Silent Screams: State Sponsored Pogrom of Muslims in Arakan, Burma

Silent Screams: State Sponsored Pogrom of Muslims in Arakan, Burma


Over the past thirty-five years, the State in Myanmar has intentionally formulated, pursued, and executed national and state-level plans aimed at destroying the Rohyngia people in Western Myanmar. This destruction has been state-sponsored, legalized, and initiated by a frontal assault on the identity, culture, social foundation, and history of the Rohyngia who are a people with a distinct ethnic culture. They are a borderland people whose ancestral roots and cultural ties lie along the post-colonial borders of today’s Myanmar, a former British colony until its independence in 1948, and Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. Their identity as an ethno-linguistic group was recognized under successive Burmese regimes after independence in 1948 and was systematically erased by the increasingly anti-Muslim military-controlled governments since 1962.  In Myanmar’s state media, official policy documents, and school textbooks, the Rohyngia are referred to as Bengali, a racist local reference, and are portrayed as illegal economic migrants from the colonial time, who are a ‘threat to national security, a portrayal that the bulk of the Burmese have accepted as a fact over the past five decades. In contrast, the international community continues to recognize the Rohyngia as an ethnic group.

The land where Islam once flourished (since last 350 years) is facing extinction today. Most of the Muslims never heard of this distant land, not to say about Rohyngia Muslims though there are number of Rohyngia Muslim families living in Puget Sound. If the Muslim Ummah does not realize how grave the situation is, the Muslims of Arakan may perish soon in result of deliberate pogrom under state supervision. Muslims of Arakan are facing a systematic and planned genocide by the Burmese government and recently collaborating with extremists in India. Terrorist organization RSS, has developed an alliance with the extremists in Burma and Sri Lanka. “The time has come to ally internationally,” Galagodaththe Gnanasara, the leader of the radical Sri Lankan Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena, announced at a convention held in Colombo last month. The guest of honor was Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist radical whose picture Time magazine put on its July 1 cover as “The Face of Buddhist Terror.” The government of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa ignored pleas by Sri Lankan Muslim and Christian civil groups, fearful of more anti-Muslim violence in their country, to deny Mr. Wirathu a visa. Granting Mr. Wirathu a visa only reinforced the fears of many Muslims that the government — and perhaps more powerful regional allies — back Bodu Bala Sena, which translates as Buddhist Power Force.

The State and the predominantly Buddhist society have collaborated with the intent to de-indigenize, illegalize, dehumanize, and destroy a people whose ancestral home is in Myanmar. The evidence of the intent to destroy the Rohyngia people over the past thirty-five years through assaults on their identity, killings during multiple pogroms, physical and mental harm, deliberate infliction of conditions of life designed to bring about the group’s destruction, and measures to prevent births, lead the authors to conclude that Myanmar’s Rohyngia are the victims of genocide carried out jointly  by the central political state and anti-Muslim ultra-nationalists among the Buddhist Rakhine peoples. The New York Times calls them “21st Century concentration camps”. A Burmese Buddhist scholar, Dr. Maung Zarni, calls it “a hidden genocide”.Time Magazine cover shows a picture of the fascist monk, Wirathu, describing him as the “Face of Buddhist Terror,” whereas the Burmese President, Thein Sein, admires him as “the son of Lord Buddha.”

Geography and People

Arakan used to be an independent country in South East Asia from 1430 to 1784. Today Arakan is one of the 14 states in Burma. Northwest of Arakan is flanked by Bangladesh and its northern most borders meet with India. Eastern borders are covered with high mountains, thus creating natural boundaries with the other 13 states of Burma. On the west lies Bay of Bengal.  The total area is about 34000 square miles and its capital is known as Akiab. Total population of Arakan is 4 million, eighty percent of which is Muslim. Rest of the 20 percent population consists of Buddhist, Hindus, Mugh and Chakwa tribes. Northern part of Arakan is mostly populated and ninety percent of this population is Muslim.


Rohyngia is an ethno-religious term meaning Muslim people whose ancestral home is Arakan or Rakhine in Myanmar.  Rohyngia is taken from the word “Rohang” that is the name of the capital of ancient Arakan.  Islam came to Arakan in the seventh century AD with the Muslim traders. Because of their honesty and character, many natives accepted Islam. The Muslim population grew steadily until a Muslim government came into existence in 1430. First ruler was Suleman Shah and after him 48 different Muslim rulers governed Arakan for three hundred and fifty years. In 1784 a Burmese King ‘Bodpia’ attacked Arakan and occupied it. Since then Arakan is being ruled under Burmese authority without the consent of Arakan Muslims. In 1824 British occupied and ruled Burma and Arakan directly until 1937 when they left. Before leaving, as usual, they left a controversial issue of Arakan by handing it over to Burma rather than to Arakan Muslims. Burmese nationalist government then on crushed every effort of the Arakan Muslims to remain independent.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat of National Opinion (Oct, 22 2014) describe that the situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the government has done nothing to stop the continuing atrocities and has, instead, unwittingly contributed to them. Consequently, hatred, torture and killings have become a horrific daily reality for them. Over the past two years, Buddhist mobs have reportedly killed hundreds of Rohingya Muslims. The United Nations reported that the atrocities had also displaced almost 29,000 people, and labelled the Rohingya as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

Robin McDowell of Associated Press reporting for ABC News (Oct. 25, 2014) describes the situation as grave and critical. According to McDowell “A growing sense of desperation is fueling a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar, with the number who have fled by boat since communal violence broke out two years ago now topping 100,000, a leading expert said Saturday.” Chris Lewa, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Arakan Project, said there has been a huge surge since Oct. 15, with an average of 900 people per day piling into cargo ships parked off Rakhine state. Lewa, who has teams monitoring embarkation points, is considered the leading authority on the number of fleeing Rohingya. But boats are now shoving off from more and more places, she said, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of how many are leaving. “The real number may be higher,” Lewa said.

In fact, Muslims have been forced to accept numerous conditions in order to remain Muslim since 1937 handover by the British to the Buddhist regime that resulted in unprecedented and unhuman atrocities and oppression.  The restrictions have been known about for some time, but what is new is that campaigners say they have the official orders issued by the Buddhist-dominated local government in Rakhine state, the BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Rangoon reports. Some of the restrictions imposed are


  • Quran Al Karim must be converted into Burmese alphabets instead of Arabic
  • Muslim girls must be allowed to marry non-Muslims, specially Buddhist/Burmese names
  • Muslims names must be changed to Buddhist/Burmese names
  • Muslims women will not be allowed to wear hijab.
  • Muslims are prohibited to establish any student or political organization
  • Any activity if followed would have to be in Burmese language
  • All children must be taught Buddhism
  • Since September 11, 1966 a Muslim cannot change his or her place of residence without notifying the police and other authorities
  • Every Muslims requires a permit from the government to travel, even within Burma
  • Muslim homes are regularly searched and ransacked without any notice or reason
  • Muslim businesses are forced to provide food and other daily needs to the army all year around free of charge
  • Forced labor is a norm for a Muslims in Burma


  • Muslim land is confiscated and distributed among non-Muslims tribes for any reason
  • Agriculture tax on Muslim farmers is so heavy, that even the price of the annual crop is not enough to pay taxes. In case of con payment of taxes their land is confiscated
  • Muslims are prohibited from doing any large scale business


  • Severe restrictions are in place on Rohangia Muslims religious activities
  • On May 23, 1991 the mosque and the offices of central Islamic organizations in Mangdo township were closed permanently
  • Mosques and Islamic schools are regularly desecrated by turning them into stables or warehouses
  • Even the dead Muslims are not safe, as grave yards are regularly confiscated
  • Speakers in the Mosques and slaughtering on Eid-Ul Adha is not permitted


  • According to the new legislation of 1982, Rohangia Muslims are considered as refugees without a state
  • Muslims are not allowed to have any political activity or to establish any organization
  • Muslims are not allowed in Army as well as in civil service

Of course these conditions are unacceptable to not only any ordinary Muslim, but to any human being. Thus, relations between the Rohangia Muslims of Arakan and the Burmese government continue to deteriorate. This resulted in skirmishes between Burmese army and young Muslims that continue until today.  They have not yet hijacked an airplane or have not taken any western hostages, so no one in the world knows about their plight Those who know, either they do not have any resources or because of their liberal-Secular government do not care at all.  Recently Myanmar confirmed to the United Nations that it is on the verge of completing a plan that would grant Rohingya Muslims citizenship if they change their ethnicity to suggest Bangladeshi origin. Myanmar’s government – which to date has refused to grant the majority of them citizenship – describes the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya as “Bengali,” a term which many members of the minority group object to strongly. Many Rohingya live in Apartheid-like conditions in Rakhine state on the western coast of the predominantly Buddhist country. Since sectarian violence erupted in 2012, an estimated 140,000 displaced people – mostly Rohingya – have been living in camps. In a DW interview, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), slams the government plan, saying that it is nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness that appears designed to strip the Rohingya of hope and ultimately force them to flee the country.

Such are the conditions in which Muslims of Arakan are trying to survive. Current migration is their fourth in 300 years. First was due to Buddhist attack. Second was the result of Japanese advancement during World War II. Third was in 1955 that was forced by the Burmese army. Upon a stern warning of the then general commanding officer General Ayub Khan of East Pakistan, the Burmese government caved in and accepted back all the refuges. General Ayub Khan at the time asked Pakistan Air Force to initiate low level sorties above Rakhine state.  That was the action from a Strong Pakistan in support of their Muslim brethren. 

Neighboring Bangladesh is a poor Muslim country having difficulty to take care of these refugees, but Muslims of Coxes Bazaar are doing their duties as Muslims by helping with whatever they have.  The government of Bangladesh has worked out an agreement but the Burmese government in absence of any international pressure has renege on its promises. The Arkani refugees that are going back to their land are being detained by Burmese authorities in camps. Because of such treatment and no hope in sight, several thousand Arkani Muslims have fled these camps to other Muslim countries. In their flight several have paid dearly by their blood and honor on their way to freedom as if Muslim blood and honor are so cheap these days.