04 January, 2018

Answers to denialism: a piece of latest research finding by U Kyaw Min


Sandi Khan Mosque in Mrauk U and Badar Makan Mosque in Sittwe were recognized as Muslim edifices in almost all chronicles written earlier by native as well as foreign writers, but today some ultra nationalists are denying their authentic historicity. So, here I would like to shed some lights on their being Muslim Mosque where Sandi Khan Mosque was built by King Saw Maun for his Bengal retinues who came to help him regain Arakan Throne which he lost earlier. Here I would like to request to Francis Wade, a Myanmar specialist to allow me to quote his latest research.
Francis Wade’s “Myanmar’s enemy within 2017,” a best seller narrated:
For much of the past millennium the busy trade along the shores of western Myanmar meant Rakhine Kingdom was populated by a large and transient – immigrant community and before its annexation by King Budaw Paya (Burma king) in 1784, Rakhine kings had been compelled to cultivate an inclusive attitude towards their subjects on account of the myriad different religious and ethnic communities that lived there. – – – The early Persian and Indian seafarers who arrived from the ninth early century onwards were small in number and had made only a minor impact on local society, but this began to change around in the fifteenth century – – – Bangali kings that ruled territories to the west of Rakhine had helped several of their Rakhine counter parts to retain the throne against the maneuvering of the rivals. The Rakhine King Min Saw Maun (Narameikla) fled to Bengal in the early fifteenth century following attacks by Burma armies from the east and spent 24 years under the protection of the Sultan of Bengal. When he returned to establish the city of Mrauk U, he built Mosques (such as Sandi Khan Mosques) alongside the pagodas that dotted in their hundreds the hill surrounding the city (Sandi Khan Mosques was demolished some years ago). For two centuries after, Rakhine king would use Muslim designations for their names and mint coins with Persian inscriptions to make the bountiful trade with westerly kingdoms easier. Despite the region soon bearing the marks of strong Islamic influence, religious differences had not provided the source of violent contestation they do now. (Francis Wade P.60)- – –
As the British moved in and imposed their own designs on the foreign land, borders were drawn in place of porous frontiers. Those frontiers had once shifted regularly, causing communities to belong to different territories at different times, or sometimes to none at all. Yet over time, what had been somewhat arbitrary boundaries came to be accepted as natural lines of division between nations and the people that inhabited them – – -. After Rakhine was annexed to Myanmar at the close of the eighteenth century, some 200000 Rakhine , both Buddhist and Muslims , fled west, crossing the Naf River and the mountains that roll down from the Chittagong, to areas of sanctuary where they wouldn’t  be reached by Bodawpaya’s marauding forces. Later convulsions of violence on either side of the border would cause communities to move back and forth repeatedly. Sometimes they stayed and settled, sometimes not. But by the time it was redrawn after the departure of the British in the middle of the twentieth century, the communities of each country had developed a degree of attachment to their land, as did the peoples of post-colonial societies the world over that only a modern-day nation state could generate. [Ibid p-64-65]
In this context Dr. J. Leider, an Arakan expert writes:
among the tens of thousands of Rakhine who fled Arakan for Bengal due to Burmese fiscal oppression and forced labor at the end of 18th century, there were also Muslims but one cannot  guess at their percentage. They assimilated more easily than the Rakhine within the society in Chittagon district where they had earlier came from. Many may have returned to Arakan after British occupation in 1825, but there were no statistical sources about the return of either Buddhist or Muslims.- – – (A J. Leider, competing identities, 2016 p-19) . Leider further writes there was a Muslim community in Rakhine at the moment of the conquest in 1784 and on the other hand, that both Muslims and Hindus were among those hundreds and thousands of Rakhine who had been deported and resettled in upper Myanmar. These Muslims spoke an Indian language of their own in which they called themselves of Rooinga. – – – quoting Dr Than Tun’s  Royal order of 17th November, 1807, Leider further writes “the Rakhine Punnas (Court Brahmins and Ceremonial Specialists who come all from Bengal) were collectively deported to Amarapura and became a new elite at the Konbaung Court. The king appointed Abhisha  Husseini, the head of Rakhine Muslims as head of all the Muslims of Myanmar. (J. Leider: the name, the movement, the quest for identities, 2014, p-10-12)
Francis Wade describes:
at around the same time (when Arakan was annexed to Burma empire) those ethnic Rakhine were fleeing into Bengaladesh in the late eighteenth century, a Scottish physician by the name of Francis Buchanan was moving between the communities of Myanmar documenting the various groups that lived there.  Under the title– “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the languages Spoken in the Burma Empire,” he produced perhaps one of the most comprehensive studies of the peoples of the region prior to the beginnings of colonial rule. In it he noted “three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohaammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.” [Ibid, P-65]
Rohingya cite this, and subsequent references in European texts to Buchanan’s findings as evidence of their presence in the region prior to the British conquest of Rakhine in 1826 and the influx of workers from the subcontinent that followed it. They also point to the fact that Rohingay were recognized, at least vocally, by U Nu, and served as members of parliament, and even ministers, in the post-independence government. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s officials documents referenced the Rohingya as inhabitants of northern Rakhine state. The denialism that is so pervasive now wasn’t commonplace within the government after independence. The Rohingya could organize politically- the government sanctioned the Rohingya students Association at Rangon University-and the group had its own thrice-weekly Rohingya –language radio broadcast. [p-65-66]
But as the regime sought to fix the ethnic landscape of Myanmar with a rigidity that bore little resemblance to the Myanmar of old, groups considered foreign to the country were gradually excluded. The hardening of an exclusive Rakine Buddhist identity that resulted from the  Burmanisation project, coupled with the removal of the “ Rakhine Muslims” category from the 135-strong index of ethnic groups, compelled the Muslims of the state to cleave more tightly to another label, one that had a history in Myanmar going back to at least the late eighteenth century and one that , at least initially , the government recognized. The Rohingya ethnicity should therefore have stood up to the test of the general’s 1982 citizenship criteria: that of a presence in Myanmar prior to the advent of British rule in 1824. But its absence from British records provided Ne Win, who pushed the notion of an ethno-religiously “pure” Myanmar harder as time went on, with a pretext to exclude an entire group from the nation. [P-66]
The logic that, as Rohingya, they simply can’t belong, underpins their statelessness, but it doesn’t stop at the legal sphere. Instead, it has provided a rationale for denying them even the inalienable human rights that should be conferred regardless of ones’ political status. “It seems,” so wrote the German political theorist Hannah Arendt, who herself was rendered stateless by the Nazis, “that a man who is nothing but a man has lost the very qualities which makes it possible for other people to treat him as a fellow-man”. [p-67]
The architects of Rohingya statelessness would know this too. The alienation of this community from the once- plural society of Rakhine State, and the nation more broadly, and the loss of dignity that accompanied the stripping of their basics rights fuelled a process that, over the decades, has come to see the group dehumanized and ostracized altogether.(p-67-68)
Ambitious new schemes were developed to encourage even more aggressively the systematic weakening of the Rohingya, and shortly after the turn of the decade, a project to re-engineer the social landscape of northern Rakhine State took shape. The animosities that began to simmer more intensively cause Buddhist and Muslims there to grow even further apart, and provided kindling for the fire that started years later, when the body of  Ma Thidar Htwe was discovered beneath the rain tree. (p. 68)
U Hla Tun Pru, a career politician and historian and almost all Rakhine historians recognized king Saw Mons’ getting military help from Bengal king, the settlement of Bengal retinue, and the construction of Sandi Khan Mosque. Arakan was like a vassalage of Bengal for almost two centuries. From then, Mrauk U became a cosmopolitan and multicultural city, very harmonious where tigers and sheeps drink peacefully together at the same water. (Thibaut Hubert and Leider; traders and poets’ at the Mrauk U court, p-94, 2011)
This is a concise reflection of Rohingyas’ historicity. Yet recognizing above authentic and latest historical research finding, I hope, will lead us to a fair, just and win-win solution to the current Rakhine state communal crisis which is a worldwide hot issue today. Coordination and sincere consultative cooperation and engagement with all state holders are the most essential requirements for lasting sustainable peace, harmony and development.


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