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    Posted June 10, 2012 by

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    Inside the real story of Maugdaw, Myanmar (Part 6)

    What actually triggered public anger? It may have been racial profiling by the ethnic Arakan news agency, Narinjara, established in 2005. When the rape incident took place, the agency published news identifying the accused with their Islamic faith. In its Burmese language news, the incident was presented as if Muslims [read aliens] were threatening local people, and now they have raped and brutally killed a woman. The words – Muslims, Kalar, Islam – were repeatedly used in its news reports. The news spread and people started talking about it in terms of Kalar and “Lu Myo Char [i.e. different race/people or alien] insulting our woman”.
    Interestingly, Naranjara and Facebook users started talking about the accused rapists as Kalars even when the backgrounds of the accused were still unclear. Information from alternative sources shows that the main accused’s father was born into a Buddhist Rakhin family, but a Muslim couple adopted him after his parents abandoned him at birth. However, his father and the couple died. He became a spoiled kid with a criminal record showing multiple violations. Whether he practiced Islam or not, and his ‘Rakhin-ness’ [if so] were not considered. Instead, news reports portrayed the case as an insult by Kalar. We have not noticed The Narinjara or other agencies specifically blaming Rohingya for the crime. (Note: We do not seek any identification of ethnicity with criminal activities. My intention here is only to point out racial profiling). As the news spread, genocidal comments also appeared one after another such as the one below. “Bad Kalar. We already allowed them to live in our country. Now they have raped and killed our woman…. If we just watch, we will end soon. Unless we take initiative and plan to end Kalar men and women, Rakhine people will end” [his word choice “Myo Ton Aung” literally means the end of race/ethnic kind]. Ignoring the complaints from Muslim groups and individuals, the agency continued publishing news in similar fashions until 2 June 2012 (a total of five news reports). Initial erratic reporting of the victim’s age as 16-years-old (instead of 26-years-old) contributed to stirring people’s anger dramatically.
    On 3 June 2012, the angry mob at Taunggot stopped a bus and killed 11 people [There are reports saying that the culprits were not local residents. Some were holding communication devices that are normally used by security officers]. Surprisingly, although this massacre humiliated many Burmese (Muslims and non-Muslims alike), there are still many who openly justify the violence. Some Facebook users even offer money to those whoever would rape and kill Muslims in Arakan State. It should be noted, though, that it is still unclear to what extent the Facebook campaigns and comments actually fed into the communal riots.
    As the country tries to address the issue, another problem has been introduced: citizenship. Burmese Muslims are being treated as second-class citizens and the discourses of racism are increasingly portraying them as Lu Myo Char [different race/people]. When the massacre took place on 3 June 2012, the state run media referred to the victims as “Muslim Kalar”. When Muslims in Yangon protested against it, the Information Department corrected its usage to “Members of the Islamic faith who are living in the country”. This raises a question of whether the state recognizes Muslims as citizens. An open letter, submitted to President Thein Sein by Burmese Muslim Associations, raised the concern that the state media’s new usage downplays their citizenship status and that “living in the country” only signifies their “guest” status. (The complicated identity crisis of Burmese Muslims, now Myanmar Muslims, has a long history in Burma.) As these issues pre-occupied the Burmese home and abroad, the government has established an investigation committee for the 3 June 2012 massacre. Five major Islamic organizations in Burma have issued a joint statement, urging Muslims to calm down and not to protest. The Muslims in the country seem calm.
    On 8 June 2012, however, riots broke out in Maungdaw district, which is a Rohingya majority area. Previously idle media organisations started distributing breaking news. Weekly Eleven, a Yangon based-agency, for example, that completely silent on anti-Muslim riots in April and the 3 June 2012 massacre has been posting breaking news every minute. Campaigners started distributing information associating Rohingya with terrorists, and speculating that foreign interventions (including from Bangladesh) are behind the scene. In the evening, leaders of influential 88 Generation Students declared that Rohingya is not an ethnic group of Burma. The government has issued Curfews in Maungdaw and Buthitaung (another Rohingya area) in Arakan State. Some fear that the military government is returning to power in the name of ‘keeping the country together’. Now the people who are suffering in Rakhine State are Muslims and it is hidden by the media.
    To summarise, the above chronology of the 3 June 2012 massacre illustrates that violence cannot be limited to state abuses. Instead, any attention to human rights issues in Burma needs to be serious about racism, inter-ethnic and religious relations, the role of the media and its code of conduct, transnational racist campaign on social media websites, and finally citizenship issues. The Rohingya problem has already troubled both Burma and its neighbors near and afar. If any government engages with Burma on human rights issues, the very first step, requiring minimal effort, will be to get any citizens off the racist campaign who are one way or another fostering racial and religious intolerance in Burma. The next step is to support peace education programs through world educational institutions in order to foster critical understanding of issues involving ethnicity/identities, migration, conflict, nation-building, and citizenship. This educational support must be available to the generalpublic, but not be limited to scholarships designed for few of the country’s brightest and most privileged. Finally, every government should initiate and support offices that can effectively monitor human right cases and ensure the prosecution of perpetrators.
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