(Commentary) – One thing that kept the military regimes in place in Burma for more than 60 years is the ability of the Burmese military to divide and rule. They have used divide and rule tactics between Burmans and ethnics, between Burmans and Burmans and between ethnics and ethnics. They have also used divide and rule tactics between Rohingya and Rakhine.
My older relatives tell me of a time when there wasn’t the same level of mistrust or even hatred between Rohingya and Rakhine. There was no voice of opposition heard from any quarters, including Rakhine, over the recognition of Rohingyas as an ethnic group during U Nu’s era.
My relatives remember government radio broadcasting in the Rohingya language during U Nu’s time as prime minister. I remember as a child playing with Rakhine friends and visiting each other’s homes to eat.
The reasons for the current level of mistrust and violence between the communities are many, but by far the greatest reason, and at the root of why the situation has become so bad, are lies and propaganda that began to be spread about the Rohingya when Ne Win became dictator.
Ne Win rewrote history, invented Burmese propaganda and lies, and introduced discriminatory policies against the Rohingya. Some of these policies where enshrined in law, such as the 1982 Citizenship Law, while others were in practice, increasing harassment by security forces and discrimination.
Decades of lies and propaganda, underpinned by the 1982 Citizenship Law, which stripped us of citizenship and the rights that come with it, have institutionalized the hatred and discrimination. Of course there were always some tensions, as there often is when two communities of different ethnicities and religions live side by side. But Ne Wins lies and propaganda encouraged those differences, and encouraged hatred, rather than building community cohesion and understanding.
It breaks my heart to see the situation in Rakhine State today. There is so much suffering. In the recent violence and then the attacks by government forces, mainly Rohingya have suffered, but I know that some Rakhine people have suffered as well.
Aid being promised by Muslim countries and the international community could be used not just to assist in the current humanitarian crisis, but also for long-term projects to fight poverty and promote development in Rakhine State.
International donors should not just be talking to the government about aid and development. Instead they should talk to local community leaders, and let us work jointly together to promote development that not only helps both communities, but also in the process promotes communal understanding and brings us closer together. Let both sides experience first-hand the benefits of us working together, how it will benefit both communities. Because fighting poverty together, as well as politically struggling for democracy and human rights, united and working together, we are all stronger.
Rohingyas with a long history in Arakan are an integral part of Burma’s society. All Rohingya people want is to live peacefully in Burma, with our human rights respected.
Burma is our homeland. It is impossible to force all Rohingya people out of the country. The only solution is for us to work together to find a way to live peacefully together.
That means Rakhine trying to understand the situation from a Rohingya perspective, and Rohingya also trying to understand the concerns of Rakhine. They are living together with their Rakhine compatriots in the same place, drinking the same water and breathing the same air.
There is no point in being antagonistic to each other. It hurts all of us, our children and their children to come. Unless both Rohingya and Rakhine cultivate the political will to change this situation, we both suffer.
Divided we all suffer. The only winner is President Thein Sein and the military and ex-military, which have oppressed us all for so long. Let us revive our traditional relationship for the sake of our children. Let us work together on democratic principles with mutual respect, love and affection.
That is my appeal to all Rakhine.
Tun Khin is president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. His grandfather was a parliamentary secretary during the democratic period in Burma.