For years, the world has been entangled in a series of dramatically accelerating events on all levels, paving somehow the way for violent groups and militias of all affiliations to come up with more methods for spreading their evil ideologies. Day after day, the scene was getting gloomier; many innocent people and marginalized groups in different territories have been suffering from non-stop violence, leading to loss of lives and forced displacement. That said, let’s take a quick glance at one of the most critical humanitarian crises that, if not tackled wisely, may be hijacked further by extremist organizations. It is the seemingly endless crisis of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
The Rohingya are one of Myanmar's ethnic minorities. They are a Muslim community living in the Rakhine state, making up 1/3 of the state's population. Deplorably still, the government of Myanmar not only denies their citizenship, but also excludes them from the 2014 census. Hence, they are deemed stateless, and they have been made to suffer from deeply-rooted prejudice that disregards any human rights. The crisis floated to the surface in 2017 when the Burmese troops burnt Rohingya villages and attacked and killed civilians in response to rebel attacks on about 30 police posts. The ruthless reaction resulted in murdering about 6700 Rohingya people, including about 730 under-five-year-old children, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Amnesty International reported that many Rohingya women were abused and rapped by the Burmese military forces. Also, Human Rights Watch revealed that around 288 villages were destroyed in northern Rakhine state. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described Rohingya as "the most discriminated against people in the world. UNICEF reported that by the end of August 2021, Bangladesh was hosting more than 890,000 Rohingya refugees in the Cox’s Bazar District, around half of whom were children, and that they were in dire need of aids.
The humanitarian plight of the Rohingya has grabbed the attention of extremist and terrorist groups locally and globally. It represents an underlying motivation for such groups to gain more ground. Dealing with the Rohingya as illegal immigrants deprived of any citizenship’s rights creates a golden chance for the radical groups to recruit new followers, exploiting their vulnerability. They have raised the specter of recruitment of the Rohingya community, manipulating them to become suicide bombers or elements to establish new terrorist cells in the region. These groups maliciously depend on agitating the issue of religious identity, presenting any crisis as if it was merely religious. To put things in perspective, Shaykh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif had vowed in an interview with ISIS’ magazine “Dabiq” to begin operations within Burma once they are capable of doing so. Al-Qaeda also released a telegram statement entitled “Burma is Calling for you”, urging all its followers to travel to Myanmar to defend the Rohingya against the deadly series of attacks carried by the Burmese army, quoting the Prophet’s saying: “A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim; he does not oppress him, nor betray him. He who helps his brother who is in need, Allah will be sufficient to fulfil his needs…"
In light of its international role, humanitarian mission, and responsibility towards building global peace, Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism participated in 2017 in a conference entitled "Towards a Civilized Humanitarian Dialogue for Myanmar Citizens” under the auspices of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Prof. Ahmad al-Tayeb in Cairo. The conference hosted a number of leading young people representing all religious communities and ethnicities of Myanmar. It was a first real step on the ground towards establishing peace, exploring the chief reasons behind these dramatically accelerating events in Rakhine that had shaken the world.
AOCE makes constant efforts to raise awareness of Rohingya Muslims’ humanitarian crisis. It holds many seminars, locally and internationally, to discuss the tragic developments in Rakhine in an effort to find ways out of the deplorable conditions the Rohingya live in. In addition, Al-Azhar has dispatched relief missions to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, providing them with humanitarian aid.
The above lines shed some light on the tragedy of the Rohingya Muslims. The rapid sequence of events warns of an unprecedented humanitarian disaster. Worse still, the Rohingya refugee camps may be a fertile soil for radicalism and recruitment by terrorist groups. The Rohingya crisis still requires the world's attention before it is too late.