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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Rohingya issue: Response to Thayaparan

Malaysiakini

The penultimate paragraph of S Thayaparan’s column yesterday that was the clincher – for me. He wrote: “The reality is that the Rohingya issue exposes our criminality as much as it dispels the victimhood card that many folks like to play on behalf of the community.”
I would encourage Thayaparan to write an explorative piece on the Malaysian criminal mind. I tried it three years ago after the assassination of Kim Jong-nam in 2017 and the Najib-Umno regime’s muddled response to that murder. If all the scandals since 1957 are aggregated, especially in light of the Najib-Umno regime’s alleged heist of 1MDB and other state institutions, it’ll make a fascinating study.
Like racism, born of obvious fake religiosity, and greed, born of the ubiquitous insatiable lust for materialism, criminality forms the core of Malaysian politics and the economy. So it’s unsurprising that the Rohingya issue would fit unproblematically into that thesis – something Thayaparan hit upon.
But he made a meal of it, I feel, by suggesting the desperation of the Rohingya to seek refuge particularly impinges on his conscience. Whether the Rohingya flee Rakhine state or Cox Bazaar on the basis of political persecution, war, genocide or economics isn’t unique. In fact, a study of refugee crises is a historically universal phenomenon. Political or war refugees ultimately become economic refugees anyway. The two ends of the spectrum aren’t mutually exclusive.
The scale of not just economic migration but also of refugees fleeing wars and the postwar resettlement is instructive. And it doesn’t mean the refugee crisis in Syria isn’t as real – when it involves two superpowers fighting an endless deadly proxy war in the Syrian theatre – as Jews who fled the Nazi Germany regime’s genocide.
The genocide of the Rohingya in Rakhine at the hands of the bloodthirsty Myanmar junta is just as real. It’s just as real as none of the Asean countries, including Malaysia, publicly censuring the Myanmar regime. Indeed, the Malay state and its business cronies have poured and maintained economic investments in that country. These then lend legitimacy to the murderous Myanmarese regime.
Aung San Suu Kyi, by the way, is a lame politician, a puppet of the generals. She has neither credibility nor legitimacy – not after she defended at the UN the deliberate killing of Rohingya. That extermination is similar to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodian civilians, China of the Muslim Uyghurs – to which Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei are gutless to condemn – Saudi Arabia of Yemeni Houthis, Syria of the Yezidis, Turkey of the Kurds, Sri Lankan Sinhalese of minority Tamils, et cetera.
The problem of the Rohingya in Malaysia is that they’ve become the commercial pawns of corrupt Malaysian politicians, bureaucrats, police and the armed forces who have joined criminal entities in the country and abroad – criminalities of a “network” to which the Malaysian state has turned a blind eye.
I agree with Thayaparan on the Malaysian state – irrespective of its political flavour today and yesteryear, complicit with NGOs of different political associations, are in the business of shunting, blaming Rohingya refugees to obfuscate public opinion to continue their rorting state and foreign aid funds.
The slew of vitriol targeting the Rohingya is predictable, too, especially at a time of political and economic crises. The Malay establishment invoked the Chinese as scapegoats for their control of the economy that resulted in unequal incomes to the Malays. That invocation remains long after the May 13, 1969, bloody race riots.  
Don’t forget 1979. Mahathir then was deputy prime minister. He’d advocated, and said as much, that the thousands of Vietnamese refugees who’d fled the Vietnam war, who’d the great misfortune of landing in Malaysia, would be forced back on their unseaworthy boats and dragged out to sea. This is the very callous, cowardly, person Malaysians think should be hailed an “international statesman”.
There was no such ill-treatment of Bosnian Muslim refugees escaping the collapse of the old Yugoslavia and the bloody war with Serbia. Or of Palestinians escaping Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and the Golan Heights in Syria. Bosnian refugees were welcomed with open arms, embraced as citizens overnight, and given immediate bumiputera rights.
The Palestinian were visited by a special Malaysia aid boat – aid that Malaysia would not remotely consider giving African states or the persecuted Tamils in Sri Lanka or the East Timorese at the hands of marauding Indonesian troops of the dictator General Suharto. Because they’re not Muslims.
The Bangladeshis also copped the vitriol. At the apex of the late 90s Asian crisis, Bangladeshi migrant workers were blamed for every health and social ill and criminality under the Malaysian sun by Malays and non-Malays. Everything from petty crime to burglaries to stealing Malay women from Malay men – the same Malay men presumably who would cross into Haadyai or Sungai Kolok to find refuge and comfort in the arms of Thai sex workers.
Malaysian hypocrisy is as stunning as its overt racism and the criminal mind.
Thayaparan also touched on the “geopolitical shenanigans of Myanmar, Bangladesh, the US and China.” Then went off on a tangent. He could have made an important point. He could have added India and Pakistan to his list. None of them wanted the Rohingya Muslims. They would’ve been trouble for India’s Hindu-nationalist racism and Pakistan’s tribalistic Islamism. They were used as political football while flagging their own international citizenship as responsible states.
Thayaparan also referred to the research put out by two academics in the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies. It’s supposedly an autonomous policy think-tank affiliated with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Here’s the thing: you’d expect that study to caution against the likelihood of Rohingya refugees becoming “radicalised” and recruited by regional Islamic terrorist organisations. It’s a fair point but the study milks it and Thayaparan falls for it.
Context: Singapore, famous for its family dynastic rulership of six million Chinese-majority population, has a “government” that has always had at the kernel of its geopolitical calculus the fear of being surrounded by three large Muslim states in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Then there’s the quasi-state of Mindanao in the southern Philippines fighting for independence. That struggle is led by the Moros and later joined by Islamic State and Abu Sayyaf terrorists. It heightens the Singapore xenophobia. Importantly, too, the think tank is funded by the Singapore one-party state. Thayaparan should know better than put up a straw-man and resort to jingoism.
Finally: Would Thayarapan or any Malaysiakini reader be surprised if, at the end of all this vitriol caused by the pandemic and fear of economic future, the Rohingya refugees are assumed into Malaysian “society” – whatever society means – in the way Indonesian and Bangladeshi migrants appear to have been assimilated?  
Think about it.  

MANJIT BHATIA reads economics and international politics in New Hampshire in the US. - Mkini

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