Burma killings: Think before you point fingers

Published: July 17, 2012
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In 2001, these feelings of hatred started going out of control and today after a decade and more, it is reaching sad and unfortunate proportions. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya people are on a boat cross the river Naf, from Myanmar into Bangladesh, in Teknaf. PHOTO: REUTERS In 2001, these feelings of hatred started going out of control and today after a decade and more, it is reaching sad and unfortunate proportions. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE In 2001, these feelings of hatred started going out of control and today after a decade and more, it is reaching sad and unfortunate proportions. PHOTO: REUTERS

I have always thought of Buddhists as being the wisest, most religious and peace loving of all people. Hence, their recent atrocities in Burma were shocking on many levels. Burmese Buddhists are carrying out a ‘cleansing’ and have (reportedly) killed many Muslims over the past two months. 

To answer the ‘why’, let’s examine a bit of history first for that is where most of the answers lie.

Burma/Myanmar is situated next to Bangladesh and Muslims started arriving there in the early 20th Century. Memons and Shias also migrated in large numbers – that is also the origin of ‘Khao Suey’ we so enjoy today especially in Karachi. You may know of elders in the community who once enjoyed businesses there in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Burma was under the British rule (like us) and the Indian Muslims who came to Burma enjoyed a better status given their subservience to the British. With the ‘business men Muslims’ also came the ‘worker Muslims’ who also took over jobs from the Burmese. This ‘increased’ the hatred for the Muslims.

Now, why did they harbour anti-Muslim feelings in the first place? Because history had taught the Buddhist Burmese that forced conversions of Buddhists had taken place during the Mughal rule! Hence, this coupled with migration of Indian-Muslims to Burma only aggravated their feelings.

The 40s was a time of ‘independence’ in the region – so when the British were withdrawing from all over the world, Burma too demanded a “Burma for the Burmese” and just like there was bigoted violence between Hindus and Muslims in India, the same was happening between Burmese and Muslims. It all ended (for a while) when Burma too got its independence in 1948. The rich Muslims slowly moved out leaving the poorer Muslims to bear the brunt of racism.

Just like Pakistan, Burma has had an intense military rule – of more than 40 years! And since the past 60 years, Muslims (and even Hindus) have faced slow persecution by the Burmese. They can’t build or repair mosques, they can’t congregate, can’t become Burmese citizens, can’t travel etc. These feelings of hatred started going out of control in 2001 and today after 12 years, it is reaching sad proportions.

I do not know why the media is quiet and I do not wish to reflect on it either. What I do want us to collectively learn are the lessons these conflicts hold for us.

1. Humans have an in-human tendency to oppress the poor. Think about all the prejudices you hold against Pathans, Mohajirs, Sindhis, Deobandis, Shias, Christians and so on.

2. Ignoring the poor and not sharing your compassion and wealth is as inhumane as oppressing them. Since our state of Pakistan has been headed by unwise, non compassionate people since the 70s we are now seeing a lot of problems that have the potential to turn into Burma-like atrocities.

3. To all my immigrating friends, beware of the feelings of hatred you fan because you are only thinking about you and your community. You need to understand that Pakistani/Desi/Muslim is ‘not’ your only community – you owe more to the people and the country hosting you so you need to put their interests before yours otherwise your children and grandchildren can suffer.

4. Make your child un-learn prejudices of the past so knitted into our education and social system.

“All people are good till circumstances force them to become otherwise” – how difficult a lesson is that? We adults need to learn to think of the ‘circumstances’ that force people to become ‘otherwise’. It will lead us to many answers.

5. Before getting all riled up against the Buddhists, wait and examine your role as a Muslim and a Pakistani first. Have you done anything for the Biharis who are in Bangladesh? They cannot become Bangladeshi citizens and are living in appalling conditions and that too in a Muslim country.

Before we blame the Buddhist of being racist and violent and insensitive to others, I suggest you look under your own collar first.

6. Did you know that Bangladesh is not hosting a single Muslim refugee from Burma? If people of my religion (Muslims) are this discriminate, then shouldn’t I think twice before blatantly pointing fingers at the Buddhists in Burma?

7. Did you know that we Pakistanis promised to take all Biharis to Pakistan (who happen to be in large numbers of 30,000 or so) and we only brought 300 of them to Pakistan to date? What about the rest of the 29,700 Biharis waiting for the promise to be fulfilled?

This is not meant to be a pro-Bihari article from any angle or pro- anything in fact– it’s just one on perspectives about things that we tend to lose most of the times. We fail to realise that our individual actions have far reaching consequences because we have surrounded ourselves with an oblivion we chose to live in.

It doesn’t take long to start observing our own actions that we employ in our daily lives and what they actually will procure later.

So when you hire someone from your own religion or community instead of basing the decision on merit, you have sowed the seed of hatred and racism. When you talk in a prejudiced manner in front of your children whether in jest or otherwise, you are sowing the seeds of hatred. When you are not giving yourself an alternative perspective on your own history, you are sowing the seeds of hatred. When you are not going out of your way to actually ‘do’ something selflessly in the country you live in, you are sowing the seeds of hatred. When you are not sharing your wealth and success or helping others climb up the economic ladder, you are sowing the seeds of hatred then as well.

This hatred is bound to chase you, your children and grandchildren right back; you just need to decide which dead body in the pile of a massacre you are responsible for.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that 20,000 Muslims have been killed. This has been changed. 

Shehlah.Zahiruddin

Shehlah Zahiruddin

An enterpreneur with a keen interest in the world around her.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.