Thailand Accused of Mistreating Muslim Refugees

January 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Simon Montlake, The Christian Science Monitor

2008-05-06-Rohingya_1
The Rohingya Muslim people, subject to horrible state persecution  in Burma, have sought refuge in Bangladesh; recently hundreds were refused entry into Thailand.

BANGKOK, THAILAND – Hundreds of Muslim refugees from Burma (Myanmar) are feared missing or dead after Thai troops forced them onto boats without engines and cut them adrift in international waters, according to human rights activists and authorities in India who rescued survivors. The revelations have shone a spotlight on the Thai military’s expulsion policy toward Muslims it sees as a security threat.

Nearly 1,000 refugees were detained on a remote island in December before being towed out to sea in two batches and abandoned with little food or water, according to a tally by a migrant-rights group based on survivors’ accounts and media reports. The detainees, mostly members of Burma’s oppressed Rohingya minority, then drifted for weeks. One group was rescued by Indonesia’s Navy, and two others made landfall in India’s Andaman Islands.

Photos of refugees on a Thai island show rows of bedraggled men stripped to the waist as soldiers stand guard. In a separate incident, foreign tourists snapped pictures of detainees trussed on a beach. Thailand’s Andaman coastline, where the abuses took place, is a popular vacation spot.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has launched an investigation. Military officials have denied any ill treatment of refugees, while offering conflicting accounts of how they ended up lost at sea. The military has accused the Rohingya, who often travel via Thailand to Malaysia to work or seek asylum, of assisting a Muslim-led insurgency in southern Thailand.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is pressing Thailand for access to 126 Rohingya that it says are in Thai custody. These include 46 boat people reportedly detained on Jan. 16 and handed over to military custody. It said a second group of 80 Rohingya, which reportedly had previously been pushed out to sea and drifted back, had been transferred to the tiny detention island.

There was no sign Thursday of any detainees there, said a Western source in the area. Villagers said boat people had been held there by local guards under military command, before being towed out to sea by fishing vessels. Rickety vessels said to have carried the refugees were beached on the island, the source said.

Amid accusations of a military cover-up, the Thai government has promised a full accounting. “The military has agreed to a fact-finding investigation … [but] we’re not dependent on their input alone,” says Panitan Wattanyagorn, a spokesman.

That probe will expose Mr. Abhisit’s weak command of the military, which sees the Rohingya and other undocumented Muslims as a threat, says Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultancy in Bangkok. He says there’s no evidence that the Rohingya, who speak a Bengali dialect, have joined insurgents in the Malay-speaking south, where more than 3,500 people have died since 2004.

“Abhisit is … beholden to the military for getting his job – and keeping his job,” he says.

Thailand has long been a magnet for millions of economic migrants as well as refugees escaping persecution in Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Human traffickers often play a role moving both groups, exposing those on the run to egregious abuses. Thailand has a mixed record on hosting refugees.

Most Rohingya, who are denied legal rights in Burma, begin their journey in Bangladesh, where more than 200,000 live in unofficial camps. A further 28,000 are registered with the UNHCR. From there, men pay smugglers for passage across the Indian Ocean to Thailand, usually as a transit stop to reach Malaysia, a Muslim country with a sizable Rohingya population. Some Bangladeshis also travel there.

In recent years, boats crossing during winter months have increased. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of Rohingya detained by police rose to 4,866, up from 2,763, says Kraisak Choonhavan, a government lawmaker.

Some of these Rohingya have been repatriated to Burma. Others have paid smugglers to complete their journey to Malaysia, or become victims of traffickers, say rights activists. That appears to have changed as the military has got involved.

In security briefings, military officials repeatedly draw a link between Rohingya refugees and separatist violence in the south, says Sunai Pasuk, with Human Rights Watch, which has received reports of sea “pushbacks” since 2007. “This is not just an isolated incident. There must be a policy behind it,” he says.

Mr. Kraisak, a deputy leader of the ruling Democrat party, criticized the violation of human rights. But he said the outflow of refugees from Burma was a problem that Thailand can’t handle alone. “We have to confer on the international stage. Thais have been too tolerant,” he says.

In interviews with Indian security officials, survivors said uniformed Thai personnel shot four refugees and tossed another into the sea before forcing their group to board a wooden barge. Some 400 crowded onto the barge, which was towed to sea for about 18 hours with armed soldiers aboard. They shared two bags of rice and two gallons of water, according to a transcript in the South China Post.

The barge drifted for more than a week. Of 300 people who tried to swim to shore, only 11 survived. An additional 88 were rescued by the Coast Guard.

The Rohingya people are very oppressed in Burma.  The people, from western Burma’s Arakan State, are forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission and have no legal right to own land or property.

Not only that but even though groups of them have been living in Burma for hundreds of years, they are also denied citizenship by the country’s military government.

For decades this Muslim group of ethnic-Indo origins have been considered the lowest of the low in this mainly Buddhist country. In 1992, 250,000 Rohingyas, a third of their population, fled over Burma’s border into Bangladesh to escape the persecution. Years later more than 20,000 of them are still in the same refugee camps and around 100,000 more are living illegally in the surrounding area.

11-6

The Hui People and the Earthquake

May 29, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Alameda (Calif.)–May 26, 2008–The recent tragedies that have overtaken Southeast Asia and the Far East have impacted Muslim communities — although in a minority there; i.e., Burma (see my recent article on the subject in this paper a few weeks ago), and Sichuan (China).  Today I shall spend my time on that huge Chinese Province devastated by the massive earthquake of mid-month (May).

We in the West do not think of Islam as a major force outside the Middle East, but the People’s Republic of China has 56 officially recognized minorities.  Ten of those are from the Muslim ummah.  The estimates of the Muslim population in Chinga vary from 10 to 100 million — making that country one of the twenty most populous Muslim countries upon our globe.

The Muslim people there are divided into those ten recognized groups plus smaller grouping – all based on ethnicity.  The Hui are the largest of the ten distinct Muslim ethnic groups.  Some say the Hui Muslims are the descendants of Arab, Persian and Turkish Muslim immigrants who intermarried with the local Han (majority) Chinese people.  Others say they are descended from Companions who emigrated in the early days of Islam to mainland China.  There are approximately ten million Hui Muslims in China. Their culture is the same as that of the majority Han Chinese with the difference that the Hui practice Islam and do not eat pork or drink alcohol.  Much of the Hui homeland is in the region of the epicenter of the devastating earthquake in Sichan Province.

Historically speaking — other than the practice of Islam — there is not much difference from the Han (majority Chinese).  For the Huis, being a Muslim means belonging to an (independent) subethnic group, and thus their [“academic” or formal] knowledge of Islam is practically non-existent to the point that they do not even know the basic pillars of Islam, and yet they consider themselves Hui.  On the other hand, there are recent Han Chinese converts who follow Islam much more stringently than the Hui, but they do not like to be called Hui because they are purely Han Chinese.  Like Christianity, Islam crosses the boundaries of race and ethnicity.  For the Musim, all that is necessary is the simple (paraphrased) Credo (in Engish): “I bear witness that there is no god except God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God!” (s).

Back to China’s disaster and her peoples (the traditional Hui Musims and the newer Han converts), in terms of lifestyles, the two groups are almost identical – to the point of speaking the same language.  Even amongst the Hui one will find people who eat pork, though, and even drink alcohol; so it is difficult to tell where the Hui begins or the Han ends.

Unfortunately, with the immensity of the destruction, I could not locate articles that addressed directly — with hard facts and figures — the impact of the earthquake upon the Hui and other Chinese Musims and their immediate needs.  Therefore, because of  their populace’s concentration, it is unfortunately fair to assume that the Hui have been unevenly affected by the tragedy.

Even before the devastation, Islamic Charities had been active in China improving the lives of poorer Chinese citizens irrespective of religion.  Beijing has recently expressed their gratitude to all the Musim charities working towards the humanitarian relief of their citizens – most especially to the Muslim relief workers, for with their geographical closeness to the disaster, they were some of the first to arrive into the interior with relief.

10-23

The Unnecessary Bengali Famine

April 5, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy BBC

The famine in British-ruled Bengal in 1943-44 ultimately took the lives of about 4 million people. The speaker talks of how this man-made famine is absent from most history books and virtually unknown to most people.

BBC Transcript:

Robyn Williams: Can you turn science to history? To test it, I mean? You can’t really do experiments on the past, so how could it be applied? Dr Gideon Polya insists that science does have a role in this regard, and he’ll explain in a minute. But the point of such an exercise is important here, because the reason for Dr Polya’s concern (and he’s written a book about it) is one of the worst genocides on record, or not on record, unless you search long and hard.

Gideon Polya is reader in biochemistry at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Gideon Polya: Humanity has made immense technological and scientific advances in the last few millennia through application of a scientific method involving the gathering of data, the generation of testable hypotheses, and experimentation to test the validity of such hypotheses. Reiteration of this process yields models that are progressively better approximations to reality.

Of course historically, this process has been impaired through authoritarian religious or political intervention. Such societal constraints aside, application of the scientific method can also encounter difficulties when past processes of the physical or biological world are considered. However, while we cannot recreate the explosion of a star, we can construct models that are consistent with the residual physical consequences of such events and with our current understanding of physical reality. Similarly, while we cannot recreate life currently, to biological scientists the Darwinian Theory of Evolution remains a powerful model explaining and systematising a huge body of information about past and present biological complexity.

Scientific approaches to human history are similarly constrained by the reality that it is generally not possible to do physical experiments to test historical models (although one can envisage, for example, computer simulations of past battles). In general the history is confined to relating model predictions back to pre-existing data, the physical consequences of events and human oral and written records of events. Of course value judgements, or culturally and philosophically biased ‘weightings’ will inevitably be applied to the relative importance of historical data. However some events involving massive loss of human life, such as the Jewish Holocaust, are so immense that they cannot be ignored, if at least for scientific predictive utility. Thus the Jewish Holocaust warns us of future dangers due to racism, moral unresponsiveness and the technological capacity for mass destruction.
The bottom line is that historians, like scientists, must respect the basic data. Selectively ignoring the data thwarts the quest for better approximations to the truth, and jeopardises informed prediction. While we all cynically accept the truism that ‘history is written by the victors’, the history of genocide in the 20th century, from South West Africa and Anatolia, to East Timor and Rwanda, reinforces the message that ‘history ignored yields history repeated’. Deletion of massive man-made human catastrophes from history and from general perception is not simply scientifically flawed and unethical, it also increases the probability that the same unaddressed, contributing social pathologies will yield the same carnage in the future.

One of the most extraordinary examples of such whitewashing of history is the sustained, continuing deletion of two centuries of massive, recurrent, man-made famine in British India from British and world history, and hence from general public perception. This massive, sustained lying by omission by two centuries of British academic historians occurred in a society having Parliamentary democracy, the means to readily disseminate information and a steadily expanding literate population. Furthermore, this process of lying by omission continues to this day in Britain and its English-speaking offshoots, such as Australia, countries having free speech, high literacy, democracy, prosperity and extensive media of all kinds.

To dramatise this perversion, imagine that the Jewish Holocaust was almost completely deleted from our history books and from general public perception, that there was virtually a total absence of any mention at all of this cataclysm in our newspapers and electronic media or in our schools and universities. Truth, reason, ethics and humanity aside, objective analysis suggests that such a situation would greatly increase the probability of recurrence of racial mass murder. Fortunately, in reality, virtually everyone is aware of this event and indeed in Germany today it is a criminal offence to deny the actuality of the Jewish Holocaust.

In contrast, during the Second World War, a man-made catastrophe occurred within the British Empire that killed almost as many people as died in the Jewish Holocaust, but which has been effectively deleted from history, it is a ‘forgotten holocaust’. The man-made famine in British-ruled Bengal in 1943-1944 ultimately took the lives of about 4-million people, about 90% of the total British Empire casualties of that conflict, and was accompanied by a multitude of horrors, not the least being massive civilian and military sexual abuse of starving women and young girls that compares unfavourable with the comfort women abuses of the Japanese Army.

The causes of the famine are complex, but ultimately when the price of rice rose above the ability of landless rural poor to pay and in the absence of humane, concerned government, millions simply starved to death or otherwise died of starvation-related causes. Although there was plenty of food potentially available, the price of rice rose through ‘market forces’, driven by a number of factors including: the cessation of imports from Japanese-occupied Burma, a dramatic wartime decline in other requisite grain imports into India, compounded by the deliberate strategic slashing of Allied Indian Ocean shipping; heavy-handed government action in seizing Bengali rice stocks in sensitive areas; the seizure of boats critically required for food acquisition and rice distribution; and finally the ‘divide and rule’ policy of giving the various Indian provinces control over their own food stocks. Critically, cashed-up, wartime, industrial, Calcutta could pay for rice and sucked food out of a starving, food-producing countryside.

Ultimately, millions of Bengalis died because their British rulers didn’t give a damn and had other strategic imperatives. The Bengal Famine and its aftermath for the debilitated Bengal population consumed its victims over several years in the case of complete British inaction through most of 1943 or insufficient subsequent action. Churchill had a confessed hatred for Indians and during the famine he opposed the humanitarian attempts of people such as the Prime Minister of Canada, Louis Mountbatten, Viceroy General Wavell, and even of Japanese collaborationist leader Subhash Chandra Bose. The hypothesis can be legitimately advanced that the extent of the Bengal Famine derived in part from sustained, deliberate policy.

The wartime Bengal Famine has become a ‘forgotten holocaust’ and has been effectively deleted from our history books, from school and university curricula and from general public perception. To the best of my knowledge, Churchill only wrote of it once, in a secret letter to Roosevelt dated April 29th 1944 in which he made the following remarkable plea for help in shipping Australian grain to India: ‘I am no longer justified in not asking for your help.’ Churchill’s six-volume ‘History of the Second World War’ fails to mention the cataclysm that was responsible for about 90% of total British Empire casualties in that conflict but makes the extraordinary obverse claim: ‘No great portion of the world population was so effectively protected from the horrors and perils of the World War as were the people of Hindustan. They were carried through the struggle on the shoulders of our small island.’

This whitewashing of Indian famine extends to two centuries of famine in British India. I have recently published a very detailed account of this two-century holocaust in British India that commenced with the Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 (10-million victims) and concluded with the World War 2 Bengal Famine (4-million victims) and took tens of millions of lives in between. In contrast to the response to the Jewish Holocaust, these events have been almost completely written out of history and removed from general perception and there has been no apology nor amends made. While Tony Blair has apologised for the mid-19th century Irish Famine that took over a million lives, there has been no apology for the World War 2 Bengal Famine.

My book is entitled, ‘Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History’ and sub-titled, ‘Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability’. I describe this whitewashing of history as ‘Austenising’ after Jane Austen, whose exquisite novels were utterly free of the ugly social realities of her time. Some of Jane Austen’s siblings and other connections, were involved in the rape of India. Of major note was Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India, who ferociously taxed famine-devastated Bengal and was eventually impeached and tried but ultimately acquitted for his manifold abuses in India. Warren Hastings almost certainly seduced Jane Austen’s aunt, Philadelphia Hancock. This adultery gave rise to Jane Austen’s lively cousin Eliza who is an evident model for the more advanced women of Jane Austen’s novels. While much of the huge academic Jane Austen industry has ignored (or ‘Austenised’) such interesting aspects of the lives of Jane Austen’s relatives, Jane Austen herself was much more forthcoming; thus to the initiated, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, the most Indian of her novels, includes a very detailed and barely disguised account of the Warren Hastings Scandal.

While it was legitimate for Jane Austen, the artist, to render her exquisite novels free of the contemporary awfulness in which her connections participated, the continuing ‘Austenising’ of British history is a holocaust-denying outrage that threatens humanity. Currently, 20-million people die each year of starvation-related causes and conservative, status quo productivity estimates would predict 30-million such deaths per year in the year 2050. A more realistic but still non-Malthusian view can be taken based on declining per capita agricultural production due to land degradation, decreased water availability, global warming effects on tropical cereal yields and increased population. A return from the current annual mortalities of about 10 per 1000 to the 35 per 1000 per year that obtained in British India in 1947 would yield a Third World excess mortality in 2050 of a staggering 200-million persons per year. Nevertheless this is avoidable, thus peri-conception, male sex selection provides just one simple example of a cheap, non-intrusive, pro-choice and technologically and socially feasible approach to slowing and indeed reversing population growth. That such an apparently radical suggestion is socially feasible is evidenced by the extraordinarily peaceful and tolerant multiracial society of Fiji, yet the initial male to female ratio among the indentured Indian five-year slaves was about 3 to 1.

The remorselessly continuing human catastrophe of mass starvation is avoidable provided that there is determined global responsiveness of a kind that was absent for both the Jewish Holocaust and the Bengal Famine of half a century ago. One hopes that the recent award of the Nobel Prize for Economics to Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and expert analyst of the Bengal Famine, will increase global responsiveness to this continuing humanitarian disaster. We must resurrect the horrors hidden by two centuries of holocaust-ignoring historians, resolutely face the current environmental and humanitarian cris and apply the post-Holocaust injunction of ‘Never again’.

Robyn Williams: ‘Never again’, says Dr Gideon Polya, Reader in biochemistry at La Trobe University in Melbourne. And his interest in the subject of India (yes, I did ask) stems in part from having a Bengali wife. His book, by the way, can be ordered by writing to Dr Polya at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Dr. Gideon Polya
Associate Professor in Biochemistry
Dept. of Biochemistry
La Trobe University, Bundoora Vic. 3083
e-mail: g.polya@latroabe.edu.au
His book Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History can be obtained from the author by writing to him at La Trobe University