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Some genocides occur while the media’s attention is focusing somewhere else. It has happened in the past and it is happening now with the Rohingya. They live in a remote area of the planet, the Rakhine State at the border between Burma and Bangladesh. This predominantly muslim population of around two million people has been persecuted for years. Officially, they are not even citizens of Burma, but stateless aliens with no rights. Despite having lived in the country for centuries, they are still considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The Rohingya now mainly live in IDP camps within Burma, although the ongoing repression from both the Burmese army and the Buddhist extremists has pushed them to take refuge abroad, either in Bangladesh or in other neighboring countries. Humanitarian groups are barred from providing assistance to the refugees, and even the UN’s work is hindered. Following allegations of crimes against humanity, Burmese authorities recently blocked a UN mission that wanted to investigate the human rights violations against the muslim minority.

And while the abuses continue, it is surprising to hear a Nobel Peace Prize and recipient of several human rights awards worldwide such as Aung San Suu Kyi claim that the Rohingya are not Burmese. The State Counsellor – she cannot be part of government after having married a British citizen – could have said a word or two in favor of the Rohingya. Especially since her party, the National League for Democracy, is the ruling one. Instead, she turned her back to all those human rights organizations that had helped her while being detained by the Burmese junta. In a short period of time, Aung San Suu Kyi has become a supporter of the brutal and nationalistic violence of the Burmese military regime and Buddhist extremists. Not even a petition signed by fellow Nobel laureates was able to push her to support the Rohingya. This is bad news for the Nobel foundation.

aung san suu kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi

The Rohingya led an uprising against the government in 2012 and thus became the object of systematic repression. The regime exploited both nationalism and religion to rally the Burmese people to its support. The fact that the Rohingya are muslims attracted the attention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Based in Malaysia, the OIC underlined the sectarian violence linked to this conflict where rapes, extra-judicial killing, beatings, destruction of villages have become a deadly routine for the Rohingya. An ethnic and religious cleansing that has been taking place before and after Aung San Suu Kyi rose to power. The Rohingya that haven’t fled to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand live confined in 40 or so makeshift refugee camps, without adequate hygiene or protection. The camps are more like open air prison where the “guests” are not allowed to leave without a special permit.

The Rohingya were denied Burmese citizenship because during the 18th century the British colonial rulers favored the immigration of muslims into territories as north-western Burma with a pre-existing muslim population. When the British left, Buddhists and muslims didn’t get along. And during World War II while the Buddhist supported the British, the muslims sided with the Japanese. The Burmese junta has continuously denied the existence of a “Rohingya issue” in the State of Rakhine. Actually, they never even refer to them as “Rohingya”, but rather as “illegal immigrants”, “muslim people” or “Bengalese”. Their illegal status favors the confiscation of lands of a stateless people with no rights, who cannot vote and don’t have any political representation among the 135 ethnic groups officially recognized in Burma. There is only an exit sign, although even in neighboring countries the Rohingya are not welcomed with arms wide open. Burmese authorities don’t want any international interference on the issue, and while humanitarian organizations face an uphill task delivering aid, journalists are simply not allowed in. This makes the flow of information on the abuses only harder.

Burma claims that in order to preserve the integrity of a 90% majority of Buddhists it must crush the muslim minority and clamp down the expansion of Islam in Asia. The end-result is the exact opposite and is the recipe for Islamic terrorism. Saudi Wahabi charities and Pakistani radicals have been exploiting the persecution against the muslim minority. The financial support they have been providing is fueling, just as it did with the ISIS, Islamic radicalism among the Rohingya. It should come as no surprise that a garrison was attacked in the north of Rakhine on October 9, 2016 and a high ranking official was killed a month later. An Islamic armed group known as "Harakah al Yaqin" (The Faith Movement) claimed responsibility for the attacks. Allegedly funded by Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia, the group has showed off a good dose of military training (provided by some group or State) in guerrilla warfare. And the local population in Rakhine seems to appreciate the group’s taking up arms.

harakah al yaqin
Members of Harakah al Yaqin - The Faith Movement

The show of support went even further with local and international religious leaders speaking in favor of Harakah al Yaqim through their fatwas. This is exactly what happened during the rise to power of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. And this is what is happening now in Burma. Back in 2015, Abu Bakr al Baghadi had offered Rohingya refugees the possibility of fighting in Syria and Iraq. The caliph had understood the potential of a persecuted muslim minority in the heart of Asia.

Radical Islamic groups have emerged across the region and especially in neighboring Bangladesh. This could imply that there is a connection between Harakah al Yaqim and some Bengalese armed factions. Al Baghdadi has constantly focused his attention on instances of sectarian violence. And this is exactly the case with the nationalist Buddhist junta and its war on another group’s religion. Rakhine could become the ideal safe haven for all those Daesh fighters that will flee the Middle East once the Islamic State is defeated. The thousand or so Asian radicals will return home or head to where they can receive support and fetch fresh proselytes. Malay authorities recently apprehended an Indonesian man on his way to Burma to carry out an attack in the name of ISIS. The frustration, marginalization, despair and poverty of the Rohingya could provide the ideal breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists.

ISIS would be keen to relocating in Asia. Last year the caliphate published a new booklet, Al Fatihin (The Conqueror) in Indonesian. Over 60 groups across the continent have pledged their allegiance to al Baghdadi, who could count on a brigade of Asian volunteers know as Katibah al Muhajir (Brigade of the Migrants) back in Syria. The next showdown in Asia will see predominantly muslim countries as Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan come face to face with the Indian Hindu nationalists and their regional counterparts. Sectarian religious-based violence is rife. And Islamic terrorism is cheering.

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