed away from the massacre of Rohingya Muslims, showing their strong anti-Muslim bias and their duplicitous attitude toward the concept of human rights.
The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are living under extremely appalling circumstances. The dictatorial government of Myanmar has deliberately neglected their ordeal and the international community is overlooking their suffering. Is it in compliance with our human values to remain indifferent and apathetic to this unspeakable tragedy? Isn't it our duty to stand up and protest their indifference to the suffering of Myanmar Muslims?
Kourosh Ziabari is a journalist from Iran
Comment: I can't think of anything more pressing right now than to raise awareness of the dire plight of Rohingya Muslims in Burma/Myanmar.