Monday, July 10, 2017

Scapegoating minority Muslims in Myanmar

Lately the Frontier had an article on the above subject in which it showed how negative perception about minority Muslims had caused genocidal attacks against them by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar. Forgotten in that analysis is how for decades, almost since Burma became an independent country, military and powerful elites have exploited racism and bigotry to ethnically cleanse minorities like the Rohingyas there.
Dr. Maung Zarni reviewed the article and offers his analysis below:
This article either chooses to ignore the elephant in the room (the military and its methodical anti-Muslim propaganda carefully manufactured and disseminated through different popular and official channels (vertically and horizontally) OR is oblivious of the ways in which the military has used what it calls Psychological Warfare Department (which started out as the unit aimed at combating the popular Communist ideals in the early 1950's).

The Buddhist-Muslim marriage, particularly Buddhist women marrying Muslim partners, was a major issue in the colonial period - one of the 3 major issues (aside from economic resentment/nationalism over the agricultural landownership which was disproportionately in the hands of the Indian financers, absentee landlords and small and big Indian land holders and mutual and senseless insults -  thrown at each other between vocal adherents of Islam and Muslim).

The issue of mandatory conversion to Islam remains a major sour spot between Buddhist-Muslim relations, no doubt.  The material aspect of this issue - inheritance  upon Muslim husband's death or splitting of property and assets upon divorce and all the custodial issues - have been dealt with by 1959 - 11 years after independence, to ensure these issues are resolved - not in accord with Islamic tradition but in accord with the more gender-equal (of course, all this is relative) Burmese customary law.

Reuters has documented, in its Pulitzer winning series of articles on Burma, the way in which the highest level of military leadership - that is, the late Senior General Saw Maung himself directed the Department of Religious Affairs (then under ministry of home affairs) to publish anti-Muslim tracts.

My own late close friend and tutor, namely Dr Myo Myint, from Mandalay who was a devout and superstitious Buddhist man - with a PhD in history from Cornell , studying under the famed Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities) - later headed  the religious affairs department.  He was involved in training Buddhist monks at Burma's First Buddhist University in Mandalay.  Myo Myint was a typical anti-Muslim racist,  who believed that meditation secured him a Fulbright fellowship to Cornell.  His wife, a history tutor herself, is a famed fortuneteller whose counsel generals sought.    Under Director Generalship of Myo Myint, the religious affairs department continued to pump out  anti-Muslim tracts - in tiny monographs.    Unlike other creative and non-creative writings, these tracts did not go through censorship committee - which is under Culture and Info Ministry - as opposed to Home Affairs (which control Police, General Admin, monks affairs, police intelligence - known as Special Branch or Information Department).  They were approved - Nah, they were "commissioned" by the Religious Affairs department.   Many of its tracts, I suspect, were written by military and police intelligence officers with literary flare.    There are genuinely popular fiction writers and poets who are retired, ex or in-service military officers.  Also the military intelligence recruits academics and other civilians with literary talents and expertise to help propagate their strategically constructed spins in different mediums - whisper campaign, rumours, jokes, songs, film strips, etc - not only on Islamophobia but on attacking Aung San Suu Kyi, dissidents, exiles, etc.    Many of these tracts were published with Religious Affairs official approval at the Director's level, and Myo Myint was a DG.  He later headed the first Rakhine Inquiry Commission formed in Aug 2012, in the  wake of the then head of UNHCR's visit (now that guy is Secretary Gen of UN).  

Kyaw Yin Hlaing, another younger student of Saya Myo Myint  - about 5 years junior to me at Mandalay U. -  acted as Secretary of the Rakhine Commission under Thein Sein.  he was both Thein Sein's point man on Rakhine affairs (particularly Rohingya).   Myo Myint died before teh commission's much-delayed report was released in April 2013.

Not only is the substance of anti-Muslim propaganda manufactured with the order from the top generals and their deputies  but so is the act of disseminating these spins.  They are done either openly as book distribution or through social media and traditional whisper campaigns (spreading malicious and false rumours) through Information Department of both police and military intelligence. 

Intelligence services, both police and military, not only collect raw intelligence about different segments of society - particularly those marked as "threats to the military" but also put in circulation their tailored messages.

Writing in the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy's World Affairs - a few years before he officially joined the Thein Sein gov as adviser to the President, Kyaw Yin Hlaing himself wrote that every time there was a sign of discontent towards the military (for instance, the unwelcome news of senior military officers in Mandalay area - where Myo Myint, myself and Kyaw Yin Hlaing lived - being involved in the disappearance of certain assets belonging to the famous Mahamuni  or Rakhine Pagoda  that made the local population, not to mention monks, extremely angry was countered with the circulation of "a Muslim man raping a Burmese Buddhist woman").     

The joke among the more intelligent segment of the society -such as interfaith activists including Buddhist monks who are more inclusive of other faith communities - that each time the military has to confront a substantive issue - say, consumer price hikes - the Muslim-man-rapes-a-buddhist-woman rumour gets disseminates.  Often the rape victim has to be the niece of a monk.  

This rape narrative (Rakhine Buddhist woman Ma Thida Htwe was allegedly raped by 3 "kulars" or Muslims or descendants of Indian ancestral parents) was also the trigger for the first bout of communal violence in June 2012, following the organized mob killing of 10 Muslim pilgrims in Taung Goke, Rakhine.     This rape aspect of the story is PATENTLY FALSE.  The medical examiner of the body of Ma Thida Htwe said unequivocally to one of the Rakhine Commissioners - famed political comedian and former prisoner of conscience Zaganar (Dr Thura, dentist by training): there was absolutely no evidence of rape.  But the medical examiner was forced to sign the prepared report which claimed otherwise.  

I think the misplaced emphasis - that the Burmese people's miserable conditions of life need to be addressed first - if the NLD and other semi-enlightened entities wish to address the issue of fear and loathing of Muslims - is totally misguided and misplaced.  It diverts the real culprit that manufacture these tales for strategic ends of ensuring the military's primacy in politics/power over the popularly elected civilian political party and its revered leader.   

If anyone who is inclined to dismiss the point - that the military has been engaged in a systematic campaign to use Muslims as scapegoat, diversion, - not just the racist public scapegoating the Muslims for all their frustrations, anxieties and hardships - needs to spend a few minutes of their time watching this videoclip.

A former CIA officer explained on Aljazeera English how different propaganda narratives are manufctured which keep westerners and Muslims engaged in senseless slaughter of one another.

Why are humans of different belief systems  killing one another?

Why have 101 millions viewed this clip - by this former CIA officer?

It's been viewed over 101 millions times.


“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

- Lilla Watson, a Brisbane-based Aboriginal artist, activist, and academic

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