[Aung San Suu Kyi has been condemned for suggesting fear of Muslim dominance was to blame for the persecution of the minority Rohingya community]
By Zahra Al-Kateb
Myanmar (Burma) democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been branded an Islamophobe and “a fanatical patriot” after suggesting fear of global Muslim dominance was to blame for the violence against the Rohingya community who make up a mere four percent of Myanmar’s population.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4 on October 25 Suu Kyi refused to call the killing and displacements of more than 140,000 Muslims by Buddhist gangs ethnic cleansing.
During her visit to the UK, she got a red carpet treatment by the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister David Cameron and Opposition Leader, Ed Miliband.
However, her silence regarding the mass persecution of the Rohingya Muslim community and their stateless status has cast a shadow over the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Suu Kyi attempted to explain violence against Muslims in her country as a product of the “fear” of the Buddhist majority.
She said: “It is not ethnic cleansing…I think it is due to fear on both sides. The fear is not just on the side of the Muslims, but on the side of the Buddhists as well. Yes, Muslims have been subjected to violence. There’s fear on both sides, and this is what is leading to all these troubles.”
She added: “There’s a perception that Muslim power, global Muslim power, is very great. And certainly that is the perception in many parts of the world, and in our country, too.”
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK and the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation slammed her for “her outrageous comments”.
“Her remarks on Burma’s peaceful living Muslim minority communities are full of prejudice based on fanatical patriotism and Islamophobia,” said the groups in a joint statement.
They added: “In a situation of injustice, ethnic cleansing and genocide against Rohingya and other Muslims in Burma, she tried to defend Buddhist extremism saying that Buddhists in Burma are terrified by ‘global Muslim power’ where there is no such threat from Burma’s numerically very small and insignificant Muslim population. This is a pretext or a fictitious reason, where Burma is a predominantly Buddhist country, particularly when the Rohingya are rendered stateless with no basic freedoms, in order to conceal the real reason.”
According to Amnesty International, the Rohingya Muslims’ freedom of movement is severely restricted, and the vast majority of them have been denied Burmese citizenship despite living there for generations. They are also subjected to forms of arbitrary taxation, land confiscation, forced eviction and house destruction. They need permission to marry, have more than two children, and must inform authorities if they wish to travel outside their villages.
When Suu Kyi was reminded that 140,000 Muslims have been displaced by violence, she said: “There are many, many Buddhists who have also left the country for various reasons, and there are many Buddhists who are in refugee camps for various reasons. You will find them in Thailand, very many of them, and you will find them scattered all over the world. This is the result of our sufferings and a dictatorial regime. And I think if you live under a dictator for many years, people don’t learn to trust one another. A dictatorship generates a climate of distrust and suspicion.”
Suu Kyi also refused to condemn anti-Muslim violence in her country. She said: “I condemn any movement that is based on hatred and extremism.”
Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, said: “The underlying issue of discrimination against Muslims and particularly Rohingya populations remains unaddressed,” he told the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee. “Allegations of gross violations since the violence erupted last June, including by state security personnel, remains unaddressed.”
Praising Suu Kyi, Cameron said: “You are hugely admired in this country, I am one of your greatest admirers – for everything that you have done for your country but also for everything you stand for in the world. Your example and your perseverance in your beliefs is a huge inspiration to people across Britain and people around the world.”
Labour Leader Ed Miliband said she was an “inspiration to politicians across the world.”