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Myanmar's Buddhist Persecutors of Christians and Muslims

Lela Gilbert

There has never been a shortage of religious persecution in the East Asian country of Burma, also known as Myanmar. To the surprise of some westerners, the Buddhist country has been a brutal abuser of religious minorities for decades.

Christians have long faced ongoing and terrible mistreatment at the hand of Myanmar’s authorities. In fact, since 1999, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has declared Myanmar a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) in its annual reports because of its violent practices, lawless abuses, and discriminatory treatment of non-Buddhists. The regime has used fines, imprisonment, forced conversions, starvation, gang rape, and child abuse to oppress Christians.

But Christians aren’t the only ones who suffer in Myanmar. Muslims are also persecuted.

Today, Rohingya Muslims are facing increasing violence and are fleeing by the thousands into neighboring Bangladesh.

Various news sources in the Middle East have recently focused on their plight. They have been stateless for decades, and now find themselves under increasing pressure from the Burmese military. On September 9, The U.N. said that an “alarming number” of 270,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in Myanmar by crossing into Bangladesh in the last two weeks.

Associated Press explains that Burma/Myanmar “refuses to recognize them as one of the country’s 135 lawful ethnic minorities, instead calling them Bengalis, with the implication that their native land is in Bangladesh and they are illegally settled in Myanmar.”

On September 8, Arab News reported, “More than 1,000 people may already have been killed in Myanmar, mostly minority Rohingya Muslims — more than twice the government’s total — a senior United Nations representative told AFP on Friday, urging Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out….”

A beloved icon of freedom, Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest. Today she serves as “State Counsellor,” the country’s de facto leader.

Arab News went on to report, Aung San Suu Kyi, “has so far failed to speak out on the violence, leaving her global reputation in tatters. Rights groups, activists — including many who campaigned for her in the past — and her fellow Nobel laureates Malala Yousafzai and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have condemned her.”

Meanwhile, the plight of the Rohingya has been drastically complicated by a militant insurgency within the Rohingya community. The group, which is known as ARSA, had its beginnings faraway from Southeast Asia.

On August 31, Chicago Tribune published an AP report about the insurgency’s initial development:

“The group was formed last year by Rohingya exiles living in Saudi Arabia, according to the International Crisis Group, which detailed ARSA’s origins in a report last year. It is led by Attullah Abu Amar Jununi, a Pakistani-born Rohingya who grew up in Mecca, and a committee of about 20 Rohingya emigres. ICG says there are indications Jununi and others received militant training in Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan.”

The insurgents’ first attacks took place in October 2016, when more than a hundred Rohingya men, armed with various weapons, including knives, slingshots, and rifles, attacked police and killed nine officers.

Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a fierce response by the authorities, leading to the torching of numerous Rohingya villages and the killing, rape, and displacement of thousands.

In August 2017, the group struck again, attacking a far larger area, which included Buddhist villages, killing many civilians as well as targeting police. Unsurprisingly, the Myanmar response was savage.

ARSA denies having ties to terrorist organizations, and their actions are defended by Muslim countries as those of desperate, displaced freedom fighters.

Meanwhile, their efforts have caused nearly 300,000 refugees to flee to Bangladesh, where some 700,000 Rohingya have gathered, many, if not most, without basic food or shelter. The UN, overwhelmed by needs in the Middle East, has been unable to offer much help; Turkey has sent minimal aid.

The ARSA rebels declared a “ceasefire” in recent days. However, the damage done by their ill-starred insurgency is far from finished. An unending flood of Rohingyas are still struggling to leave Myanmar for Bangladesh.

And tragically — like so many persecuted Christians in today’s troubled world — little awaits them but hunger, deprivation, and despair.

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