It was day before yesterday that I had a semi-panicked e-mail from a close friend in Myanmar:
There’s a lot of stuff happening in Myanmar right now. About Muslims and riots…Read some news online. And please pray for peace for everyone. I don’t want to be burned to death or hit by 100 people or raped…
I don’t think anyone anticipates such an email from a friend overseas first thing over breakfast on a Monday morning. Especially a newly married friend.
I understand the tensions that there are there within the Burmese people and the Rohingya. For those of you who don’t know, the Rohingiya are seen as illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, even though many have been living in Myanmar for centuries. But the prosecution faced by the Muslims within Myanmar is not just for the Rohingiya, there is a deep seated resentment within the Burmese for all Muslims, despite their ethnicity and their roots. At the very forefront, the Rohingiya are considered an international problem by many Burmese, and fiercely cast as the “other”.
<p>How did this rioting start? Because there was a rape of a Buddhist Rakhine woman, which in turn prompted revenge killings of 10 Muslim men, which in turn spurned a Muslim mob to kill seven Buddhist men. Never mind the torched houses. Never mind that men accused of the rape are reported to have been arrested. </p>
<p>The news that is coming from within Burma unnerves me. Because this is not the first time that rioting has erupted against minorities in Myanmar, especially Muslims (though I do believe this is the first time it is being reported considerably openly from within Myanmar). The last time that this happened, I was in fourth or fifth grade. The last time that this happened, the stories that circulated along the grapevine (media censorship was very high at that time, so nothing could be reported openly), very horrifying. This is not the first time I am hearing of homes torched on such a large scale. This is not the first time I am hearing of Muslims killed senselessly. This is not the first time that I am hearing such deep resentment against the “Kalaar”. Those of South Asian descent. Usually Muslims.</p>
<p>And I am glad to hear that Burmese officials are confident that the violence will not spread, and will be contained. Because I am not. I am not confident that angry mobs will not show up to homes of friends and family back home. They almost did last time at mine. So it scares me. My memories are not pleasant. And I am not saying that the officials cannot, and/or will not contain the violence. I am just afraid.</p>
<p>And I am not just afraid. I am hurt too. Because in my memory, when the riots erupted against the Muslims last time in Myanmar, it was our Buddhist neighbors who came to us few Muslims living on that street and told us to not be worried; [our Buddhist neighbors] will take care of any “situation” that may come up. It hurts when so many Burmese openly call us “terrorists”. And treat as the “other”.</p>
<p>Because I may be “Kalaar”, and my Burmese may be very blotchy because of a lot of reasons, but I am as much of a Burmese National as they are. I was born in that country. I laughed there, I grew up there, I made ever lasting friends there. I take pride in our democratic movement, and Daw Aung San Su Kyi. And I didn’t “immigrate.” My family’s history, as much as they are “Kalaar”, can at least be safely traced back to before Independence from the Burmese colonists, if not even longer. And yes, so can the Rohingiya.</p>
<p>We are your own. This is our country as much as yours. You can’t throw us out this easily.</p>