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Nov-26-2012 23:40printcomments

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Obama Mentions the Rohingyas

It is at this crucial time to stand with the Muslim people of Burma.

Suu Kyi and Obama
MPAC UK Muslim Public Affairs Committee

(RANGOON, Burma Mizzima News) - US president Barack Obama made history recently by visiting Burma - a first by a US president - and met both Burmese president Thein Sein, and famed Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The White House described his visit to be one where he would “speak to civil society to encourage Burma's ongoing democratic transition". He did, however, have some time for the persecuted Rohingyaamid his democracy-building: “The Rohingya hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do” he asserted in a speech given at Yangon University.

“For too long the people of this state have faced crushing poverty and persecution” he continued. “But there’s no excuse for violence against innocent people.” Eloquent and much-needed words, but apart from this address the plight of the Rohingya has continued without much international attention.

Even the much-lauded Aung San Suu Kyi has remained relatively silent on the issue describes Dan Rivers brilliantly in his article in CNN International. When Suu Kyi did speak on the issue, to Indian Broadcaster NTV, she refused to condemn the mobs of Buddhist Rahkine extremists killing and displacing the Rohingya: “don't forget that violence has been committed by both sides. This is why I prefer not to take sides and also I want to work towards reconciliation between these two communities. I'm not going to be able to do that if I'm going to take sides."

She was also quick to deflect attention to neighbouring Bangladesh: "One of the very interesting and rather disturbing facts of this whole problem is that most people seem to think as that there was only one country involved in this border issue. But there are two countries. There's Bangladesh one side, there's Burma on the other and the security and the security of the border is surely the responsibility of both countries."

Rivers, in his article, reminds readers that “Suu Kyi has referred to Rohingyas with the pejorative term "Bengalis" suggesting some should not be recognized as citizens in Myanmar (Burma)”, and Suu Kyi also stated on Indian television that “there's a quarrel whether people are true citizens under the law or whether they have come over as migrants later from Bangladesh”- clearly undermining the status of the Rohingya by painting them as ‘migrants from Bangladesh’ and not the Burmese state’s problem.

But whatever Suu Kyi’s stance is, what about the stance of Muslims worldwide? Especially the state of Bangladesh and Bangladeshi Muslims, who should be at the forefront of highlighting oppression by the Burmese state and Buddhist Rahkine extremists.

Whilst Bangladesh has accepted refugees it has returned some and stopped others from entering the country as well as forcing three aid agencies to stop providing help to refugees. Human Rights Watch called on Bangladesh to “cease its punitive restrictions on international organizations providing lifesaving humanitarian aid to the more than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh and should open its borders to Rohingya fleeing sectarian violence and abuses by Burmese security.”

It is at this crucial time that Bangladeshi Muslims, both in Bangladesh and abroad and alongside Muslims worldwide, need to be vocal in denouncing the violence and pressuring the international community to assist it and give attention to a problem that has been on-going for decades.

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