The brutal manner in which Muslims are being treated in Myanmar (Burma) is no bar to the junta’s ambition to join ASEAN, the grouping of South East Asian Nations. And the Burmese application is being supported most vigorously by none other than the Muslim government of Malaysia, headed by Dr Mahathir Mohamed.
As chairman of this year’s annual meeting, Malaysia has insisted that Burma should enter ASEAN this year as the seven-member body that groups Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary. Obviously, politics is more important than blood, especially if it happens to be that of Muslims. Two other countries, Laos and Cambodia, are also under consideration for membership.
ASEAN foreign ministers will meet in Kuala Lumpur on May 31 to decide whether to admit the three at the July meeting or at an informal summit in the Malaysian capital in December or later.
In the west, the Burmese junta is criticised only for suppressing the pro-democracy movement headed by Aung San Suu Kyi who is under virtual house arrest. There is never even a hint that the brutes in uniform must be doing equally terrible to others.
The same selective outrage applies to Indonesia under the Javanese pagans. Jakarta is condemned, rightly so, for suppressing the people of East Timor who are Christians, but there is never a mention that the Javanese generals are perpetrating worse atrocities against the people of Aceh-Sumatra. Tens of thousands of people have been murdered in the jungles and villages of Aceh-Sumatra over the last two decades. The oil and spice-rich island is under military occupation of the Javanese.
It is therefore, not surprising that the Burmese junta has powerful friends among ASEAN members, especially in Malaysia. One of them is Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia’s foreign minister, who said on April 27, ‘We have all agreed not to leave Myanmar (Burma) behind. Otherwise, the situation may deteriorate to a point that will jeopardise the stability of the region.’
Stability, unfortunately, like the much-abused word, peace, has a very different meaning for the people of the region. The need for stability is used as a pretext to crush any dissent against the ruling elites. In the case of Burma, it has gone beyond that. There, the Muslims are attacked and persecuted by hired thugs of the regime.
More than a quarter million Burmese refugees, called Rohingyas, were forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh in 1991-92. Since then, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has repatriate all but 25,000 of them. But those who have returned live in constant fear for their lives.
On March 15, for instance, Budhhist monks - yes, the peaceful monks who are not supposed to harm even flies - went berserk in the town of Mandalay. Their action followed a rumour that a Budhhist teenager had been raped. Without verifying the story, the monks, believed to be goaded by agents provocateurs of the regime, went on a rampage and destroyed 12 mosques. At least 57 Muslims were injured, some of them critically.
On March 20, the same monks attacked and burnt down two mosques in Tegu town and two others in Tamwe near Rangoon, the Burmese capital. The followind day, a Friday, they attempted to attack the Grand Mosque and 12 others but because of the presence of a large number of worshippers who came out shouting Allahu Akbar, the monks were chased away. That, unfortunately, was not the end of the problem.
The regime’s connivance in the rampage was confirmed when on March 22, the violence spread to Rangoon, a predominantly Muslim city. Seven districts of the capital were affected by mob violence which resulted in the destruction of five mosques. Hundreds of copies of the Qur’an were desecrated as well as scores of madrassas (religious schools) were attacked and vandalised.
The situation was so critical that many Muslims cancelled their Hajj pilgrimage for fear of leaving their families unprotected. Others were required for duty to defend the mosques. Muslims have formed committees to serve guard duty at their places of worship.
The situation remains extremely tense. Muslims are attacked by irate mobs but find no protection from the security forces who often join in the mayhem. To rub salt into their wounds, the Muslim world also turns a blind eye to their plight. Worse, neighbouring Muslims countries - Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei - which could exert some influence on the junta, are totally silent.
In fact, by pressing for Burma’s membership into the ASEAN grouping, they are actually encouraging the brutes in uniform to continue with their genocidal policy against the hapless Muslims.
Muslimedia - May 16-31, 1997