Saturday, 5 November 2011
Rohingya - Rakhine -- Debate or Dialogue between thinking men?
From the responses we have seen thus far, it is quite obvious that the extreme racists and bigots within the Rakhine Buddhist community are running out of wits after my recent posting of the Rohingya Identity and Demography in the British Era. There I showed that the Rohingya people, far from the Rakhine unsubstantiated claims, are an indigenous group of the Arakan State of Burma who had settled there from time immemorial, and hundreds of years before the ancestors of today's Rakhines settled. Having analyzed the demographic data of the English colonial period, I also pointed out that the so-called influx to Arakan during the British era actually had more to do with the Rakhine population than any other ethnic/religious group, and that the growth within the Rohingya Muslim community was a natural one.
Unfortunately, as we have noticed time and again, the racists within the Burmese and Arakanese Rakhine communities are uncomfortable to consider any other possibility beyond their own myths which challenge such absurd chauvinism. Prejudice truly dies hard!
Consider, e.g., the case of racist Aye Chan who says he is 'tired of arguing' with us. His entire thesis is built around showing that nowhere within the British records the name Rohingya appeared, and as such, by default, Rohingya is a dead horse. He is unwilling to accept the characterization of Rohingyas under Muslim/Mohamadan/Musulman categories. Were the Rakhines categorized as Rakhines by the British? Are Aye Chan and his ilk aware of the two books written by British army officers: (i) BURMESE OUTPOST by Anthony Irwin, published by Collins in 1945, and (ii) DEFEAT INTO VICTORY by Field Marshal Viscount Slim (considered one of the best books written by a military general on World War II) published in 1956? In these two books the authors mentioned Muslims of Arakan as ‘Musulman Arakanese’ and the Buddhists as ‘Maughs’. (As can be seen even the name Rakhine did not appear in those books to describe the Maghs of Arakan.)
Unless, one is willing to accept that colonizers had their own ways of and rationalization for categorizing people, which may not totally agree with those of the colonized, there is little one can do to educate that moron. Look at the Spanish Conquistadors that came to colonize the Philippines where they came across indigenous Muslims who practiced Islam, similar to the practice of the Spanish (Moor) Muslims. To these new invaders, thus, the Filipino Muslims came to be named as Moors and later Moro Muslims. In the Dutch colonization of South Africa, the Indian community was put under the category of 'colored' people. They were not called Indian South Africans. Here in the USA, while there is no record of African-American heritage (as to where they were plucked out of), we may know a White person with his precise European heritage. Thus, governors Cuomo (father and son) of New York State of the USA are known as Italian-Americans. Within the conquered people in the USA and Canada, the natives were called Red Indians and later Native Indians, while those people never called themselves as such and were actually divided on many matters, language, religion, etc. Does such categorization by the English/French colonizers change the mere fact that Cherokees lived in the Americas before the Europeans subdued them? If today, the Cherokees would rather like to self-identify by their heritage - the Cherokee name - who can deny that right to them? Only an utterly extreme racist with no brains, and full of hatred and chauvinism, would deny that right.
And there are plenty of such examples in our world that we can cite about the Rohingya case. Will that educate a half-educated person when he refuses to grow up as a thinking man?
And still within many good hearted and well-meaning Rohingya Diaspora there is a call for having a debate with such obscene racists within the Rakhine commmunity. Here below I share my views on the question of a debate:
1. I prefer dialogue or discussion than a debate unless the latter can be held under a neutral venue and moderated/administered by an unbiased person. Still, since debate has everything to do with winning, even by ridiculing the other side's shallow (?) views, at the end it leaves behind a bad taste amongst the participants and their respective adherents, further widening the gap between the opposing parties. Hardly, debate has brought differing peoples together for a common cause. As such, if the objective is to let the other party know where each party stands, a discussion/sharing of info/dialogue is often a more prudent approach. In these days of information superhighway we can achieve this without a confrontational debate by sharing our writings/postings, and asking/answering probing or poignant questions/points for elaboration. So, e.g., when Aye Chan says "we are lying about Rohingya", we want to ask "show us where we lied" (just as Dr Bahar had done in his note to Aye Chan). Such a dialogue with an opposing side can be more fruitful than wasting people's time and money to organize a debate with a racist. If still money and time are no problems a better way to spend such would be to hold our own seminars to educate folks on the either side to learn/share without allowing racists like Aye Chan to get a free ride at our cost. As I stated before, if he is all serious about a debate with us, let him organize it (without spending our money), and we shall be glad to take him up anywhere in the globe (of course, outside Burma). He cannot have a free ride at our cost!
2. A frame of reference is very important for any such info sharing including a debate. Without such, the exercise may become a mindless one. If, e.g., demography in the post-1826 era is the issue, let's make it clear in the beginning and that way the history of who came earlier to Arakan is not a debating issue to bite upon. As the tens of articles and books have been written, including those by Syed Ashraf Alam, AFK Jilani, BaShin, Nurul Islam - UK and Ctg., Abid Bahar and many others - if anyone is interested to learn the truth on the Rohingya issues of our time there are plenty to educate oneself with. On the other hand, if one is close-minded, no words of mouth in a debate/discussion/dialogue would do any good as it has failed to even educate one from written words. At the most they can create doubt and that too, only under non-threatening environment possible outside a debate.
3. The more important question, therefore, is - what we gain and what we lose from such an interaction with a known racist like Aye Chan? If it is a zero-sum activity, we should shun any such temptation. Do we really expect Aye Chan to all on a sudden change his mind by participating in a debate with us, something that he could have been enlightened on his own through our writings? I seriously doubt that possibility.
4. What is value-adding for our purpose? Can we find moderate elements within the Rakhaing to accept or consider our side of the history, and share our findings so that he/she can start the groundwork within his/her community for a paradigm shift away from racism and hatred toward inclusion and acceptance? If we don't have any moderate Rakhine intellectual or politician or opinion maker, we would better serve the cause of the Rohingya by reaching out to moderate Burmans who can start that process of reconciliation or paradigm shift. If that also looks rather bleak, we may have to do what other such threatened minorities in the world have done, which would include knocking on the doors of power brokers in the global scene. For that we can study the history of newly emerged countries like East Timor and South Sudan, as a starting point. How lucky we shall be there, given the fact that what was possible for those territories may not excite xian overlords of our time when it comes to Arakan, that is closer to the Chinese domain of influence? Allah knows the best! But it is the last option we shall be left with minus the two earlier options.
Our best approach, IMHO, is to reach out to democratic minded Burmese that are open-minded and are willing to giving it a try towards federalism and democracy, which are based on universal values and laws. The inclusion of Rohingya in Burma would be a win-win formula for the divided country, while the exclusion can only make it worse - not only morally but also economically. Our time served there to promote the Rohingya cause would be more fruitful than wasting time with Aye Chan. Who is Aye Chan anyway? He is a dishonest academic, a provocateur and a charlatan trying to masquerade as an intellectual for his racist extremist section of the people. Even if he were to accept Rohingya citizenship does he have any influence to repeal the racist 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma? I don't think so. Guys like him are used as pimps and prostitutes by illiberal undemocratic regimes to further their draconian measures, and then left to their repulsive, evil, pitiful selves.
5. What we truly need from our leadership is a strategy to repeal that Citizenship Law that is hemmed with short-term tactical moves that would InshaAllah allow the Rohingya people of Burma to live as a free people that is equal with other citizens of Burma. Inclusion not rejection. May Allah help us all in that endeavor!