The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Buddhist Arakan or Rakhine province in Burma, have garnered international outrage since over a million have fled into neighboring Bangladesh due to inexcusable discrimination and accusations of atrocities. Most Muslims in Arakan live on the border with Bangladesh, the Mayu frontier, and they are considered by Burma to be Bengal migrants. The United Nations has accused Burma of engaging in ethnic cleansing and the reputation of Burma’s leader Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been questioned by liberal elites.
Who are the Rohingya?
The 12th to 16th century Muslim conquest of India involved genocide, the scale of which would not be matched until the 20th century genocides and democides of the Nazis and Communists. The slaughter of upwards of 400 million Hindus and
Buddhists virtually destroyed Buddhism and corrupted the peaceful Hindu culture of India. The Hindus of Afghanistan were annihilated which is why the Afghan mountains are called Hindu Kush meaning Hindu slaughter.
Dr. Aye Chan, Professor of Southeast Asian History at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan authored "The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan State of Burma." Dr. Chan claims that the Rohingya are mostly Bengal migrants who began settling in the border region of Arakan in the late 19th Century. Other smaller Muslim groups in Burma, not called Rohingya, trace their arrival further back. Bengal intellectual Abdul Gaffar coined the term Rohingya in an article entitled "The Sudeten Muslims" published in The Guardian Daily, August 20, 1951. The Burmese Bengals were previously called Chittagonians by the British as Chittagong is on the Bengal side of the border with Burma. The Bengal migrants mostly became rice farmers.
Similarities can be drawn between the late 19th Century Bengal migration into Burma and the Arab migration into Ottoman controlled southern Syria which occurred at the same time. The Arabs migrated into that region to take advantage of the economic opportunities created by the Jews who were also settling into the region in increasing numbers. Like the Arab settlers, who would assume the term Palestinian as part of their effort to forge a national identity, the Bengals assumed the name Rohingya. The Arabs co-opted the term Palestine from the Jewish settlers as Palestine was the term given by the British to delineate the Jewish homeland after World War I and the withdrawal of the Turks.
According to Dr. Chan, many Bengal migrants were radicalized during World War II by the Bengali Faraidi movement which advocated Jihad. Violence broke out between Bengalis and Buddhist Arakanese before the Japanese occupation and the Arakanese sided with the Japanese hoping for independence. The British, fighting the Japanese in Burma, armed the Burmese Bengalis who turned their weapons on Buddhists destroying monasteries and Pagodas and engaging in terrorism.
In 1946, the Burmese Bengalis formed the Muslim Liberation Organization. In 1948, after the British ignored their request to join Pakistan and after Burma independence, the Muslims launched a full-scale uprising as the Mujahid Party.
After Bangladesh independence, 1971, arms began to flow to Rohingya gorillas and on July 15, 1972, a congress of Rohingya parties was held at the Bangladesh border which issued a call for “Rohingya National Liberation.” Successive Burmese governments have refused to recognize Rohingya parties in response to the secessionist agenda and the violent actions of the Rohingya movement.
Dr. Chan described the atmosphere in Arakan following Burmese independence:
The ethnic conflict in the rural areas of the Mayu frontier revived soon after Burma celebrated independence on 4 January 1948. Rising in the guise of Jihad, many Muslim clerics (Moulovis) playing a leading role, in the countryside and remote areas gave way to banditry, arson and rapes….there were more than two hundred Arakanese villages in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships before the war began. In the post-war years only sixty villages were favorable for the Arakanese resettlement. Out of these sixty, forty-four villages were raided by the Mujahids in the first couple of years of independence. Thousands of Arakanese villagers sought refuge in the towns and many of their villages were occupied by the Chittagonian Bengalis.
From a human rights standpoint, aid should be offered to Bangladesh in term of aiding in the assimilation of the Bengali refugees from Burma. The political question ought to serve as a lesson to non-Muslim nations in terms of the possible long-term consequence of large Muslim immigration.
Chuck Morse is a radio host who broadcasts live Thursday's at 10 a.m. ET at WMFO-Tufts. Chuck hosts the podcast "Chuck Morse Speaks" on iTunes and Stitcher and his books are available on Amazon.com. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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