Maung Zarni, Burmese activist: “What we were doing to the Rohingya fits the term genocide”



Maung Zarni is an activist who lived in Burma between 1963 and 1988. He explains why Myanmar is not a model democratic transition.

Published on 20 November 2017

TheMuslimPost: You come from a Buddhist Burmese family. Tell us about your childhood in Burma?

Maung Zarni : I grew up between 1963 and 1988 in Mandalay, the last royal capital of the Burmese Kingdom. With a half million inhabitants, our city was marked by its ethnic and religious diversity due to its geographic location. Notwithstanding this diversity, the idea of blood-based ethnic identity has been so deeply ingrained in our​ mainstream Burmese​ thought. So, the deeply-rooted notion of ‘pure blood’ or ‘half-blooded’ governed our social relations. My earliest memory of ethno-nationalist self-awareness based on “blood” came from a couple of nationally acclaimed fictions based on history: “Blood” and “Burmese Sword.”

When was your epiphany moment?

It was my British wife who triggered this epiphany. She worked as a volunteer in a Karen war refugee camp along Thai-Burmese borders about 15 years ago. Around 2009, she began to discover the unspeakable crimes my country committed against the Rohingya people. So, I started to do my own research, and began to realize that what we were doing to the Rohingya fits the term genocide. On a personal level, I began to ask myself what if my daughters were tossed into the fire by a powerful army, or my wife raped and gang-raped, or my old mother shot dead by the soldiers – simply because they exist in a place where their presence is not welcomed by the Burmese army and the Rakhine. That was an extremely shocking and a personally painful realization.

What is your reaction towards elements of Burmese society and their role in inciting more hate (e.g. Wirathu). How does the primer Buddhist principle of non-violence align with this?

Complete and utter disbelief. This may be a paradox: as someone who was deeply influenced by Buddhist philosophy in his thoughts and outlook on life, I became extremely outraged that these Saffron Robe-men who call themselves ‘monks’ and ‘Buddhists” are espousing categorically Fascist ideas and worldview.

There is absolutely nothing Buddhist about these hate-mongers. Their Saffron robes and shaven heads are taken to be coterminous with Buddhism.

What precise action needs to be done?

What needs to be done is to establish the fact that the Citizenship Act of 1982 has served genocidal purposes against the Rohingya. We also need to put pressure on the government of Myanmar to review and revise it. It’s like Hitler’s Nuremberg Law that de-Germanized the Jews and stripped them of any rights or protection. Actions should center on getting the International community -both people and states- to acknowledge the persecution of the Rohingya by the Burmese state -a U.N. member- as the crime of genocide. Also, an independant summit should be planned where a coalition of Muslim and non-Muslim U.N states can pressurize the Burmese leadership – both Aung San Suu Kyi and general Min Aung Hlaing – to end the persecution immediately. 

Do you support reverting economic sanctions against Burma for the sake of imposing new humanitarian grounds?

Yes, I absolutely do. Over 10 years, I have worked on building an international boycott campaign against Burma – when Suu Kyi was under house arrest. Later, I argued that isolation and boycott were hurting the country’s people more than the generals. But I think at this point, I would support anything including military intervention. But, the intervention of a powerful neighbour to stop the genocide- is still inconceivable. It has been going on for almost 40 years. That’s was why, I coined the term “the slow burning genocide” as opposed to a swift one like the Rwandan genocide.

How did the rise of China in the region (which has a bad record with its Muslim minority) affect the treatment of Rohingya in the country?

As a matter of fact, China is implicated in the latest phases of persecution, and so is India. Both have invested in some of the areas, where Rohingyas have been driven out of their whole neighborhoods for deep sea port development, Special Economic Zone project, etc. 

The Burmese military brought both, India and China, as their business partners. Over 100,000 Rohingya lost their homes, lands and livelihood as the Burmese military made ways for Chinese and Indian projects. 

Where is Myanmar heading in the age of normalized relations with the U.S. and the West and the ascendance of new anti-Islam, conservative voices in the West?

I think Washington, London and Brussels are finding it difficult to continue with their collective and concerted spin that Myanmar is a ‘model democratic transition’, especially since the country is spearheaded by their old darling, the Oxford-educated and beautiful Oriental woman whom they consider as a Mandela-like figure. They are realizing that their darling is an anti-Muslim racist who is “cooperating fully” – by her own admission on Channel News Asia on 8 Dec – with the Burmese army. Even BBC -the mainstream British media- has broadcasted scathing news analyses about the despicable role she is playing as the genocide whitewasher. Kofi Annan is also playing this whitewash role in the midst of Aung San Suu Kyi’s allegations of democratizing Myanmar, which represents a full-scale genocide.

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