Bangkok Post  

Sept 18, 2017


The government of Aung San Suu Kyi should be concerned about an al-Qaeda call last week for terrorists worldwide to “help” the Rohingya people. It is uncertain how many, indeed, if any at all, will respond. The cry for war from the Mideast, however, comes at a crucial time. The danger is not by any means restricted to Myanmar. All of ASEAN and beyond face a critical period.

The last thing Myanmar and ASEAN need is outside intervention, but they are receiving it in spades. Al-Qaeda and other interfering countries and groups will be responsible for their actions. But it must be said that Myanmar is reaping the results of the bad seeds it sowed. Ms Suu Kyi and the Nay Pyi Taw government were warned. After an authorized fact-finding journey in western Rakhine state, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan wrote the Myanmar regime risked fueling extremism by its actions and restrictions on the Rohingya.

The al-Qaeda demand for jihadists to journey to the Myanmar region and engage in anti-government action is unwelcome, to say the least. It specifically called on “mujahid brothers in the Philippines” to punish the Myanmar government. The call to action dredged up tired and stock phrases about a worldwide conspiracy against Islam, as well as plots to wipe out Muslims to seize their property.

The terrorist group, along with a home-grown, violent group claiming to be the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA), have hogged the spotlight. Other, more important players now are calling for direct action to help Rohingya people, oppose Ms Suu Kyi’s policies — or both. First and most importantly, a prominent Iranian lawmaker has called on the Muslim world to raise an expeditionary force to rescue the Rohingya.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahar’s rabble-rousing, unsurprisingly, was grasped and expanded upon by Mohsen Rezaee, former commander of the country’s Islamic Revolution Guards and now head of the Expediency Council.

He called for “a Nato-like joint military force” comprising troops from Syria, Iraq and Sunni Turkey.

Rival Saudi Arabia, stung by Iran’s call for action, said it had done more than any country to help the Rohingya. Turkey, which has actually sent large amounts of aid through Bangladesh, now is in a war of words with Riyadh.

None of this is good news for Myanmar and Ms Suu Kyi. It is detrimental to Asean, including Thailand. Seeing nations of the Muslim community fighting over who is the most sympathetic to the Rohingya is almost as bad as terrorists and would-be mujahideen volunteers actually appearing in Bangladesh or Myanmar.

At the moment, the issue of the Rohingya is raising the same type of passion as the Palestinian cause of the recent past — an issue seemingly far away but which exploded into terrorism, even in Thailand.

If Myanmar takes any of this dangerous action and rhetoric seriously, it is not showing the world it is concerned. Ms Suu Kyi could have prevented all of it by responding in a positive and humanitarian way to the very real problems faced by her Rohingya population.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson struck the right note last week when he said it is “vital for her to use the moral capital” she gained around the world during her bleak years of house arrest.

The suffering of the Rohingya now has been made unacceptable by Myanmar army atrocities and what the UN calls genocide.

The danger is that if Ms Suu Kyi fails to act, other and more bloody minded groups and countries will.

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