Lessons for Thailand from Rohingya ordeal

opinion January 14, 2018 01:00

There is a lurking danger in letting religious fundamentalists become too powerful



After months of claiming that their security forces were not behind the atrocities against Rohingya Muslims that resulted in the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of them, Myanmar’s military has admitted that some of its soldiers were behind the murder of 10 people whose bodies were found in a mass grave.

It was an apparent bid to blame a few rogue soldiers for what the global community has alleged to be an organised ethnic-cleansing campaign that involved murder, rape and torture, forcing nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh. 

Since the launch of the crackdown in August 2017, Myanmar had stubbornly denied any wrongdoing and denied access to Rakhine state to members of the international community, including to Yanghee Lee, a special representative from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar. 

If Myanmar had nothing to hide, then why did it deny access to these officials who could have helped it clear its name? Instead, the military-dominated state accused the international community of cooking up “fake news” and being prejudiced against the Myanmar government.

Although the acknowledgement of the massacres – posted on the Facebook page of the office of army chief General Min Aung Hlaing – raised eyebrows among the human rights community, who have spent months documenting these atrocities, there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to deliver justice and fairness to the Rohingya people – one of the most persecuted communities in the world. 

The Myanmar army confession may be a departure from the usual denial of any wrongdoing, but it is only one small step towards finding the whole truth. 

Min Aung Hlaing did not go as far as to admit that the military and the government were to blame for these atrocities, and suggested that only a handful of rogue officers were behind the killings at this mass grave.

“It’s not as though there are human remains lying around everywhere,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “We have reason to suspect that the authorities have disposed of human remains, whether maliciously to hide evidence or for other reasons.”

But, of course, nobody in their right mind believes the army chief – except the Burmese who are blinded by gross nationalism, ironically inspired by the same military that they used to condemn a few years ago.

In Thailand, sad to say, instead of looking at the anti-Islam movement from a neutral point of view, many Thai Buddhist nationalists are looking up to the Burmese monks who are behind these grotesque campaigns.

The Thai Army pays lip service to pluralism but in reality they only peddle high-sounding words without any deep understanding of what they really mean. 

Deep down, the Thai and Myanmar militaries do not have the political will or the sophistication to address sensitive and delicate issues such as pluralism, multiculturalism and the danger of gross nationalism generated by the crazies who rigidly define what Thailand is and what Thailand should be. It is astonishing how some of these fanatics seem to overlook the fact that they, too, are just one or two generations removed from immigrant parents who got off the boats from Vietnam, China, and parts of the subcontinent.

They tend to forget how the Thai security apparatus treated their parents like dirt because of national security concerns. That explains why they can’t seem to understand that the Rohingya ordeal is only far more horrendous than what their parents and grandparents faced during the Red scare.

Indeed, the Thai Buddhists raising money to support Burmese monks for their hideous anti-Muslim campaign should be ashamed of themselves.

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