Saturday, January 26, 2013

What’s Next from Obama?



President Obama has started his second term in office. He is a good orator and did not disappoint his admirers who either came to the capital city or turned on the TV or radio to listen to his second inaugural speech. His last four years were able to stabilize the economy of the USA and put it on a firmer ground than he found when President Bush had vacated the White House.

In his speech, Mr. Obama reminded the nation of the enduring strength of the U.S. Constitution: “We affirm the promise of our democracy.  We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.  What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.  The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”

Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, however, has been a terrible disappointment for most people. He disappointed the War Party who thought that he could be pushed to fight Israel’s dirty war against Iran and continue his predecessor’s failed policies. He also disappointed all those – and a vast majority of conscientious human beings of our planet – who thought that he was going to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, help solve the Palestine-Israel conflict which would translate into an independent state for the Palestinian people in their pre-1967 border, and stop the drone attacks that had killed hundreds of innocent children, and put America on an irreversible path that values human rights and dignity for all above selfish national interests. Their expectation was not outlandish given the fact that as an upholder of the U.S. constitution and a constitutional lawyer one time, he should have known better than most others as to what those unalienable rights meant.

And yet, like a coldhearted hypocrite, President Obama forgot that his drone attacks had denied those very sacred and unalienable rights to many victims, which included even U.S.-born citizens. Since November 2002, there have been at least 400 documented targeted assassinations in non-battlefield settings of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and the Philippines. According to research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between June 2004 and January 2013, drone strikes had killed between 2,629 and 3,461 people in Pakistan alone, including 176 children. Of the total 362 strikes conducted by the USA there, 310 were conducted under Obama’s presidency (2009-2013). Some 1,431 civilians also were injured in such drone attacks.  As to their effectiveness against the so-called terrorists, Pakistan-born British novelist Nadeem Aslam says that a well-planned drone attack by the U.S. in the Waziristan region of Pakistan is killing on an average 49 innocent people for every militant. Such acts of spilling of innocent blood are now conveniently termed 'collateral damage', much to the delight of repeat offenders like Netanyahu and other mass-killers!

On the same day President Obama gave his inaugural address, a U.S. drone strike killed three people in Yemen east of the capital, Sana’a. He also officially nominated John Brennan to be the director of the CIA, succeeding retired Army General David Petraeus, who had resigned. Nicknamed the "assassination czar" by some, Brennan was the first government official to publicly confirm drone attacks overseas and to defend their legality. As recently noted by Jeremy Scahill, the national security correspondent for The Nation magazine who co-wrote the new documentary “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield”, in his interview by Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now, President Oabma has expanded the drone wars by empowering special operations forces, including from JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, to operate in countries where the United States is not at war overtly. He noted that after 9/11, there were seven people on the U.S. kill list, to which in 2003 Iraqi president Saddam Hossein and his top people were added in the deck of cards. “Now there are thousands; it’s unknown how many people are on this kill list. And U.S. citizens—three U.S. citizens were killed in operations ordered by the president in late 2011, including, you know, as we reported on Democracy Now! before, the 16-year-old Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki,” said Scahill. [Note: Abdur Rahman is the son of the controversial Muslim cleric, U.S.-born, Anwar al-Awlaki. The latter was killed earlier in a drone attack whose assassination Obama called a ‘milestone.’]
As a result of such mindless drone strikes which are killing many innocent Muslims, an entire province in the south Yemen has been taken over by an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization. But what is more dangerous is that with such targeted assassinations the U.S. is setting dangerous precedent which is sure to be exploited by other offenders.
Mindful of this copycat behavior, lately the United Nations has launched a probe to investigate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., drones) for targeted killings by Israel, the United States and Britain. As usual, unlike its two allies, Israel is not expected to cooperate with the probe. British lawyer Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, who will be heading the investigation, which will address 25 cases of UAV or drone attacks, said in a statement that it is “imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirements of international law, including international human rights law, international humanitarian law ‏(or the law of war as it used to be called‏), and international refugee law.”
In his Senate confirmation hearings to be the next Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry declared US foreign policy “is not defined by drones and deployments alone,” as he tried to emphasize humanitarian assistance and development projects instead of American militarism. He may be right there. However, the drones and targeted assassinations have sadly now become the vital tools of how the U.S. implements its national security strategies abroad.
John C. Kiriakou, the former CIA agent who blew the whistle on the agency’s inhuman water-boarding has recently been sentenced to thirty months in prison. Interestingly, the same Obama administration which earlier has absolved the torturers and the higher-ups who destroyed the videotapes and other evidence of torture had no moral qualms about punishing the messenger who acted honorably. What a disgrace to all those who believed that a sitting president of the USA would redeem national honor!
With the drone war rapidly increasing and the U.S. troops stationed in more than 130 countries around the world, what is in store for the next four years under President Obama? Will these coming years be any better?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Land-grabbing Nightmares – Will these ever end?



Last month, I was in Bangladesh visiting Dhaka and Chittagong. Dhaka, the capital city with a population in excess of twelve million, is now one of the megacities of our time. Chittagong, with the major infrastructure projects being undertaken for the city, including a deep sea port, the second largest city is fast becoming a regional transit hub for regional neighbors like India, China, Bhutan and Nepal.
Like many parts of south-east Asia, there are visible signs of material progress everywhere. High rise buildings now dot most parts of these cities, and roads are jammed with foreign cars, mostly imported from Japan. Traffic jams on major arteries of these cities are regular features costing millions of lost hours every day. It took me more than three hours to reach Paribagh from the Dhaka airport, a trip which should not have taken more than an hour. Some flyovers and inter-district roadways are currently being constructed to alleviate the chronic problems faced by most commuters. In spite of the fact that prices of most commodities have steadily gone up no one seems to be starving these days, thus pointing to higher purchasing power of the people. For too long, Bangladesh, next to China, has been known for its garment industry. Nowadays, the country proudly sells its ocean-going vessels to European countries. These are positives.
On the negative side, however, Bangladesh is failing – like India and Pakistan – in matters of law & order, security and land-ownership. Only days before my arrival, some criminal students (now jailed) – rather professional killers - had killed an innocent man on a street of Dhaka. Such crimes were simply unheard of when I grew up in Bangladesh.
Of particular concern is the land-grabbing of both rural and urban land by domestic actors.  With scarcity of land, and its price having skyrocketed in the past decade, many land-grabbing syndicates have emerged that prey upon private landowners, especially targeting those properties that are owned by expatriates. With support from some unscrupulous influential people these criminals have encroached on private and public lands with false documents and obtained court decrees to confirm their illicit ownership, often with help of immoral lawyers, corrupt members of the judiciary branch of the government and officials in the land-administration and management departments. They use local musclemen with guns and daggers, including criminal students, and corrupt officials within the local administrations. So corrupt has the government land-administration department become that a senior friend of mine, who was a principal of a medical college, told me that he was asked to pay a hefty bribe for a simple mutation job which required transferring ownership from his deceased parents to his siblings. Threatened by such chronic problems, most of the time, land owners feel obliged to sell their lands at a price well below the market value.
Since 2005 when my own family properties in Khulshi, Chittagong, were targeted for illegal land-grab by a criminal land grabbing syndicate that was led by a local fraud Jaker Hosain Chowdhury (known as Jaker master), who once worked as a bell-ringer for a school/madrasa and later imprisoned multiple times for forgery and fraudulent activities, and had the explicit support from a powerful MP, I came across many victims of such crimes. An analysis of their saga unveiled the modi operandi of many of these criminal land-grabbing syndicates, which follow a typical pattern, as shown below:
(1)   Buy the so-called 'power of attorney', often through illegal money-laundering, from family members of a dead zamindar (who had moved to India after Partition of Pakistan) now living in India.
(2)   In that so-called Deed of Power-of-Attorney, deliberately falsify information by showing the peasant or “raiyat” properties -- tenanted (projabili) lands of land-owners -- as part of the zamindari khas land so as to target such properties for potential land-grab. It is worth noting here that the zamindars under the British Raj were responsible for collection of revenues from the projabili lands (tenanted). With the passage of the East Bengal Estate Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950, which is the basic or fundamental law for land management in Bangladesh (previously East Pakistan), the entire Zamindari system was dissolved. The act established a 33-acre land ceiling on private landowners, with the excess transferred to the government upon payment of compensation, and all the raiyats were made owners and asked to pay their revenue directly to the Government. [The 1984 Land Reforms Ordinance placed a 20-acre ceiling on acquisition or holding of agricultural land and invalidated benami transactions, in which a person purchases land in the name of another so as to evade the land ceiling.]
(3)   If the previous two methods could not be employed, falsify land deeds in collaboration with the corrupt officers in the government Land Deeds & Records Department. It is widely rumored that an “official” falsified record could be obtained from these vital offices with a payment of approx. 1% of the actual property value.
(4)   File the so-called 'Partition Suits' on behalf of the dead zamindar’s family members (who had become Indian citizens) without the knowledge of the real owners and get a verdict in their favor so as to prepare the groundwork for future land-grab with support of government agencies. (Note: in these cases, the real owner is not made aware that his/her land is being contested by these crooked attorneys, and as such, are often ill prepared to put up an injunction order in time to stop such a court-decreed possession or land-grab by the criminal syndicate.)
(5)   Grab the property of the legal owner of the (erstwhile) ‘raiyat’ property by evicting him/her and/or his/her tenants with tens/hundreds of criminal cadre behind. In this scheme of things: the local thana is already managed by the land-grabbing syndicate, and the corrupt politician is engaged for his/her support so that the entire criminal project will move smoothly with no actions expected to come from the law enforcing agencies; no court order is even served to the affected family who did not know that there was an old case, resurrected from the early Pakistan days, on its property and that the court, without an independent, unbiased inquiry, had already issued an execution case for possession of his/her legally owned and possessed land by the land-grabbing syndicate that had wielded its power of attorney;
(6)   In the meantime, sell the property to tens of greedy buyers willing to buy land at prices significantly lower than actual market value, making them all a party to the criminal loot;
(7)   Before the actual land-grab, sometimes the legal owner is threatened to pay an exorbitant extortion money (which may run into several crores of Taka), failing which he/she is threatened about the dire consequences  of losing his/her entire land on which he/she had been living and paying taxes, revenues, bills, etc. for all these years;
(8)   Upon illegal land-grab, quickly change the face of the property by demolishing old structures/buildings and repopulate the properties with new buyers;
(9)   Use connection with powerful, corrupt and greedy politicians, government officers, police and magistrates, etc. to control police and administrative actions against them. (Note: many a time all such people colluding with and aiding the criminal syndicate are promised and delivered a piece of the looted land/apartment/properties.)
(10)                       If all previous tactics had failed, harass the family of the legal owners with false cases and threaten them with death threats so that they become broke - financially and psychologically.

None of these criminal schemes should come as a surprise to the member of the parliament and government ministers. According to the Land Minister’s statement of 4/2/2010 in the Parliament, a total of 1.3 million-acre public land has been grabbed by such syndicates. In the private sector the total grab may even be higher. With a very flawed and corrupt system it goes without saying that the land grabbing culture has been increasing. Without the necessary wherewithal - financial and otherwise -- the legitimate landowners are fighting a losing battle. They can’t fight the battle singlehanded without government intervention and sincerity to stop their sufferings. They need help to protect and secure their ownership rights against these criminal syndicates that have the necessary muscle to wield, and dirty money to spend and buy influences by corrupting various branches of the government to victimize others.
The Government of Bangladesh owes it to its law-abiding and tax-paying citizens to stop the crimes of these powerful land-grabbing syndicates. If Bangladesh is serious about digital revolution and transforming the country to a developed nation, it must create an environment where the property rights are secured which would help not only to retain its own talents in-house but also attract highly talented expatriates to return and contribute in nation-building. Many of the expatriates want nothing better than to return and help the country through their acquired wealth, skills and talents. They are, however, haunted by nightmares and frustrated by government’s utter negligence on this vital issue that is so fundamental.
Laws must be enacted that close the legal loopholes and protect genuine landowners from the Pakistan time (pre-liberation of 1971), without which most family properties, esp. those of the non-resident Bangladeshis and expatriates, would be grabbed by criminal land-grabbing syndicates. A concerted effort from the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Home Affairs is urgently necessary to go after these criminals of the land-grabbing syndicate so that they know that they will not be tolerated in Bangladesh. The sooner the better!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gitmo – America’s legal black hole - Turns 11



Friday, January 11 was the 11th anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba in which hundreds of Muslims, mostly unrelated to any terrorist activities, continue to be holed up without any rights. The prison symbolizes what is wrong with America’s so-called war on terror and its total disregard for human rights of those prisoners who are subjected to the worst forms of torture, coercion and abuse known to mankind in the 21st century.

What is of particular concern is the fact that many of these prisoners are not even charged on anything. Is not 11 years too long a period to charge them or let them go free? But President Obama who had taught constitutional law at the prestigious Chicago University for 12 years had no moral qualms in denying these prisoners such fundamental rights. In an ongoing legal black hole, these prisoners are being used as guinea pigs for medical and psychological experimentation. If Hitler and his Nazi war criminals were alive, they surely would have been proud of such displays under George W. Bush and Barack Obama!

As the investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington has recently noted in his website, at Guantánamo, the US authorities manufactured a rationale for holding these men and boys — calling them “the worst of the worst,” and disguising the fact that the majority of them were sold to the US military for substantial bounty payments by their Afghan and Pakistani allies. According to Worthington, “They did this through the extraction of false statements in which pliant prisoners — whether tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed or pushed until they could take the pressure no longer — made false statements about their fellow prisoners, and/or themselves, which continue to be regarded as something resembling evidence by all three branches of the US government, even though the closest analogy for what this information is in reality can be found in the false statements uttered by the victims of the witch hunts in the 17th century.”

Unable to cope with inhuman torture, three of these unfortunate prisoners whom the Obama administration had abandoned allegedly committed suicide. Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni with mental health problems, was one such victim who was repeatedly cleared for release, but never released by the Obama administration. Adnan, however, was not the only victim of such unbearable cruelty. Eighty six of the remaining 166 prisoners were cleared for release three years ago by an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama to review the cases of all the prisoners, and even though around half of them were previously cleared for release, between 2004 and 2007, by military review boards established by President George W. Bush.

One of the lucky ones to have been released after more than six years was Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, the only journalist held at Guantánamo. He was arrested in Pakistan in December of 2001 while traveling to Afghanistan on a work assignment. Held without charge, al-Hajj was repeatedly tortured, hooded, attacked by dogs and hung from a ceiling. He was prevented from sleeping for days. Interrogators questioned him over 100 times about whether Al Jazeera was a front for al-Qaeda. In January 2007, he began a hunger strike that lasted 438 days until his release in May 2008.

In a recent interview with Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now, al-Hajj shared his prison life -- how he and other fellow prisoners were tortured inhumanly. In contrast to government claims, he saw firsthand the flushing of the Qur’an in the toilet and stepping on it by Gitmo prison guards and interrogators.

Four years ago President Obama, soon after getting elected the first time, vowed to close Guantánamo. As if to mock that vow, recently, after getting elected for the second term, and 11 years after Gitmo opened, Obama has signed the National Defense Authorization Act, barring the use of federal funds to transfer detainees from the notorious prison to the U.S. soil, even for a criminal trial. It also includes restrictions on the executive branch’s authority to transfer detainees to a foreign country.

As sadly noted by Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, more people under the Obama administration have died in recent years than have been charged or tried criminally. President Obama has offered no realistic prospects for taking either practical steps to release individual people who should be released or ending this really odious paradigm of indefinite detention.

None of these developments should surprise anyone knowing that Obama has nominated counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA. Lest we forget, Brennan had publicly supported the CIA’s policies of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" and extraordinary rendition. As CIA Director George Tenet’s chief of staff and then the CIA’s Deputy Executive Director during the Bush Jr. presidency, he played a key role in corrupting the CIA’s analysis directorate into fabricating fraudulent intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq. He is known to twist facts to serve his purpose.

Given the recent sorry history of CIA directors participating in what amount to propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed as much at the American people as any foreign enemy, the nomination of a drone-enthusiast like Brennan for the position of the CIA director should be a wake-up call for anyone still believing that Obama is sincere in closing the Gitmo and/or stopping the drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere where more innocent children have died from Obama’s drone attacks than those killed in American schools, college and university campuses by deranged juveniles or other criminals. As noted by Simon Jenkins in a Guardian article the greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation, but from drones and their certain proliferation. Nor should anyone forget that Gitmo and drone attacks recruit more angry juveniles to the cause of al-Qaeda than anything else. Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana protested in the New York Times of the carnage drones are wreaking on the politics of his country, erasing "years of progress and trust-building with tribes". Yemenis now face al-Qaeda recruiters waving pictures of drone-butchered women and children in their faces. Frustrated at Obama’s policy, Jimmy Carter has lamented, "America's violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends".

Sadly, sitting inside the Oval Office, President Obama has forgotten his promises made before the election of 2008, and is behaving like an arrogant snob who imagines that he is above international law and can continue committing horrendous crimes that kill innocent human beings and deny rights to those imprisoned without any charges. That is the grim reality of our time!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gitmo turns 11 on Friday, Jan. 11

"Friday January 11 is the 11th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an ongoing legal black hole, and an experimental prison for holding Muslim men and boys without rights, and subjecting them to torture and other forms of coercion and abuse, and medical and psychological experimentation," writes Andy Worthington, an investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert. 

You can read his articles by clicking here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Rohingya question - Part 6


So, what is ethnicity? Can the minority Rohingya qualify as an ethnic group?

Questions on Ethnicity

Ethnicity has been a debated topic and there is no single definition or theory of how ethnic groups are formed. According to John Hutchinson and Anthony Smith, the term “ethnicity” is relatively new - first appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1953, but its English origins are connected to the term “ethnic,” which has been in use since the middle ages. The true origins of “ethnic” have been traced back to Greece and the term ethnos, which was used in reference to band, tribe, race, a people, or a swarm. Thus, it often refers to shared heritage, culture, group history, language and beliefs. An ethnic group or ethnicity is a population of human beings whose members identify with each other, on the basis of a real or a presumed common identity – whether that be in relation to language, culture, religion, group history or heritage.

According to Timothy Baumann, “The underlying truth of ethnicity is that it is a product of self and group identity that is formed in extrinsic/intrinsic contexts and social interaction. Ethnicity is not the same as nor equal to culture. Ethnicity is in part the symbolic representations of an individual or a group that are produced, reproduced, and transformed over time.”

In more recent colonial and immigrant history, the term “ethnic” falls under the dichotomy of “Us” and “Them.” The “Us,” the majority, are viewed as non-ethnics and the “Them,” new immigrants or minorities, as ethnic. Thus, e.g., the Hispanics in the USA are an ethnic group, although racially they may be White Caucasians. The Afro-Americans are both an ethnic group and a race that is different than the majority Whites in the USA.

As to the Rohingya identity, it is worth noting the views of Professor Moshe Yegar, an area specialist on Burma. He wrote in an article “The Crescent in Arakan”, “It is not possible today to differentiate among the various Muslim groups or between them and the Buddhist Arakanese, among whom they live. The Arakanese Muslims are Sunnites despite the preponderance of some Shitte traditions among them. Under their influence many Muslim customs spread to the Buddhists, such as for example a veil for the women similar to the purdah. Today the Arakanese Muslims call themselves Rohingya or Roewengyah. This name is used more by the Muslims of North Arakan (Mayu region) where most of the Muslims- approximately 300000- are concentrated, than by those living near Akyab. Writers and poets appeared amongst the Arakanese Muslims, especially during the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries and there were even some Muslim court poets at the courts of the Arakanese kings. These poets and writers wrote in Persian and Arabic or in the mixed language, Rohinga, which they developed among themselves and which was a mixture of Bengali, Urdu, and Arakanese. This language is not as widespread today as it was in the past and has been largely replaced by Burmese and Arakanese. These artists also developed the art of calligraphy. Some manuscripts have been preserved but have not yet been scientifically examined. Miniature painting in Mogul style also flourished in Arakan during this period. The Muslims who came to Arakan brought with them Arab, Indian, and especially Bengalese music and musical instruments. Persian songs are sung by Arakanese Muslims to this day. That is how the Rohingas preserved their own heritage from the impact of the Buddhist environments not only as far as their religion is concerned but also in some aspects of their culture.”

From the above discussion, we can conclude that the Rohingyas, who are distinct by language, culture and religion from the rest of the peoples of Myanmar, and have a shared history and group identification, are an ethnic group by any definition. This fact has been duly recognized in the encyclopedia where they are named as an ethnic group.

The Rohingya people identify themselves by this name, and no one should have the audacity to deny them that right of self-identification. After all, every nation has the right to call itself by whatever name it chooses. As such, the non-mention of the term ‘Rohingya’ in some British records (and not all) cannot be the criterion to deny the Rohingya identity.

Final Words

From the analysis of the data and records in the British colonial period, it is obvious that the root of the Arakanese Muslims, who identify themselves as the Rohingya, is much deeper than what the anti-Rohingya propagandists have claimed. Contrary to such popular claims and myths made and packaged by the Myanmar government and its ultra-racist supporters and executioners within the broader Rakhine and Myanmar Buddhist society, the Baxter report said, “There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab (Sittwe) District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race.” (Paragraph 7) This theme of the “indigenous” nature of Muslims permanently resident in Arakan is repeated in the Report several times. The Report further notes, “Unlike Indian immigrants in general in other parts of Burma who commonly spend periods of three years or thereabouts in the country without returning home, the bulk of the Chittagonian immigrants in Arakan who come to reap the paddy crop go back to Chittagong when the harvesting operations are over. The nearness of their homes and the small amount of money required for the journey make this possible.”

These findings should not come as a surprise since unbiased research works of area specialists have amply demonstrated that the Rohingyas are descendants of the original inhabitants of Arakan. As the subjects of the ancient Chandra dynasty in the Vaisali Kingdom, which included Chittagong and Arakan, their settlement predates those of the Rakhines by few centuries. Additionally, before even the British occupied the territory, those Muslim inhabitants were identified by the name Rohingya (Rooinga). It was neither a British-era concoction nor an invention in independent Burma. Denying this piece of history by anyone is simply absurd, and only goes on to show one’s deplorable racism and bigotry!

One of the most egregious crimes is to deny the right of a people to define itself. For years, the chauvinist Buddhists of the Rakhine state and Myanmar, however, have been doing precisely that crime to deny the ‘frontier’ history and culture of the Rohingya people through their racist writings and propaganda simply because of their distinct race and religion. Buried in that unfathomable prejudice and colossal records of inhumanity is the mere realization that ethnicity is a feudal and an alien concept in our time.

Every human being has a right to citizenship in our time. The Rohingya people cannot be and should not be treated as aliens in the country where they and their forefathers were born.

Epilogue
In today’s Myanmar denials of the Muslim heritage and culture, their dexterous roles in the independent Arakan (today’s Rakhine state) under the Mrauk-U dynasty (1430-1784) have become staples of a toxic Myanmarism that is criminal, divisive and murderous. Not only are the Muslims killed and their women raped, and their homes, businesses, schools, shrines and mosques destroyed, even the towns and villages bearing Muslim names are changed to Rakhine names to erase their Muslim root.

No less problematic are the attitudes of and roles played by some of the pseudo-scholars and academics who like Julius Streicher of the Hitler’s Nazi era are selling the poison pills of racism, ultra-nationalism and bigotry to deny the Rohingya people their basic human rights as rightful citizens in Myanmar enjoying equality. Puffed up in obnoxious arrogance and a criminal vision of a race-and-religion-purified Rakhine state minus the Muslims, they twist and distort facts, and deny the existence of the Rohingya people before the British moved into Burma.

As if suffering from a serious case of selective amnesia, these Buddhist zealots and their agents – purporting sometimes to be researchers – forget to educate their cadre that the Arakanese Muslims were probably a majority in the last years of independent Arakan before Bodawpaya’s invasion. Rather than explaining what had happened to those Arakanese Muslims of the pre-Bodawpaya era, they manufacture ludicrous theories about Muslim influx. By so doing, they try to deceive others and create an environment of intolerance against the Rohingya Muslims.

As I have noted elsewhere, the authors of this revisionist history to deny citizenship rights are some of the Rakhine ultra-racists and pseudo-scholars like (late) Aye Kyaw and Aye Chan, who, interestingly, did not and do not have any bites of conscience to become naturalized citizens in the USA. In our world there are hardly such dastardly examples of moral bankruptcy by academics! The sad fact is their willful distortions of facts and their absolutely evil thesis about the so-called (Rohingya) Influx Virus has been accepted as a Rakhine ‘Mein Kampf’ and interpreted as a green signal to exterminate the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities in a frontier territory that is anything but homogeneous.

Since June of this year, in a very premeditated manner with full support of the government forces, the local politicians and monks, towns after towns and villages after villages with Muslim population have simply been burned down and Muslims butchered to death, while the racist Rakhine Buddhists gave a hero’s welcome to Aye Chan as their savior. Government denies that it’s an ethnic cleansing campaign. In October, 2012, exasperated by Myanmar denialism, Human Rights Watch had to publish a satellite photo showing most of the Muslim quarter of a sizable town, Kyak Pyu, burned to the ground.

In his evaluation of the treatment of the Rohingya people inside Myanmar, Professor William Schabas, the former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, says: "When you see measures preventing births, trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping to see that they really are eventually, that they no longer exist; denying their history, denying the legitimacy of their right to live where they live, these are all warning signs that mean it's not frivolous to envisage the use of the term genocide."

In my cautious evaluation of the case, I have also reached the same conclusion. I am sure Daniel Jonah Goldhagen would also agree. And there are many other scholars and individuals who concur that what the Rohingyas are facing today is a genocidal campaign to eliminate them from Myanmar. As I have noted earlier, this eliminationist campaign has become a national project with willing participation from top to bottom with closing of ranks among local and national governments, pro and anti-government Buddhist monks, junta apologists and pro-democracy activists, President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi. They are all united to deny the apparently undeniable fact that an old fashioned genocidal program is taking place against Rohingya minority and other Muslims.

Many outsiders are simply perplexed by the role of Myanmar’s so-called Buddhist Talibans, i.e., the militant Buddhist monks. For years, Buddhism has skipped the kind of scrutiny that is commonly reserved for other religions. People in the West have held a romantic view about Buddhism, imagining, rather mistakenly, that it is a non-violent religion. Forgotten in that make-belief is centuries of Buddhist violence against others from one part of Asia to another, where millions were killed ruthlessly. While compassion is considered central to Buddhist faith, the sad fact is most Buddhists have been failing on this yardstick since the days of Emperor Ashoka. Worse yet, most of them are unaware of their racism and bigotry. And a study of the history of Buddhist Burma is sufficient to reveal that it has been a hellish den of prejudice and intolerance for more than a millennium.

In the context of Bangladesh and Arakan, for centuries the southern Bengal (today’s Bangladesh) was ravaged and devastated by Buddhist terrorism when hundreds of thousands of Bengali Muslims and Hindus were forcibly abducted, their palms pierced and enslaved to work inside Arakan. It is not difficult to guess how many Bengalis were killed and women raped by those marauding Buddhist Maghs (Rakhines). Many of those abducted did not even make it alive at the end of their abduction. And the greatest tragedy is while the descendants of former slaves from Africa to the Americas have been recognized as citizens in those territories of their captivity, the descendants of those Bengalis enslaved in Arakan and Burma continue to be denied their rights to citizenship. We hardly have a parallel of that travesty of fairness and justice in our time!

To some historians, the worsening of Muslim-Buddhist relationship originated in 1942 when Japan occupied Burma. But the truth is: it is much older. As Charney has rightly noted, Muslim-Buddhist relationship took a downward trend since Shah Shuja’s visit to Arakan in 1660 when he was betrayed by the Arakanese ruler and killed. Some of the latter rulers, encouraged by monks, tried a Buddhicization of the kingdom. By the end of the 18th century some groups in Arakanese Buddhist society had begun to call for social exclusion (apartheid) on the basis of popular religious affiliation.

With Bodawpaya’s annexation of Arakan in 1784, the relationship simply worsened. From 1787, the “Rakhine Arei-taw-poun” (popularly known as the “Danra-waddy Arei-taw-poun”) composed by a Buddhist missionary (known as sasana-pru or ‘propagator of religion’) monk based in San-twei, emerged as a highly pro-Buddhist and anti-Muslim epic. Among other things, it cast aspersions on Muslims and warned Arakanese kings that the ‘dangers’ of the Muslims posed to the ‘Arakanese’ way of life. “The Arakanese are Maramas (Burmans), the text suggested. In the 19th century, these sentiments began to influence the popular notions of group identification,” Charney noted.

Many of the today’s Buddhist monks in Myanmar are spiritual disciples of that 18th century highly chauvinist Rakhine monk. It is no accident that they are the greatest backers of expulsion and exclusion, and have been the catalysts within the broader society inciting intolerance against and providing moral justification for extermination of Muslims. Within the Buddhist society they have always played a major role, since every Buddhist male must embrace monkhood at least once in his lifetime. It would be naïve to assume that extremist Buddhist monk Wirathu, who heads the Burmese monks and is leading the crusade, is an exception in the racist Burmese society. He spent more than 10 years in jail for his direct involvement in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in 2001 in the city of Mandalay. He was released late last year as part of the new government's round of amnesties, and soon visited by Aung Thaung, a man known to be close to former dictator Than Shwe. So, with the racist monks holding the leash, and ties with the government, it is highly unlikely that Buddhist violence against the minority Muslims, esp. the Rohingya will stop anytime soon.

Is there a way out of these Buddhist acts of inhumanity which are soiling the image of Buddhism? Can our generation tolerate another genocide?

The sad reality is prejudice dies hard. For the Buddhists in Myanmar, esp. in the Rakhine state, it would take years of de-programming to shun old myths and prejudices about the ‘other’ peoples, esp. the Rohingyas who have no less of a claim to citizenship than them. However, the government can accelerate this process of learning, if it is sincere about moving forward. It must also rein on the racist elements so that they cannot have an abrasive effect on racial-religious relationship. It must learn like many others in our world who have learned through their bitter experiences that racism and bigotry are not acceptable in our world which is increasingly becoming globalized and diverse. The sooner the better!

The Rohingya Question - Part 5


As we have noted elsewhere there are other records, including British, which mention the name Rohingya. Consider, for instance, the account of the English surgeon to Embassy of Ava, Dr. Francis Buchanan (1762-1829 CE), who visited Burma decades before the British occupied the territory. He published his major work “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire” in 1799, in the fifth volume of Asiatic Researches, which provides one of the first major Western surveys of the languages of Burma. What is more important is that his article provides important data on the ethno-cultural identities and identifications of the various population groups in the first half of Bodawpaya’s reign (1782-1819). He wrote, “I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan. The second dialect is that spoken by the Hindus of Arakan. I procured it from a Brahmen [Brahmin] and his attendants, who had been brought to Amarapura by the king’s eldest son, on his return from the conquest of Arakan. They call themselves Rossawn, and, for what reason I do not know, wanted to persuade me that theirs was the common language of Arakan. Both these tribes, by the real natives of Arakan, are called Kulaw Yakain, or stranger Arakan. The last dialect of the Hindustanee which I shall mention is that of a people called, by the Burmas, Aykobat, many of them are slaves at Amarapura. By one of them I was informed, that they had called themselves Banga; that formerly they had kings of their own; but that, in his father’s time, their kingdom had been overturned by the king of Munnypura [Manipur], who carried away a great part of the inhabitants to his residence. When that was taken last by the Burmas, which was about fifteen years ago, this man was one of the many captives who were brought to Ava. He said also, that Banga was seven days’ journey south-west from Munnypura: it must, therefore, be on the frontiers of Bengal, and may, perhaps, be the country called in our maps Cashar [Cachar].” [Notes: 1. In the above account, the word Rohingya is spelled as Rooinga.. 2. Cachar district, part of the state of Assam in India, is located north-east of Sylhet in Bangladesh; it is located between the Indian state of Manipur and Bangladesh.]

Dr. Buchanan’s above statement is very revealing in that it shows that before the British occupied Arakan and the rest of Burma there were already Muslims living there who had identified themselves as the Rohingya, and that it was not an invented term. This observation squarely contradicts the current campaign by ultra-nationalist Rakhines and Burman racists that the Rohingyas settled in the Arakan only after the British occupation.

In his massive work - A Geographical, Statistical, and Historical Description of Hindostan and the Adjacent Countries in Two Volumes, published in London in 1820, Walter Hamilton wrote about Arakan (the Rakhine state), “The Moguls know this country by the name of Rakhang, and the Mahommedans, who have been long settled in the country, call themselves Rooinga, or the natives of Arracan.”

Thus, we can draw the conclusion that before the British even entered Arakan, the Muslim inhabitants called themselves by that name and were known as such by others.
 
These revelations about the Rohingya people from Buchanan and Hamilton should not come as a surprise to any genuine researcher of Arakanese and Burmese history. Numerous research works have demonstrated that a substantial portion of Arakan’s Muslim population was made up of descendants of Muslims who had lived in Arakan for centuries. 
 
In his first hand account of the Arakanese Muslims, Charles Paton, wrote, “The Musselman Sirdars generally speak good Hindustani, but the lower orders of that class, who speak a broken sort of Hindustani, are quite unintelligible to those who are not thoroughly acquainted with the jargon of the southern parts of the Chittagong district.” It is not difficult to understand why the elites (Sirdars or Sardars) within the Arakanese Muslim society - the descendants of those attached to royalty and those in high offices - were more familiar with Hindustani, which is closer to Farsi, than the less educated cultivator class. Many of the forefathers of those elites came as the soldiers of generals Wali Khan and Sandi Khan who came to restore the kingdom of Nara-meik-hla in the early 15th century, and courtiers, ministers and administrators – as we shall see below - that later attached themselves with the Arakanese royalty in Mrohaung. 
 
In his travelogue, the Augustine monk Friar Sebastian Manrique mentioned Arakanese king’s coronation ceremony in the early 17th century in which the parade was opened by Muslim cavalry unit of Rajputres from India, which was led by its cavalry leader. 
 
Michael Charney in his doctoral dissertation (under the supervision of Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan) mentions about the emergence of Muslim ‘cultivator’ class in Arakan from at least the 17th century when large number of Bengalis were kidnapped by Maghs and Portuguese slave traders to work in the Kaladan valley. Quoting Manrique, he says that from 1622 to 1634, some 42,000 Bengali captives were brought in by the Portuguese pirates. By 1630, there were probably 11,000 Bengali families living in rural areas of Danra-waddy. The actual number is, however, significantly higher since there were also royal-sponsored campaigns to bring Bengalis as captives. Charney estimates that between 1617 and 1666, the total number of those Bengali captives could be 147,000. He also mentions about Bengali captives brought from Chittagong to Arakan as late as 1723 during the reign of Sanda-wizaya-raza. Those captives were called Kala-douns in the Arakanese chronicles, “who were then donated as pagoda-slaves in the ordination halls and monasteries, including the Maha-muni shrine complex.” 
 
As noted by Professor Moshe Yegar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the capture and enslavement of prisoners was one of the most lucrative types of plunder of Bengal by joint Magh and Portuguese pirates. In his article, “The Crescent in the Arakan”, Yegar wrote, “Half the prisoners taken by the Portuguese and all the artisans among them were given to the king; the rest were sold on market or forced to settle in the villages near Mrohaung. A considerable number of these captives were Muslims.” It is not difficult to surmise that those abducted slaves and their descendants would identify themselves as the Rohingya. 
 
Charney writes, “It is not surprising that in the late 1770s, as observers based in Chittagong explained, ‘Almost three-fourths of the inhabitants of Rekheng [Danra-waddy] are said to be natives of Bengal, or descendants of such… In short, despite the lack of complete data, it is still apparent that the demographic contribution of Bengali captives to Danra-waddy’s population is considerable.”
 
Charles Paton, similarly, mentioned the reason why the Rohingya Muslims were traditionally employed in farming: “The Mugs being particularly fond of hunting and fishing, do not make such good farmers as the Musselmans; however, as Banias and shop-keepers, they surpass the Bengalis in cunning, and, on all occasions try, and very often successfully, to overreach their customers: stealing is a predominant evil amongst them …” The Arakanese (Rohingya) Muslims and Hindus, as children of the indigenous people of the soil, were mostly involved in wet farming since time immemorial, a tradition which they retained before and after the British moved into Arakan. 
 
Charney also mentions about the existence of a small group of Muslims dating as far back as the 9th century. He also cites Arakan traditions which hold that ship-wrecked Muslims had settled in Arakan as early as the 8th century. The Muslim population grew significantly with the Mrauk-U dynasty. Even Muslim mercenaries were brought in to fight in special campaign or to solve special problems within Arakan. He writes, “It is unlikely that these mercenaries had no influence in terms of advertising Islam to the Arakanese. After all, the Muslim mercenaries who helped restore Nara-meik-hla to his throne seem to have built the Santikan mosque in Mrauk-U in about 1430. There was also certainly a small Muslim presence among the intermediary service elites in the royal city during the early Mrauk-U period… At the beginning of the seventeenth century, there were many Muslims in the Arakanese court, including a Turkish courtier … who seems to have become a kind of royal adviser.” 
 
There was also a small, but wealthy and influential community of Muslim traders in Arakan. “Even higher status Muslims arrived as political refugees from Bengal with Shah Shuja in the mid-seventeenth century. Together, Muslims in the royal city formed a special social group with a privileged and unique socio-political role than their rural counterparts enjoyed, with different connections to the Muslim world,” notes Charney. Suffice it to say that before Bodawpaya’s invasion of Arakan, Arakanese Muslims (also known as the Rohingya) were employed in various professions: from high ranking courtiers in the capital city to non-elites and agriculturalists into the countryside. 
 
Quoting British census, Charney says that in 1891 there were 126,586 Muslims in Arakan (most of whom were concentrated in Danra-Waddy, wherein sat the capital), comprising roughly 19% of the total population. This figure should not come as a surprise given the fact that in the 1830s, at least 30% of Arakan’s general population was Muslim. For the original number to increase to the 1891 number, only a growth rate of 2.24% was necessary. This annual growth rate is below what was prevalent in those days amongst the Muslim population in Bengal and Arakan suggesting rather strongly that to grow to that size it did not require an influx from outside. 
 
As I have pointed out in an earlier work on demography in Arakan, a rational basis for understanding the size of the Rohingya population in Burma during the British period lies in Charles Paton’s data when the East India Company colonized Arakan. As the Sub-commissioner in Aracan (Arakan), he was able to estimate the population soon after Arakan came under British rule. He said, “The population of Aracan and its dependencies, Ramree, Cheduba, and Sandoway, does not, at present, exceed a hundred thousand souls, and may be classed as follows: Mugs, six-tenths; Musselmans, three-tenths; Burmese, one-tenth; total, 100,000 souls.”

The questions that an unbiased researcher, therefore, has to ask are: what happened to those 30,000 Arakanese Muslims whom Paton called Musselmans? During the British period in 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911, 1921, 1931 and 1941 or thereafter what was the size of their population?
Ignoring such obvious signs and records of presence, many Rohingya-deniers continue to say that the Rohingyas are not an ethnic group in Myanmar. And in recent months we have witnessed quite a few state-managed demonstrations, which even included highly politicized pro-government, ultra-racist monks carrying placards that demanded that the 1982 constitution – responsible for making the Rohingya people stateless - should be strictly followed by the government so that they can be removed from Myanmar. Claims and demands of this kind are symptomatic of the depth of racism and bigotry that has penetrated the Buddhist society inside Myanmar. Consequently, the latest genocidal campaign to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya which began in June of 2012 has already succeeded in uprooting more than a hundred thousand Rohingya people who are now forced to live in concentration camps, unless they choose to settle for a life of uncertainty elsewhere. They cannot go out to fetch livelihood. As al-Jazeera’s documentary film ‘The Hidden Genocide’ revealed, they are starving to death. It is a slow death camp for them!