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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

ANC Policy Statement on the Peoples of Arakan show lack o Foresightedness

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Last month, I was made aware of the Policy Statement of ANC (Arakan National Council) on the Peoples of Arakan, Sept. 7, 2007, which was issued from the ANC Executive Committee. I am very disappointed with its content.

It appears that when the entire world is crying out foul against the repressive SPDC regime and demanding restoration of democracy, equality, liberty and human rights for all inside Burma, the ANC is living in its xenophobic, racist, intolerant, feudal past. The smell of ultra-nationalism is everywhere within the body of the text. Obviously, the ANC has not learned to evolve into a pluralistic, democratic organization that respects minority rights, that values their opinions, and is mindful of their legitimate aspirations and concerns. The statement from the group is a hypocritical attempt to distort the fundamental issue that is at the root of dehumanization of millions of people within Arakan.

As the Tokyo Conference on Problems of Democratic Development in Burma and the Rohingya People has demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt, contrary to ANC's obnoxious and distorted claims, the Rohingya people are indigenous people of Arakan. They did not settle during the British Occupation of Arakan (post-1824). They are the descendants of the indigenous Kalar, Kala, Kula people of Arakan (similar to darker complexioned Indian/Bengalis of neighboring India/Bangladesh, in much contrast to fair skinned, Mongoloid featured - Rakhaing people that had settled from far-away Tibet) that had intermarried with, absorbed into, and converted mostly to the Islamic faith with Muslims that moved to the territory in various periods of Arakan's history, predating the British Occupation period. Like their co-religionists -- the Buddhists of Arakan -- many of these Muslms, who identifies themselves as the Rohingyas, resettled in Arakan after the hated, occupying Burman regime (1784-1824) was defeated with British annexation of the territory. Any attempt to obscure and distort the exodus history of hundreds of thousands of Arakanese, Muslims and Buddhists alike, to British Bengal during Bodawpaya’s rule (1784-1819) is disingenuous and deplorable, to say the least.

If the descendants of resettled Rakhaings from Bangladesh during the British Occupation period (pre-1948) could pass the Litmus test of Burmese citizenship, ANC's selective criteria to exclude the Rohingyas demonstrate its biasness against the minority and depict their naked double-standard. More over, they are at variance with the statements of founding fathers of Burma (see Aung San government's 1947 Panglong statement regarding citizenship criteria), let alone being at odds with the charters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Rohingyas are not demanding a separate state of their own inside Burma. If, however, their legitimate rights to citizenship and nationality are ignored and trampled upon by the Burmese government and its backers within the ANC, comprising the majority Rakhaing ultra-nationalists, like any human beings in our planet, they have every right to self-determination, as has been enshrined in the scores of International laws.

Regrettably, it is ANC's ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, racism and sectarianism that are the greatest roadblocks to a united, more inclusive, democratic Arakan and Burma. Through its endorsement of the 1982 Citizenship Law, it is the ANC that is dividing the Arakan into skeptical, if not hostile, camps. Its policy plays directly into the divide-and-rule policy of the SPDC.

If the ANC cares about democracy and human rights in Burma, and Arakan, in particular, it must not only reconsider its chauvinistic criteria for citizenship and nationality that are hypocritical and discriminatory, and aimed at dispossessing and marginalizing almost half of the people of Arakan, i.e., the Rohingyas of Arakan state of Burma, owing to their distinct culture and religion, it must also denounce the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law. It has to come out of the closet taking bold measures that are progressive, humane, moral, ethical and conducive to a lasting peace in the region. It cannot behave like Fascistic organizations, ignoring the fact that Arakan is a multi-racial, multi-religious state where almost half the population is non-Buddhist.

The ANC cannot endorse and promote xenophobia, while it calls for equality, democracy, peaceful coexistence and human rights. Its Policy Statement is too hypocritical and too one-sided to garner necessary respect and trust from affected communities. The ANC must show foresightedness by integrating minority voices within its leadership, rank and file. Let its actions speak loud about its seriousness to the goal of genuine integration and pluralism rather than mere statements that are too hollow and only show the ugly, dirty xenophobic self. It must allow Rohingya representation at equal footing, not as a second or third-class entity, but as equals with similar rights. It must open the door for Rohingya representation in the ENC body from Arakan.

Time is running fast. There is too much suspicion and animosity between various races and ethnicities within Burma, including Arakan. Burma needs integration, trust-building, equity and justice for all, and not failed assimilation attempts that disrobe, dispossess, and dehumanize minorities at the altar of the majority. As to Arakan, the ANC has a significant role to play in trust-building measures. It must develop genuine leadership that is foresighted, pragmatic, sincere and respected by all segments within the state. It can ill-afford to be looked upon as a representation of the Buddhist Arakanese only. It must understand the importance of initiating honest and open dialogue to ironing out its differences and uneasiness with the Rohingya community. That process can get a jumpstart with a sincere condemnation of the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law. That process ought to start right now, as soon as possible, and cannot and should not be sidelined as a future event.

Ignoring the root causes of ethnic tensions and de-prioritizing vital trust-building measures would be suicidal and stupid for ANC.

Dr. Siddiqui is Director of Arakan-Burma Research Institute, USA.

- Asian Tribune -

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