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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 11    Issue 14   01-15 December 2016

Professor A. R. MOMIN

Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, who number about a million, are among the poorest in the country and are largely concentrated in the coastal Rakhine state of western Myanmar. Most of them are Bengali-speakers who arrived in the country in the 19th century when Burma was a British colony. For more than five decades, the relations between the minority Rohingya and the Buddhist majority have been marked by mistrust and hostility. The military regime launched Operation King Dragon in 1978 and unleashed a campaign of terror against the Rohingya. They were attacked and terrorized by the security forces and the majority Buddhists and their houses torched. Their lands were confiscated and dozens of mosques were desecrated and destroyed. The orgy of violence led to the exodus of nearly 2500,000 Rohingyas to the neighbouring Bangladesh.

Rohingya Muslims are prohibited from owning land or property and barred from leaving their villages or travelling without permission from the government. They are not permitted to construct or repair the existing mosques and are not allowed to marry without official permission or to have more than two children. The 1982 Citizenship Law stripped the Rohingya of citizenship and they were declared illegal foreigners. They were removed from Myanmar’s 135 officially recognised ethnic groups. Rohingya children are not issued birth certificates. Buddhist leaders call the Rohingya Muslims invaders, unwanted guests and “vipers in our lap.” In June 2012, following reports of the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Rohingya man, rampaging Buddhist mobs attacked the Rohingya from all sides, systematically burning every building, and were supported by the police and the army. Entire villages were wiped out and several mosques were raised to the ground. The violence left more than 700 Rohingyas dead and nearly 100,000 displaced. Amnesty International denounced the Burmese security forces as well as the majority Buddhist population for violent attacks on Rohingya Muslims, which were systematically carried out and were state-sponsored. Faced with growing hatred, persecution and violent attacks, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and India. They are living – as unwanted guests -- in makeshift refugee camps under appalling conditions.

The Rohingya continue to be at the receiving end of discrimination, stigmatization and brutal suppression by the government and the army. On October 9 this year, the Myanmar army launched a deadly and ruthless campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine state following the killing of 9 border police personnel by suspected Rohingya militants the previous day. Helicopter gunships were used in the wholesale destruction of Rohingya villages. Human Rights Watch released satellite images which showed that more than 1,200 Rohingya homes have been destroyed over the past six weeks.

John McKissick, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Bangladesh, said the Myanmar security forces “were killing Rohingya men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing fleeing Rohingya to cross the river into Bangladesh.” The ultimate goal of the security forces, according to him, was “the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in Myanmar.” Foreign aid workers, journalists and human rights groups have been prevented from reaching the affected villages or meeting with the Rohingya.

Professor Penny Green, director of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at London’s Queen Mary University, said: “President Thein Sein is prepared to use hate speech for the government’s own ends, and that is to marginalise, segregate, diminish the Muslim population inside Burma. It is part of a genocide process.” A report by Yale Law School concludes there is “strong evidence genocide is taking place in Myanmar.” The United Nations Human Rights Agency says the repression against the Rohingya amounts to crimes against humanity. Near the town of Sittwe, where the military campaign is being carried out, more than 100,000 Rohingya are living in refugee camps. According to the United Nations estimates, more than 30,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh.

Aung San Suu Kyi, civilian leader of the government, has maintained a conspicuous silence in the face of the military’s brutal campaign. She has in fact defended the military action. She has not cared to visit the affected villages. Human rights groups accuse her of being complicit in the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Rohingya. Kyi has appointed a special committee to investigate the ongoing violence in Rakhine state, but the committee lacks credibility as it is solely composed of members drawn from the establishment, including a former general and current vice-president Myint Swe, head of the police force and Buddhist leaders. There is no representative from the Rohingya community. She has also appointed an Advisory Commission on Rakhine state, under the chairmanship of Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General, to identify and suggest conflict-prevention measures, facilitate long-term communal reconciliation and address development issues.

Since the large-scale violence against the Rohingya in 2012, more than 140,000 have been living in squalid refugee camps. They are prevented from leaving the camps or moving elsewhere in the country. Food and medicines sent by international relief agencies have not reached the Rohingya camps. Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh, Malaysia and other countries in South and Southeast Asia. More than 200,000 Rohingya refugees are living in the Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak questioned Aung San Suu Kyi’s deafening silence in the face of the brutal persecution of the Rohingya. “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place. The world just cannot say ‘look, it’s not our problem’. It is our problem,” he told a huge rally of thousands in Kuala Lumpur on December 4.

The Lowenstein Clinic at Yale Law School, which conducted an analysis of the pogrom against the Rohingya over a period of eight months, has called for the institution of a commission of inquiry by the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an “urgent, comprehensive and independent investigation into alleged genocide perpetrated against the Rohingya.” Matthew Smith, the founder and executive director of the Bangkok-based human rights organisation FortifyRights, said: “The international community needs to understand in a deeper way, in a clearer way, that the abuses being perpetrated against the Rohingya are widespread, systematic and a matter of state policy. The international community needs to take action. These abuses have been going on for decades.” It may be recalled that in 2004 the United Nations had appointed a commission to investigate war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region. The inquiry found the Sudanese military had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and referred the matter to the International Criminal Court.

‘It’s time for women to drive’: Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, owner of Kingdom Holding Company and one of Saudi Arabia’s riches persons, in a Twitter post, called for lifting the official ban on driving by women in Saudi Arabia. The post said,” Stop the debate: Time for women to drive.”

In a four-page letter posted on his personal website, Prince Alwaleed argued that “it is high time that Saudi women started driving their cars.” The prince highlighted the economic costs of the ban by pointing out that foreign drivers in Saudi Arabia are typically paid 3,800 Saudi riyals ($about $1,000) a month to shuttle women around. He argued that an end to the ban would allow Saudi Arabia to eventually dispense with the services of an estimated one million foreign drivers. He added that even if their husbands or sons can take time out to transport them, this requires leaving the office, which “undermines the productivity of the workforce.” The prince wrote that the ban could not be defended under religious law. “Such a ban on driving is fundamentally an infringement on women’s rights, particularly as it continues to exist after they have won a right to education and salaried employment.”

The ban on women’s driving in Saudi Arabia, which has no parallel in any other Muslim country, is endorsed by the country’s puritanical religious establishment and enforced by the religious police. Prince Alwaleed’s statement in favour of lifting the ban is unlikely to affect official policy.

Netherlands Bans Burqa in Public Institutions

France and Belgium have banned the wearing of face-covering veils or burqa in public places. On November 29, 2016, Dutch parliament approved a ban on the wearing of face-covering burqa in public institutions such as schools, hospitals and public transport. The motion was approved by a majority of 132 out of the 150-member house as well as by the ruling Liberal-Labour coalition. According to the legislation, those found guilty of violating the law, would have to pay a fine of up to €410. The legislation requires to be endorsed by the Senate.

The government said it backed the legislation due to a “necessity to be able to interact face-to-face, for instance, in places where public services are performed and safety must be guaranteed.”

The number of Muslims in the Netherlands is estimated to be over a million. Only a miniscule minority – estimated to be around 500 – wear the full-face veil.

Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, who is set to contest for the fourth term, told the annual gathering of her centre-right Christian Democratic Union in Essen on December 6 that it is legitimate for Germany to expect immigrants and newcomers to integrate into German society. She said, “The full-face veil is not compatible with German culture and must be banned in the country wherever it is legally possible.”

There is a difference of opinion among Muslim scholars and jurists about the wearing of full-face veils or burqa in public. Most jurists are of the view that though it is mandatory for Muslim women to cover their body and hair with loose-fitting garments, they are not obliged to cover their faces. In 2004, Al-Azhar University’s Dar al-Ifta issued a legal edict to the effect that the face is not a part of a woman’s satr (parts of the body that are required to be covered in public) and therefore she is not obliged to cover her face. This edict has been endorsed by Ali Juma’a, former chief mufti of Al-Azhar, and Muhammad Sa’id al-Tantawi, former Rector of Al-Azhar. Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi also concurs with this view.

In view of the difference of opinion among Muslim scholars and jurists about the wearing of full-face veils, the consensus among a large majority of Muslim scholars and jurists about the face-covering veil not being mandatory and in the context of the hardships burqa-wearing Muslim women experience in some European countries, it is advisable to adopt the legal principle of taysir (facilitating ease and convenience) and to declare face-covering as non-mandatory. The Quran says: “Allah intends every convenience and ease for you; He does not want you to be put to inconvenience” (22:78). And: “Allah has imposed no difficulties on you in religion” (22:185). The Prophet (SAAW) is reported to have said, “Verily, Allah has made this religion (Islam) simple, convenient and expansive; He has not made it narrow and constrictive.”

Uighur Muslims continue to face discrimination and persecution

China’s Xinjiang province, which was earlier known as East Turkestan and was predominantly inhabited by Muslims, was conquered by China in 1949. Since then Chinese authorities have followed a systematic policy of bringing in Han Chinese people into the province to alter the province’s demographic composition. Today the population of Muslims in Xinjiang has been reduced to less than 60% and Han Chinese account for about 40% of the population.

During the past several decades, China has carried out a policy of brutal repression and persecution of Uighur Muslims, who form the majority of the population in Xinjiang, as a result of which thousands of them have fled the country and taken refuge in Central Asia as well as in the US and Europe. China has been accused by two US-based human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, of conducting a “crushing campaign of religious repression against Muslim Uighurs.” The repressive measures of the government range from surveillance of imams and forced closure of mosques to the detention of thousands of people and executions. There have been frequent protests and demonstrations by Uighur Muslims against the repressive and discriminatory policies pursued by the Chinese authorities. According to Amnesty International, some 3,000 Uighurs have been arrested and 22 executed since the mid-1990s. The Uighurs complain that their jobs are being taken over by the majority Han Chinese, that in many cases their farmlands have been confiscated in the name of development, that they face discrimination in respect of jobs, and that young Uighur women have been prevented from wearing headscarves. There is a ban on the construction of new mosques in Xinjiang. Unlike the Tibetans, the plight of Uighur Muslims in China has not received much of global attention and sympathy, probably because they are Muslim.

In recent weeks, Chinese authorities have begun confiscating the passports and other travel documents of Uighur Muslims. The move is ostensibly aimed at combating terrorism in the restive region of Xinjiang. In June this year, police in Xinjiang ordered Uighur Muslims to provide DNA samples when applying for travel documents. Human Rights Watch has condemned this move as a violation of the freedom of movement guaranteed by China’s constitution.

Canada’s First Hijab-Wearing TV Anchor

Canada was the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy in 1971. The country’s multicultural policies are constitutionally protected through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988 and the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Multiculturalism was adopted as Canada’s official policy during the premiership of Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the context of the country’s long-established ethnic and cultural diversity, large-scale immigration and Canada’s commitment to liberal democracy. Canada’s multiculturalism emphasizes equality irrespective of the distinctions of race, class or creed, recognizes the country’s diverse cultural heritage and seeks to ensure its protection, safeguards the rights of aborigines and minority groups, and accepts both English and French as official languages. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes the collective rights and identities of specific ethnic groups as part of citizenship. Canada defines itself through the metaphor of a cultural mosaic rather than a melting pot. It does not have a single or monolithic national identity but a composite, hybridic one. From the 1960s the Canadian government began to move in the direction of equality and inclusiveness.

Canadian Muslims are visible in public life, including politics, education, police, civil society and the media. A Muslim woman, Fatimah Houda-Pepin, was elected to the Quebec National Assembly in 1994. Naheed Nenshi, a 38-year-old Harvard-educated Ismaili Muslim became the mayor of Calgary on October 18, 2010. He braved a smear campaign launched by his opponents and defeated two candidates, Ric McIver, supported by the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and Barb Higgins.

Under Section 2(a) the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, Muslim girls and women are allowed to wear the headscarf in schools and the workplace. Ontario has allowed Muslim police officers to wear the headscarf as part of their uniform since 2011. In December 2013, police in Edmonton, Alberta unveiled an official headgear for female Muslim officers, which accommodates the Islamic headscarf. It covers the hair and the neck and leaves the face uncovered. The Edmonton Police said in a press release the headscarf was designed to reflect the changing diversity in the community and to facilitate the growing interest in policing careers from Edmonton’s Muslim community. Scott McKeen, a city councilor, described the new headgear for female Muslim officers as a gesture of inclusion.

Lakeridge Health, one of the leading hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, ran an advertisement in the media, inviting health professionals to join. The ad carries the picture of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab and a stethoscope, with the caption “We don’t care what’s on your head. We care what’s in it”. Following the advertisement, applications doubled.

A Muslim TV journalist in Toronto, Ginella Massa, became Canada’s first television anchor to wear the Islamic headscarf at Toronto’s major news broadcaster, CityNews. Most of the responses and reactions to her appearance were positive.

29-year-old Canadian journalist Ginella Massa. Photo: Facebook

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