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Last Sunday Prime Minister Najib Razak led a protest rally against the injustices suffered by the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. This follows the cancellation of two friendly matches for our Harimau Malayas against the Myanmar football team earlier this month.

“What’s the use of Aung San Suu Kyi having a Nobel prize? We want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi, enough is enough… We must and we will defend Muslims and Islam,”  Najib said, condemning the Burmese leader’s actions together with supporters that also consisted of refugee Rohingya people in Malaysia.

And while many are sharing articles upon articles about Najib’s statements about the Rohingya people, many Malaysians do not seem too aware about what the Rohingya crisis even is apart from the bare basics.

Spreading wrong information and half-truths over social media is a problem that impacts more than just Malaysians. But whether you decide to condemn or to praise Najib for his decisions, it is important to form those opinions with a rounded understanding of the circumstances.

Or perhaps you’re just too lazy to explain to that one friend of yours who asked what is up with this Rohingya thing going on now, and are looking for an easy way to let them know without expanding too much effort.

So here is an overview of what has been happening with the Rohingya over the years to help you parse through all of the upcoming news with more understanding.

We also take a look at how Myanmar has viewed Najib’s reaction to their actions and why they feel strongly enough to protest Najib for his statements.

This way, hopefully Malaysians are better able to understand the thoughts of the people on the other side of the border.

What’s Going On In Myanmar?

The Rohingya people (Image Credit: Asia News)
The Rohingya people (Image Credit: Asia News)

Malaysians have occasionally seen the name Rohingya in headlines over the past couple of weeks, but I am willing to bet tomorrow’s lunch money that not many among Malaysians actually understand what is going on with the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya Muslims of Burma face rampant persecution on a truly shocking scale, so much so that the UN Council on Human rights considers the 1.3 million Rohingya of Myanmar to be one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.” Tom Towsnend, Wessex Scene.

Brought into Myanmar by colonisers, the Muslim minority Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar even though they have lived on predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar for generations.

The racial conflict truly escalated in 2012 during the Rakhine State Riots, which led to the spread of Rohingya refugees due to bloody fighting.

Since then, the Rohingyas have intermittently appeared in the news and many of them have even settled in Malaysia. After all, United Nations High Commission For Refugees headquarters is based in Malaysia.

But violence flared up again October 9 this year in Rakhine when 9 officers were reportedly murdered in an attack on the border-guard by Islamic militants, according to reports by the Burmese police. The police, claiming that the attack had links to a militant group called the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, put the area on military lockdown.

Some people argue that the militant group has long been defunct, but the Rohingyas have historically been tied to militant groups before throughout their existence in Myanmar.

Believing the attacks to be from jihadi extremists, 24 Rohingyas were killed by October 10, and the numbers continue to escalate.

Currently the Rohingyas are still quarantined into the area as Burmese law-enforcement still suspects extremist activity among the population. They turned the area into a Military zone in order to curb further extremist activity that could potentially come from the people.

However, Daniel Russel, a US diplomat for East Asia worries that “the escalation of violence risks inciting jihadist extremism in the country also known as Burma.”

Instead of stopping terrorism, putting the Rohingyas in dire states might actually push the population into extremism even if they would never have considered so before out of desperation.

Daniel also cautions against Najib’s protest on Burma. He is calls on on neighboring countries, such as Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, to resist the urge to stage protests that could further stir religious passions.

Myanmar’s Thoughts About Najib

Protest at the Malaysian Embassy in Myanmar (Image Credit: Free Malaysia Today)
Protest at the Malaysian Embassy in Myanmar (Image Credit: Free Malaysia Today)

“According to ASEAN principles, a member country does not interfere in other member countries’ internal affairs. We have always followed and respected this principle. We hope that the Malaysian government will continue to follow it,” U Zaw Htay told The Myanmar Times.

He added that the protest appeared to be a calculated political decision to win some political capital among the Malaysian public and Myanmar happened to be an easy bait.

The government has branded the scandal in Myanmar as an “ethnic cleansing”, which marks Malaysia as one of the first Southeast Asian nations that refused to tiptoe around the term “genocide”.

The Myanmar people also think that it is rich of Najib to condemn them for their treatment of the Rohingyas when in their view, there are Rohingya refugees in Malaysia who are treated poorly.

The refugees are trafficked across Southeast Asia in terrible conditions, and “fall victim to the combined effects of patchy law enforcement, organised crime, and Southeast Asia’s insatiable appetite for cheap labour”. Furthermore, most Rohingya refugees in Malaysia do not have citizenship and are not able to legally work, opening them up to abuse by unscrupulous employers.

Some Burmese citizens also believe that the so far the global coverage on the Rohingya people have been biased against their government. For many citizens of Myanmar they believe that the west is going out of their way to demonise their military actions, even though it is seen by the Burmese as part and parcel the fight against extremism in Myanmar.

If Najib can stage a protest, the Burmese people can too. About 100 people led by Myanmar National Monk Union (Yangon) participated in a protest rally against Najib at the Mahabandoola Park in downtown Yangon.

“We cannot accept the fact that they insult our nationality, so even if we need to take up arms, we might do so,” said the protesters.

With tensions running high between Najib and the Burmese government, it seems that we will be hearing more and more about the conflict with the Rohingyas. At least now, you’ll know what’s going on.


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