Rohingya, a colonial legacy


Matt 5:43 you have heard it was said, Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.

Matt 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

Matt 5:45 that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven…

There are more than 600K refugees in Bangladesh escaping from what is seen by many Westerners as a genocide in the Arakan state in Burma. Is it to whitewash a messy colonial legacy? We don’t see many Western nor middle east nations offering to take in the refugees. Some Arakanese Muslims have stayed for centuries being descended from traders and speak Rakhine. But the Rohingyas speak a Bengali dialect similar to the Chittagonian dialect in Bangladesh.

We have all heard about the love commandments but it is ultimately religious laws that is based on loving ourselves and our neighbours under the Old Testament. There is no grace, but an eye for an eye against those who caused harm. It is only when we realised that we are God’s son and daughters in Jesus Christ, we can change naturally based on our standing. Without the saving grace of Jesus Christ, religion has no solid foundation even the Christian faith.

Indeed, the more religiously one is, it is only natural that we love ourselves and our families, but the outsider those caused injustice against us, we will never forgive. In Burma, even the Dalai Lama could not influence the very strong antagonism and hate against the Rohingya no doubt justified by the past. And the liberals who romanticise certain faiths found their scapegoat in Aung San Suu Kyi who only had 2 years of very limited rule.

It all started after 1824 by the British in their divide and rule policy bringing in massive influx to a poverty-stricken Arakan state by the turn of the 20th century. Hence, the initiative by the British for a resolution on the plight of the violence against the Rohingya in Burma is with much hypocrisy. Perhaps the British remembered that they had promised the Rohingyas autonomy with a Muslim National Area for the support during WW2. When they left Burma in 1947 it was filled with sectarian violence and a strong desire by the Bengalis in Arakan for the state to join the independence movement in Bangladesh. After the war against the Mujahid in Northern Arakan, the Burmese junta in 1982 demanded that citizenship be proven to a historical link prior to 1824, ie 2 years before the British annexation of Arakan in 1826 before war Anglo Burmese war.

There is no doubt a genocide is happening, but the complex historical and religious context is often ignored by western media. The British who ruled from 1826 to 1947 set the stage for nationalism centered against the mass influx of cheap laborers brought in by the British from Southern Bangladesh. Mixed with race and religion and the push by Rohingya for independence in the 1950s to join newly independent Bangladesh carved out of the Arakan state they had over ran during the last 100 years of the British rule and the violence perpetrated in WW2 makes it a very nasty British legacy.

  1. What is in a name? The name Rohingya is a recent usage only in the last 60 years when fighting for separation with Burma. It has weak historical precedence because they were essentially bengali Muslims. It is said that the Rohingya are descendents from traders and had lived there for centuries. But the British census themselves would tell us that they are descended from the massive influx cheap Bengali labor brought in by the British from the early 1800s to 1942 from Chitttagong. In fact the Bengali population tripled between 1871 and 1911. It started with a flood of migrants from the Cittagong district to the Maungdaw Township in the 1830s. The British bought in the Chittagonians for the agriculture cheap laborers because they were far more pliant than the local Arakanese who were far more rebellious. With the independence of Bangladesh, they even wanted the Arakan state to join Bangladesh clearly confirming their roots as foreigners.
  2. It is retribution. The British armed the Rohingya in the 1940s as a buffer against the Japanese and they in turn committed mass atrocities against the Rakhine people. Move forward 70 years later, it seems that a lot of the violence is by the local Rakhine people being armed by the army. The British had earlier displaced much of the Rakhine population and making them a minority in their own state.
  3. The issue of Religion. A lot of the animus is motivated by religion and liberal Christians are loath to mention this motivation as all religions to them are about love and peace. Some Christians have an extremely romantize view of certain major faiths. They would blame it on minority monks when polls will show that the Rohingyas have absolutely no sympathy from the people of faith in Burma. Hence, any political party which even mentions the name Rohingya would effectively lose power. Religion is such a strong motivating factor because it is tied to the culture, tradition of the history of the land. To asceed to the Rohingyas would be to betray their ancestors who has given them the land.
  4. The Western media has made Aung San Suu kyi their scapegoat because they do not want to blame religion. She is not the President but a defacto leader whose real authority is very limited. The army is not under her and she is in fact under the ever-present threat of being overthrown.  The Rohingya issue is a trap by the army who wants her to react in such a way as to lose her power, support and legacy over night. All that she had worked hard and suffered in jail for free elections would have been lost and very quickly. She carries with her the democratic hope and aspirations of a people under military rule for the last 60 years and who wants freedom.

In Mat 10.54, we see the heart of Christianity is to forgive because we have forgiven much as Sons and Daughters of God being bought by the blood of Jesus Christ. In order for peace, there must be forgiveness even against our enemies.

The liberals claimed that the heart of faith is love based on the law. But this love is conditional. Instead, grace is the essence of Christianity.

We pray for peace in Burma, and a reconciliation based on forgiveness.