KAJANG: Beyond stopping the violence against the Rohingyas, the Myanmar government should clamp down on hate speech against the community, says a former Malaysian ambassador to the country.
Speaking to FMT, Mazlan Muhammad, who served in the foreign service for 35 years, explained that the roots of the animosity between the Myanmar people and minority-Muslim Rohingyas could be traced to the country’s colonial days.
He said in the past, there were no borders between lands, so people settled in areas which were later divided by colonialists and the situation in the Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh, was no different.
“It’s like the northern areas of Kelantan and southern parts of Thailand. In Kelantan, you will have people who speak Thai and in southern Thailand, you will have people who speak Bahasa Malaysia.
“When the British colonised Myanmar and drew up borders, some Rohingyas ended up on Myanmar’s side of the border. The Rohingyas say they have been living in the area since the 6th century but, of course, Myanmar does not recognise this.”
Mazlan said many in Myanmar did not consider the Rohingyas as natives, but rather as people brought in by the British when it ran the country.
Then, he said, Myanmar was administered as a province of India, which was also administered by the British.
He also said, then, Hindi became the second official language in Myanmar after English, and this also contributed to tensions in the past.
Mazlan said this animosity between the Myanmars and the Rohingyas has lasted to this day as the Rohingyas are seen as by-products of the country’s colonial past.
“It is important to remember that racial harmony does not happen naturally, it takes hard work from everyone, from the authorities to political parties to the man on the street.
“When I was younger, my uncles used to talk about the cruelty of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), which was dominated by the Chinese. This talk was in the 1980s, decades after World War II had ended and the MPAJA had gone on a rampage, killing Malays accused of collaborating with the Japanese.
“So, this kind of talk is unhealthy. Similarly, now we have people talking about the May 13 riots and this makes it hard to develop trust between races. Such talk should not be allowed to continue.”
Hence, Mazlan said, it was crucial for the Myanmar government to clamp down on hate speech and the demonisation of the Rohingyas, which was being openly perpetuated by religious figures and even the media in Myanmar.
He said there were many Muslims in Myanmar outside of Rakhine and that there was tolerance towards Myanmar Muslims in other parts of the country.
In Yangon, he said one could even hear the azan (call to prayer) and there was a mosque located next to one of the holiest pagodas.
“So, if they can be tolerant towards Muslims in places like Yangon, they should also be tolerant towards Muslims in Rakhine.”
In recent weeks, acts of violence against the Rohingyas, reportedly carried out by Myanmar security forces, have drawn international condemnation.