Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why one must sympathize with the Rohingyas?

"It is in Bangladesh’s self-interest to address Myanmar’s Rohingya problem," writes Mubashar Hasan from Dhaka. His article is posted below.

The Bangladeshi civil society is divided over Bangladesh’s stance towards incoming Rohingyas from Myanmar, who are fleeing a state of fascist oppression. At one side, there is a group who propounds that Bangladesh should open the border for Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds, whereas on the other side, there is another group who argues that Rohingyas are not in any way Bangladesh’s problem
What is missing from this debate is an analysis of the long-term impact of the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh and the geo-strategic implication of the crisis in the region and the world. The latest report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) sheds some worrying signs which should be a matter of serious concern for Bangladesh and its security.
The ICG report finds that a new armed insurgency is on the rise among Rohingyas. According to the ICG: “The Rohingya insurgent group, which refers to itself as Harakah al-Yaqin (Faith Movement, HaY), is led by a committee of Rohingya émigrés in Saudi Arabia and is commanded on the ground by Rohingya with international training and experience in modern guerrilla war tactics.” The report further adds that this group “benefits from the legitimacy provided by local and international fatwas (religious judicial opinions) in support of its cause and enjoys considerable sympathy and backing from Muslims in northern Rakhine State, including several hundred locally trained recruits.”
This finding about the longstanding Rohingya problem in Myanmar offers new perspectives on how Bangladesh should revisit its approach with Myanmar problem. For example, the emergence of such an insurgent group could be problematic for Bangladesh on the ground that our country has been facing irregular challenges of violent extremism. In this regard, several global reports have highlighted how few groups, advancing violent extremism in the name of religion, are recruiting a new generation of extremists using Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis.
The Myanmar situation is grave and it will most likely persist for long with elements which might produce instability in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government can ponder on leading an international campaign to assert serious pressure to isolate Myanmar 
It has now become regular practice among conservatives to take to the streets to protest Myanmar’s fascist approach towards Rohingyas after the Friday prayers. While these Bangladeshi conservatives have every right to stand for humanity and Rohingyas in Myanmar, what is disturbing is that the whole problem is being framed through a religious paradigm rather than a political paradigm. By which I mean that Myanmar’s dealing with Rohingya people, revoking their citizenship, and other discriminatory acts have strong resemblances with Hitler’s Nazism or even South African Apartheid. However, Bangladeshi conservatives choose to stand for Rohingyas simply because they (Rohingyas) are Muslims by religion.
In this way, the Bangladeshi protest towards Myanmar because of its oppression of Rohingyas transforms into a politics based on religion, rather than a purely humanitarian protest. This has implications as people associated with this sort of protest uphold a religio-political consciousness and may develop sympathy for extreme conservative politics which, in many ways, stand at odds with nationalist or country-centric political consciousness.
The somewhat aloof role of Bangladeshi state with regards to to dealing with Myanmar may further strengthen religio-political consciousness among a generation of Bangladeshis who were found again and again by various indices of world value surveys holding a strong religio-political consciousness. There are many studies which confirm that holding religio-political consciousness is one of the primary indicators behind joining violent extremist groups. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those who hold strong consciousness based on politico-religion would transform into violent extremists.
This new insurgent group in Myanmar is an addition to other already existing groups in the world such as the Talibans, al-Qaeda, IS, al-Shabab, and so on. It is probable that the rise of this Rohingya insurgency is a response to the fascist state of Myanmar, which had outstripped Rohingyas of their citizenship. Against the backdrop of rising intolerance among the spectrum of some Muslims in Muslim countries, some Hindus in India, some Buddhists in Myanmar, and some Christians in Europe, America, and Australia — the Rohingya issue may fuel further extremism in South Asia and the world.
It should be noted that the international community including political leaders of the free world, civil society, and media have failed to respond quickly and effectively to Myanmar’s longstanding oppression of the Rohingyas.
Critics may argue that if similar state behavior were to be found in any Muslim country, the response would have been intensive and different and such behaviour of the international community is not likely to go unnoticed by anti-Western elements.
The Myanmar situation is grave and it will most likely persist for long with elements which might produce instability in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government can ponder on leading an international campaign to assert serious pressure to isolate Myanmar.
Mubashar Hasan is an Assistant Professor, Political Science and Sociology, North South University and the founder of, an online platform to promote dialogue among civilisations.

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