Somewhere between the end of the World Wars, Russian, American, Chinese and European victors carved up the defeated world according to their view of a fair distribution of valuable natural resources, and NOT according to the wishes of the populations themselves. The vested interests thus created have controlled global mineral and other resources and have defined any resistance to these borders as “sedition” or else “terror tactics”. Specifically, Muslim minority populations in Southeast Asian countries have suffered these pejoratives and been penalised.
One result of disenfranchising such ethnic groups as the Rohingya in Myanmar is that in the absence of access to good education and resource-control, they become quite backward and survival-oriented. Muslim Rohingya — labelled by the United Nations as the world’s most persecuted minorities — have for years braved the dangerous passage down the Andaman Sea and Thai coast to Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Rohingya flee discrimination and repression in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where government authorities view the roughly 1.3 million Rohingya as foreigners, denying most of them citizenship and placing restrictions on their movement, religious practices, marriages, education and economic opportunities, in which case they should simply have redrawn their own borders in favour of the Rohingya. According to recent reports by NGO activists, the flow has accelerated into a growing exodus two years after deadly clashes erupted between Buddhists and Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The South Thailand population, who are mostly of the Malay race, might also prefer to belong to Malaysia as they did prior to the 1900s, or independence, and not be subject to a Buddhist government in Bangkok that is totally irrelevant to their beliefs and aspirations. Similar to the Rohingya, many of those in the South Thailand have been kept in a condition of such total impoverishment that they are hardly able to express their political wishes short of the violence we see there now.
A ride on a Thai railroad from the border across from Kelantan’s Kota Bharu to Hatyai, through Yala and Pattani, will shock any well-meaning visitor who witnesses the impoverishment of many of the people in these areas, which is almost as extreme as the similar degradation suffered by the Rohingya.
There is no mechanism in the United Nations Charter that would help a re-drawing of national borders, partly because of the powerful interests still vested in easy access to the natural resources of these areas. And so “freedom fighters” perforce become “terrorists”.
How can Muslims confine themselves to debates about freedom of expression or equal rights for women, when thousands of Muslims in neighbouring Myanmar, South Thailand and China are dying at the hands of government authorities who seem to wish to commit genocide against them? A clear example of inaction is the almost complete destruction of both the Cham and Islāmic cultures under the Khmer Rouge during the 1970’s in Cambodia.
Even in Thailand, matters have taken a turn for the worse. Bangkok feels that executing South Thailand separatists is going to solve the problem of public security. What the separatists are trying to tell this rather thick-headed government is that the only security for South Thailand’s Muslim majority is some form of autonomy, if not real “merdeka”.
Latest media reports show credible proofs that violence in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south has until recently left thousands dead. Since 2004, many innocent civilians have been murdered across Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces, which were annexed more than a century ago by Thailand in 1904.
It is a pity that Thailand and Myanmar are both completely repudiating the former Buddhist reputation as the world’s most peaceful religion. If ever there was a need for reconciliation dialogue, it must be now.
Uyghur Muslims in North China have had their Muslim fasting prohibited in various ways by Beijing, not to mention credible information of real public massacres. And these are reported as “penalties”, and do not include issues such as relocation and denial of human rights.
How far can Muslims allow some central government to mutilate the human race’s final revealed religion? Surely our Creator will not allow such disfigurement of the work of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). And yet, they go on. Let us not forget the Quranic directives to speak up for Islam, in the face of attacks on it, and to do so reasonably and strongly. The jihad Allah (s.w.t.) directs us to follow need not be violent, but it should at least eclipse all the lies of wrongdoers.
The Muslim ummah has a monumental task ahead, in trying to restore Islam’s reputation as a religion of peace, a reputation that has been lost to other religions, in part due to the more radical religious political movements of recent years. And that is also our Allah-entrusted opportunity. We owe to ourselves and our nation to speak up, lest on the Day of Judgment we do not pass muster, for indeed we are judged not just as individuals but as a nation. And we owe our good witness to our regional Muslim brothers and sisters. That is our life mandate. And Allah help us all.
AZRIL MOHD AMIN is a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer, and is founder/ Chief Executive of Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (CENTHRA)