WHY BANGLADESH WON’T ACCEPT ANY MORE ROHINGYAS

Although the issue has come into a new limelight with President Obama’s visit to Myanmar, no one really needs any introduction to the topic. Pictures of Rohingya men and women have been flooding the international newspapers since the sectarian clashes began in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. And fingers have not only been pointed at the Myanmar government for its failure in protecting its minorities, but also at Myanmar’s neighbor Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh government has firmly refused to allow any more Rohingya influx into the country. And has, instead, followed a neutral diplomatic stance by refusing to condemn either of the two sides. International condemnation, particularly in Pakistan of which Bangladesh was once a part, have on the other hand been tremendous. Everyone has criticized the already impoverished state for its silence and refusal to accommodate people in dire need.

Indonesians protest against Myanmar

But the local public opinion on the issue have been divided.

Although the official count of Rohingyas who are housed in UN refugee camps in the border city of Cox’s Bazaar is around 30,000, the real count is at least 200,000. Most of these Rohingyas work in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh’s most economically-important tourist city. A good many of them marry among the Bengali communities and become settled. The luckiest ones even succeed in getting a Bangladeshi passport, which acts as their gateway to the oil-wealthy economies of the Middle-East where the country sends millions of workers every year.

But all these refugees have to be clothed, fed and educated by the state. In a country where people struggle to meet their daily needs, the government has a very good reason not to take any more burdens. And so to preempt any more influx of Rohingyas in search of hope in Bangladesh, the government has even reduced access to Rohingya refugee-camps for international and local NGOs; making sure that all humanitarian aid were delivered by the army and border guards only. Recently, in an extremely embarrassing feat, a Turkish lawmaker, while on holiday in Cox’s Bazaar during the eve of Eid-ul-Azha, was arrested by the police for trying to distribute meat of the sacrifice among the Rohingya refugees.

But the most important reality of the problem was generated in a spat of sectarian attacks by Muslim mobs on Buddhist communities in Cox’s Bazaar.

A Rohingya refugee, who has fled the sectarian tensions in Myanmar, pleading with the Bangladesh Border Guards to grant him into the gates of Bangladesh

After a Buddhist teenager of Cox’s Bazaar tagged a controversial Islamophobic photo on facebook right after the mayhem of Innocence of Muslims, mobs of Islamists, within a few hours, gathered with bamboos and sticks, and attacked Buddhist temples and homes in Ramu, Ukhia and several other regions of Cox’s Bazaar. Speculators have confirmed that the attack was more planned than anyone could have imagined. People were brought in through trucks and buses from all over the district, where diverse religions have never had a problem, and within a span of a few hours the Buddhists were rendered homeless.

Everything was done in a planned, coordinated manner. Several centuries-old Buddhist statues have been destroyed for good and the police’s role have been called into question. Many have accused the local politicians of being a part of the blasphemy. Fingers have been pointed at DGFI and NSI—-Bangladesh’s two most notorious intelligence agencies——since it was impossible to carry out such an attack on minorities without their foreknowledge.

It all ended with the Awami League, the liberal, secular, left-wing ruling party, and the BNP, the centre-right, conservative, Islamist-secular, opposition party throwing accusations at each other.

But one thing was clear: Rohingyas were involved in vast numbers. Whoever planned the attack, carried out the arson by recruiting them from the UN refugee camps.

Jamaat-i-Islami, Bangladesh’s most problematic Islamic fundamentalist party, has firmly denied any accusations of having a role in the attack on minorities. Although there is a pervasive belief that the conservative, pro-Pakistani Islamist group was involved in the assault, its members have refused all charges of using any stateless Rohingyas to advance their political agendas.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the capital city has been untouched by the Rohingya issue. The centre of all political activism, art, culture and policy-making, Dhaka has gone on as if nothing has happened. One of the most liberal cities of South Asia, Dhaka and its economic ambitions have embraced its stance on the Rohingyas more positively than outsiders can think.

Although there have been mass-demonstrations by intellectuals, freedom fighters and human rights organizations after the attack on Buddhists, the people here are more busy with calling for a permanent end to child marriage and for scraping the new bill on Hindu laws that discriminate against Hindu widows. In a city where religion is becoming less important everyday; where feminists are chanting slogans of rescinding the use of Sharia in property inheritance; and where an ever-increasing proportion of the people are echoing calls for a removal of the phrase “Complete faith and trust in the Almighty Allah” used in the country’s constitution; the Rohingyas aren’t a topic that people want to think about.

Bangladesh’s economic ties with Myanmar have also been an issue. As the neighbor embraces a liberal economy after its democratic transition, Bangladeshi capitalists and businessmen have targeted Burma as a new potential market for enormous growth. Talks are already underway to set up Bangladeshi power-stations in Myanmar so that the energy-starved nation can meet its huge power demand in the rapidly boosting up industrial sector. Any disruption of the diplomatic and trade ties between the two countries would ultimately harm Bangladesh’s expanding business prospects in the region, and would rather benefit its mightier neighbor India.

So questions on all social networks by Bangladeshis have been similar. Don’t people lose lives on a daily basis in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine? No one cares about them, so why all this targeting Bangladesh for something it played no part in? Why suddenly this we-muslims-need-to-save-our-brothers-and-sisters-in-Myanmar-from-Aung-Sun-Suu-Kyi type of thing? Aren’t our tax money low enough already for a huge population like ours?

The Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue has also been condemned all over the globe

However, many have raised a voice for the Rohingyas as well. Editorial columns and opinion on leading media outlets have condemned the violence and criticized the Bangladeshi government for its lack of an international response over the issue. Some have reminded the country that during the liberation war of 1971, when the Pakistani army and Jamaat-i-Islami were persecuting and raping as much as possible to create ‘a breed of better Muslims’, the neighboring India, seeing a positive political opportunity of a divided-Pakistan, granted refugee status to 2 million people who fled the violence into West Bengal.

But the situation in this case is different. If more Rohingyas are allowed refugee status in Bangladesh, it is quite unlikely that they will ever return to Myanmar again when the Burmese government accepts them back; thus further burdening the Bangladesh economy.

In an age of high economic ambitions, capitalism and materialism in South Asia’s one of the most populous and rapidly-developing countries, this is how the pervasive belief about Rohingyas is prevalent. Any government in power would have closed off its borders in a situation such as this. In fact many analysts now think that the Bangladeshi government made the perfect decision during the conflict. Not only did it stop violence from escalating within its own borders, but also kept international pressure and awareness abuzz on the Myanmar government, which has followed a system of ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Rohingyas since the early 1970s.

Right after the liberation war devastated Bangladesh and pushed it back by at least five decades, the nascent country, despite all its hurdles, gave refugee status to the thousands of Rohingyas who fled the Burmese military’s sectarian war against the Muslim communities. But after three decades, there is a popular feeling that it’s now time for Suu Kyi and her men-in-uniform to take back the people whom they have wronged in their own lands just because they were Muslims and not from the same faith as the majority of the people. As much as there is a call for Pakistan to take back its huge number of refugees in Bangladesh who have been rendered stateless during the 1971 war, there is also a call for the Myanmar government to stop further burdening the economic potentials of a country desperately in search of social prosperity and interfaith harmony.

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The Tale of the Immortals——a flash-fiction about soldiers in a battlefield

US army officials withdrawing from Iraq after a bloody invasion that slaughtered thousands of civilians and troops and resulted in a new source of instability and sectarian war in one of the world’s most culturally rich ancient civilizations

As dawn approached and the sun’s silky rays gradually tainted the blankets of the night, I remained hidden under my cover along with the rest of my soldiers.“They are firing again,” I heard the soldier beside me agonized.Hours have passed since we were ambushed by the enemy tankers. In the darkness of the night our foes have shelled our base and reduced our camps to rubble.

Most of us had been slaughtered by the gun-shots and bombs, and the ones alive had been mutilated beyond repair. Our radio waves have been intercepted by the enemy; thus hindering any communication with the mainland for help.

“It’s time lieutenant,” one of my bravest warriors told me from his cover.

“What do you mean?” I asked him, appalled.

“Death shall be my beginning sir. My life is for my motherland only.”

“Officer, I order you—-“

But looking at his eyes, proud and resolute, I knew it was in vain. He raised his hands for a final salute.

Exposed, with the little amount of ammo he possessed, he started firing randomly at enemy soldiers. It didn’t take him long to collapse in an ambush.

“I don’t want to die sir,” one of the younger soldiers moaned. All of us were out of ammo already. There was no question of fighting back.

“Shut up for heaven’s sake!”

“I miss my mom, dad and my girl. I promised to marry her after my enlistment was over.”

I noticed his glistening eyes. This is what recruiting 19-year olds for battle gives you. I made a mental note of complaining about this whining kid to my superiors if I escaped alive today.

I recalled I had a family too. It’s been years since I last saw my children and their mother. I missed home, my mom’s cooking and my father’s commands. Before Japan had entered into the war to consolidate our beloved empire’s power over the east, I used to be a husband, father and son.

But I brushed away those thoughts. Everything now was as distant as the night’s vastness.

I knew death was imminent. But the question was, how? Would it be better to cowardly let it come to us, or should we proudly embrace it with our courage?

I saw the young soldier scribbling okasan, the Japanese word for mother, on the soil. It was at that moment when I decided that the time had come.

“Lads. It’s time,” I told my soldiers gravely. “But remember, we are dying like soldiers. We are not giving up; rather, we are sacrificing ourselves for our motherland.”

I could discern from the tension around me that, although concisely, I had articulated my point. Everyone gathered up whatever they had. Bamboos, broken rifles, gun, everything.

And I decided to lead them from the front on the run to death.

“Bon Sai!”

With a tumultuous roar, we advanced along the enemy lines, ready to face death.

How Hurricane Sandy affected Bangladesh!

Yeah yeah, you read the title right. Hurricane Sandy may have ransacked the East Coast of the United States, but its effects have been widespread and felt as far away as Bangladesh.

Hurricane Sandy and its devastation

But here in Bangladesh most of the people are actually happy that the United States has had a violent death toll due to a natural catastrophe. And the reasons are as varied as the number of individuals who have given a thought to the issue.

One facebook friend put up this status:

ঘূর্ণি ঝড়ে ইউসএ র অবস্থা দেখে বেশ ভাল লাগছে! প্রাকৃতিক দুর্যোগ মানে নাকি ওরা বাংলাদেশকেই চেনে! জলোচ্ছাসের ঝাপটায় ভেসে গেছে ওদের আধুনিকতার প্রযুক্তি। এই দুর্যোগেও ওদের জনগনকে খারাপ কাজ করা থেকে বিরত থাকতে অনুরোধ করতে হয়। আমরা ওদের চেয়ে অনেক উন্নত জাতি!

which in English translates into:

I am pretty happy to see what’s happening to the US due to the hurricane! And all this time the world thought Bangladesh was the only country most victimized by natural disasters. The cyclone has swept away their ultra-modern technological prowess. But even amidst this disaster I must endeavor them to keep away from the dirtiness of their hearts. If you consider the dirtiness, we as a nation are much better than them!

While the status does echo a public sentiment against the Americans here in the East, it also designates that the East has had its fair share of natural disasters, and thus it is time for America and the West to have them as well. Cyclones are a part of growing up in a delta country like Bangladesh. Although it has been at least five years since the last time we have had a major hurricane or anything in the capital city, the coastal areas are a frequent victim of similar dangerous natural disasters. Every year, the flood water kills dozens of impoverished coastal residents, and erases the livelihood of hundreds who are directly dependant on the natural waters of rivers and lakes for food and living. And thus for us, cyclones have been a part of our growing up process.

Images of the world-famous New York subway completely submerged, cars stuck in deep waters, buildings ransacked all over New Jersey, and people fleeing for their lives——it’s been all over on the newspapers, international media outlets and local news. And thus my mom wasn’t left out of the tide either. She, however, had a different take on the issue. According to her, “It served America right. Such a war-mongering nation. Killing and raping Muslims all over the world. This is only a trailer of God’s wrath for America. Soon the entire film will be showcased.”

While anti-American sentiments have been all the rage in the Islamic world in the post-9/11 era; and have been cemented with the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; and elevated with the ongoing talks of a new war against Iran, which is treated as an elder brother in the sub-continent because of the fact that Islam was brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints; statements such as those from my mother aren’t a very abnormal one. Rather, after the release of Innocence of Muslims in the United States, this rage has been further heightened to new levels (and resulted in a blockade of youtube) and so now the political parties of the sub-continent are also politicizing this popular feeling. A Pakistani railway minister even went as far as announcing a huge monetary reward for the Pakistani Taliban if they successfully executed Sam Bacile, the maker of Innocence of Muslims. In Bangladesh however, since the government firmly follows a neutral diplomacy due to the founding father, Sheikh Mujib’s idea of turning Bangladesh into the Switzerland of the East, although there was a widespread condemnation of the movie, behavior towards America have been quite moderate in comparison to the countries of the Middle-East and other parts of South Asia.

The facebook friend who put up the happy status due to Sandy, however, was not met with assertion from the people on his friends’ list. The Bangladeshi expats in America condemned his views, and one of them even went as far as telling him that ‘life in America was beautiful, but the same could not be said for Bangladesh”. And another asked him to be a human being; after all, despite our racial and religious differences we are all human beings. It is unsure whether the friend had a change in viewpoint about hurricane Sandy and America, but regardless of everything, the issue created quite a public debate in this part of the world.

Anti-American memes on social networks are as popular as anti-Muslim ones

America got what it deserved– that isn’t actually the dominant opinion here, but a lot of loud voices like to draw attention to America’s brutalities in Iraq, Japan, Pakistan, Somalia, Palestine, Vietnam and Afghanistan; and many even went as far as reminding the people of Abeer al Janabi, a 14 year old Iraqi girl who was gang-raped by US soldiers in front of her family and later on murdered and burned along with the family in their home. Several people have also recalled the Afghan girl who was mass-raped by US marines to such an extent that her genitals had become mutilated beyond repair, and the doctors could simply watch while she bled to death.

The public at the end of the day is torn between being humane and vengeful when it comes to America. An idea that is increasingly becoming evident in the progressive circles of modern-day’s politically-conscious Bangladeshi citizens.