Monthly Archives: May 2009

MYANMAR: ethnic minorities and Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities & Aung San Suu Kyi


By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent  – THE SEOUL TIMES


Aung San Suu Kyi

The current regime in Myanmar is clearly unconcerned about international opinion because daily persecution continues. This applies to the continuing persecution of many minorities, notably the Chin, Karen, Rohingya, Shan, and others. At the same time, the leading political figure in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, faces further confinement. However, the regime fears little because of power politics and geopolitical factors.

Another major concern in Myanmar is the systematic persecution of religious minorities and this especially applies to Christians and Muslims. Therefore, the Christian dominated Karen National Union (KNU) faces a joint military and Buddhist onslaught because the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) is a staunch ally of the regime.

Other Christian and Muslim minorities also face daily persecution. Therefore, like I reported in my last article called “Karen Christians face joint army and Buddhist onslaught,” I will quote Benedict Rogers who is a human rights advocate and journalist.

Because Benedict Rogers (12 Dec, 2004) notified the British House of Commons about systematic persecution. He stated that “Christians among the Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni ethnic nationalities report serious religious discrimination and persecution, including the destruction of churches and Christian symbols. In Chin State, all crosses on mountain-tops have been destroyed and Christians have been forced to build Buddhist pagodas in their place. Church services have been disrupted, and Chin children from Christian families have been taken and placed in Buddhist monasteries, where they have been forced to become novice monks. The printing of the Bible is banned, and Christians in government service are denied promotion.”

Muslims are also in dire straights because they have been persecuted for decades. Amnesty International, for example stated that “The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma (Myanmar) citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction … ”

The report continues that “In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Burma (Myanmar) army. Officially this campaign aimed at “scrutinising each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.” This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution.”

“During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labour, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Burma (Myanmar) army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labour of Rohingya civilians by the security forces.”

Therefore, many ethnic and religious minorities have been persecuted for decades and this is the real tragedy of Myanmar. After all, it would appear that regional nations are more concerned about economic trade and maintaining a regional consensus.

Yes, from time to time you hear disenting voices throughout the region but these are few and far. Also, for regional powers like China and India, they both understand the geopolitical importance of Myanmar and of course economic interests are also important. So it would appear that ethnic and religious minorities have little hope under the current political system in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, the most famous political figure in Myanmar faces fresh political charges in order to keep her under house arrest. However, Aung San Suu Kyi remains defiant despite her endless persecution and the “ray of hope remains.”

Aung San Suu Kyi once stated that “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Yet for the people who wield power in Myanmar, it is apparent that China and India, and others, are willing to play the geopolitical game. Therefore, despite the European Union and America taking a strong stance, it is clear that Myanmar can survive because of trading links with China, India, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and other nations.

Also, Aung San Suu Kyi understands that only an internal collapse or uprising will change the current status quo. Despite this, she remains loyal to non-violent action and “her weapon” is her firm democratic conviction.

However, just like the ethnic Christian and Muslim minorities, and others, it is clear that decades of struggle is zapping the energy out of many; so words of strength by Aung San Suu Kyi are badly needed. Yet the chains appear to be getting tighter so the future remains bleak.




COLOMBIA and extrajudicial killings scandal

Colombia and Extrajudicial Killings Scandal


By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent

Above, the FARC commander Raul Reyes who was killed in 2008.

The government of Colombia which is supported by the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others, is now in the spotlight because of the continuing grisly finds of dead corpses. The killings have been carried out by sections of the armed forces and it is a grim reminder of events in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other nations throughout the region, with regards to events in the 1970s and 1980s.

If this scandal had happened in modern day Cuba or Venezuela, then America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others, would be the first to call for “a major enquiry” and more severe action would be taken. However, for all the above named nations, then it is complex because they have supported the current government of Colombia. So how will these nations respond to the government of President Alvaro Uribe?

It would appear that “cracks are emerging” because the British government is alarmed by recent events. For example, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, stated that “The challenge for the Colombian government is to ensure the strategic human rights principles we have helped to promote are embedded and consistently practiced by all members of their armed services.”

Therefore, the British government will divert part of its military aid because of the gross violations of human rights in Colombia. Alan Campbell, from the British Home Office, said that aid would not be given to any areas which had links to the “false positives.” This applies to the extrajudicial killings in Colombia; however, can the British government be assured that the “chain”in this scandal is so limited?

Now pressure is mounting in America, after all, President Obama talked about “a new history” and the need to support human rights. Also, before being elected, Obama criticized the human rights record of Colombia and he spoke about linking this before signing the proposed USA-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

However, according to Gary Leech, a much acclaimed journalist and writer, he is skeptical. He states in the Colombia Journal on May 4th, 2009, “that in an apparent reversal, Obama recently called on U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk to work with the Colombian government and Congress in order to address the obstacles to the trade agreement and get the deal signed.”

Gary Leech also makes it clear that the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, is “…currently pushing Parliament to ratify the free trade agreement signed last November with Colombia’s President Uribe. “According to Gary Leech, this is contrary to what the majority of Canadians want because a poll in July 2007 indicated that “73 percent of Canadians said their federal government should not negotiate free trade agreements with countries that have dubious human rights records.”

However, it would appear that Prime Minister Harper is a firm supporter of President Uribe. Harper commented that “We’re not going to say, ‘Fix all your social, political and human rights problems, and only then will we engage in trade relations with you.’ That’s a ridiculous position.”

So according to the leader of Canada, it is more important to concentrate on stabilizing Colombia under the current government of Colombia and to focus on mutual self-interests. Yet, like Gary Leech points out, this means that Canada is supporting Colombia without any strings being attached despite this nation being” … the country with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere.”

Yet in recent times it is abundantly clear that events in Colombia are extremely alarming because we are talking about the deaths of thousands of people by the armed forces, paramilitaries, and murky “overt operations.” Given this, the governments of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others, must do more to pressurize the government of Colombia.

Also, economic and military aid must be made accountable because if the “human rights mantra” is violated then once more we are going to enter a period of “tainted democracy.” So it is important that international pressure is increased because the people of Colombia have been victims for too long, irrespective if victims of right-wing or left-wing groups, or via government sponsored paramilitaries or by landowning militias.

Of course the issue is very complex and Jeremy McDermott, writer for the BBC, stated on May 7th, 2009, that the democratic security policy “has been a great success. It has pushed back Marxist rebels from around the cities and deep into their mountain and jungle strongholds. It has demobilized 30,000 members of an illegal right-wing paramilitary army, the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia. It has seen a massive drop in kidnapping and a fall in the murder rate, once among the highest in the world.”

However, Jeremy McDermott also highlights the tremendous pressure which was put on the armed forces in order to obtain results. Therefore, the government of President Uribe put great pressure on the armed forces and other areas.

But much of the blame for this current crisis must be blamed on elements within the Uribe government. After all, like Gary Leech points out, “There has also been a dramatic escalation in the number of extra-judicial executions perpetrated by the Colombian military since Uribe assumed office. Investigators are currently looking into 1,296 cases of extra-judicial executions that have occurred since 2002. In a process known as “false-positives,” soldiers execute civilians and then dress the corpses in camouflage fatigues and pass them off as guerrillas killed in combat.”

What is clear is that the numbers of deaths will continue to rise and both left-wing and right-wing views will try to manipulate events. However, the real tragedy belongs to the people of Colombia and the counter-insurgency strategy and paramilitary-political scandal must usher in a new period of transparency and fresh hope.

Therefore, it is essential that nations like America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others, do much more because “democracy” can not be turned-on and turned-off when it suits. It is now up to internal forces and external forces to pressurize the government of President Uribe and recent events must be fully scrutinized. Also, accountability must apply to all people within the chain of events.



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IRAQ and the destruction of the Mandaean religion

IRAQ and the Destruction of the Mandaean Religion


By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent   –  THE SEOUL TIMES


Mandaeans — Mandaeans exchanging a ritual handshake or kušṭa: Mandaeism is a monotheistic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist.

The American led invasion of Iraq was meant to usher in democracy, liberty, freedom, and a revitalized Iraq. Sadly, from the outset other forces would be unleashed and this applies to radical Islam, terrorism, Sunni-Shia clashes, the persecution of Christians, and other negative forces. At the same time, an ancient religion was about to face a new wave of hatred and ethnic cleansing. This community, the Mandaeans, now faces virtual annihilation and now only a few thousand remain in modern day Iraq. So will this small community be forced to go into complete exile?

It is clearly apparent that all minorities, be they Assyrian Christians, Mandaeans, Shabaks, Yazidis, or others, face enormous persecution and the central government is either too weak or complacent. Also, the leaders of America must be blamed for entering Iraq and then leaving the minorities to face persecution, torture, death, and ethnic cleansing.

If we return back to the Mandaean community, then clearly their suffering is great and this community is in complete shock and bewilderment. The promise of a new Iraq means little because the “real reality” is abundantly clear and this applies to systematic persecution at the hands of radical Muslims and by mainstream society at large.

Of course America did not intend for this to happen, however, once systematic persecution began then the response by America and allied forces was a disgrace. After all, the Assyrian Christians, Mandaeans Shabaks, Yazidis, and others, have just been abandoned and Islamization is being allowed to take place.

Throughout history the Mandaeans and other minorities have faced many periods of brute force, forced conversion to Islam, massacres, pogroms, and widespread persecution. Of course, at other times they have been allowed to get on with their lives but at a price, namely paying jizya (tax) in order to be dhimmis or by being marginalized or alienated from mainstream society.

The Mandaeans, like the Shabaks and Yazidis, are not protected by dhimmitude because they are not deemed to be People of the Book. This applies to being outside of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; the three recognized religions in Islam. Therefore, persecution is tolerated because the Mandaeans are deemed to be infidels.

In 2007 the BBC covered a story about the Mandaeans via the headline “Iraq’s Mandaeans face extinction” which was written by Angus Crawford. During the article Angus Crawford states that “The Mandaeans are pacifists, followers of Adam, Noah and John the Baptist.” He highlights that by 2007 more than 80% had already fled their homeland because of the fear of death and daily persecution.

The article also highlights the plight of a 9 year old boy called Selwan. However, for this 9 year old boy he witnessed the hatred of radical Islam because he was forced to jump into a burning bonfire. The consequences of this, yes, the persecution of such a young boy, is around 20% burns and this only happened to him because he is a Mandaean.

The same article also highlights the forced conversion to Islam of Luay who is too petrified to give his full name. For Luay, a Mandaean, he was forced to convert to Islam and “forcibly circumcised.” Also, like Angus Crawford mentions, because “he was forcibly converted. That means in the eyes of those same extremists, if he now declares himself Mandaean he is (an) apostate.” Therefore, if he re-converts back to the Mandaean faith he may be killed by radical Islamists.

The article also highlights a Mandaean lady called Enhar who was raped by a Muslim gang of masked men because she would not wear a veil. Not only was this brutal crime terrifying and a crime against humanity, but this Muslim gang also raped her in front of her husband and somehow both must “overcome this tragic and brutal incident.”

So by 2007 you only had approximately 7,000 Mandaeans left in Iraq and of course the situation is not getting any better because a fresh pogrom is always around the corner. Therefore, this ancient faith which is not a threat to anyone now faces extinction.

You have so many tragedies in Iraq but why have minorities been left to either die, pay jizya (tax) to Islamic radicals, face daily persecution, and other daily crimes? Why did America and allied forces, notably the British, do nothing to stop these barbaric crimes in Iraq? Did both nations, and others, believe that they did not count or is it that they just do not care?

Also, what is the government of Iraq doing to protect these minorities? Or is it simply that the central government is too weak? So ex-President Bush unleashed forces he could not contain and the current leader, President Obama, wants to leave Iraq. I wonder if either Bush or Obama care about the plight of Assyrian Christians, Mandaeans, Shabaks, Turkomans, Yazidis, and other minorities, and the role of women in the new Iraq?




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Non-Arabs of the Middle East and Persecution

Non-Arabs of the Middle East and Persecution


By Lee Jay Walker  – THE SEOUL TIMES 
Tokyo Correspondent


Ancient Kurdish Festival —The Kurds are an Ethnic-Iranian ethnolinguistic group mostly inhabiting a region known as Kurdistan, which includes adjacent parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Some Kurds also exist in the cities of western Turkey, and can also be found in Lebanon, Armenia, Azerbaijan. They speak Kurdish, an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch. Wikipedia

When most people think about the Middle East the usual images arise, for example the religion of Islam and the role of Arabs in this vast region. However, in many societies you have a rich mosaic of differences and the so-called “Arab Street” ignores this rich diversity. Also, for many minorities who reside in mainly Arab nations in this region, their suffering and pain is being largely ignored.

Before focusing on minorities within the Arab dominated nations, it is worth remembering the nations of Iran and Turkey respectively. After all, both societies have very small Arab minorities and the overwhelming majority of people belong to different ethnic groups.

In Turkey, it is clear that the two dominant ethnic groups are the Turks and Kurds and both ethnic groups can be found in other parts of Asia. For the Kurds, they are pressed between competing nationalisms. Therefore, the 25 million plus Kurds face Arab, Turkish, and Persian nationalism in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey respectively, and they also face problems in parts of Syria.

However, while the Palestinian cause gets the majority of the global attention, the more numerous Kurds are largely neglected and the desire for a united Kurdistan remains. Therefore, the Kurdish issue impacts greatly on a vast part of the Middle East region.

If we focus on Egypt, then the indigenous Coptic Christians who number between 8 and 12 million, depending on different data; also face enormous problems in their own homeland. After all, just like the vast majority of Arab dominated nations in this region, the Arabs conquered and colonialized many parts of the Middle East.

However, despite enormous persecution in the past, and continuing problems in modern day Egypt, the Coptic Christians are a further reminder of the rich mosaic of the entire region. Also, the legacy of Coptic Christianity applies to monasticism and the “Christian heart” is still “beating” despite Islamic dhimmitude and inequality.

Christianity is also vibrant in Lebanon, and in Sudan the Christian faith helped different ethnic groups, for example the Dinka and Nuer, to fight-back against Arabization and Islamization. So once more, the dominant thinking of the Middle East is complex because in Lebanon and Sudan you have many non-Arab ethnic groups.

In modern day Lebanon the Christian population is approximately 39% and the Christian Maronites can trace their lineage back to ancient Phoenicia. Also, when a DNA survey was done several years ago it was noticeable that many Maronite Christians carried the male chromosome called the WES1. This chromosome is usually only found amongst West Europeans, at the same time, most Muslims in the test in Lebanon carried the J1 chromosome which is related to Arab expansionism from the 7th and 8th centuries.

So clearly, the “Arabness” of Lebanon is clearly “vague” and you also have a vibrant Armenian Christian community in this nation. While in the religious field it is clear that the Druze community is very different from both Sunni and Shia Islam and this all adds to the rich mosaic of Lebanon.

In modern day Iraq around 23% of the population is non-Arab and this applies to the Assyrians, Kurds, Turkomans, and others. For the Assyrian Christians, Arabization and Islamization is still a great threat and hundreds of thousands have fled since America invaded Iraq. However, the Kurds have a major stronghold in northern Iraq because of military and ethnic factors.

Yet people often refer to Iraq being an Arab nation, however, the Assyrians are the indigenous people and the rich civilization of this nation belongs to the ancient Assyrian Empire. Meanwhile, today, it is clear that Arabization and Islamization is a serious threat to the Christian minority in Iraq.

However, for the Kurds, it is clear that a “real Kurdistan” remains in the offing in the future because the 25 million plus Kurds of the Middle East desire an independent homeland. Therefore, Iraq appears to be the most likely start of this new nation.

Yet for other minorities in Iraq, notably the Assyrian Christians, the Mandaeans, the Shabaks, the Yazidis, and Turkomans; they face a very fragile future and many may not survive the current crisis in modern day Iraq. After all, you have competing nationalistic forces in parts of Iraq which threatens all the minorities. Added to this, you have radical Sunni Islam which is bent on crushing the minorities within Iraq, therefore, Christians, Shabaks, and Yazidis, are under siege.

The current crisis in Iraq, just like in Sudan, does tell us about past history. After all, the African Dinka and Nuer, and other African tribes in Sudan, had to use military force in order to prevent Arabization and Islamization. Therefore, just like in modern day Iraq, where Assyrian Christians, Shabaks, Mandaeans, and Yazidis, face daily persecution, it is clear that past conquests pushed out the indigenous population.

Berbers also face Arabization policies in Algeria and just like the Kurds who are mainly Muslim, it is clear that Islam is secondary because Arab nationalism in more potent. The same of course applies to African Muslims in Sudan. Given this, Arab nationalism is still a major threat to many ethnic minorities and the Berbers in Algeria and African Muslims in Darfur are witnesses to the mass negatives of Arab nationalism.

Overall, it is clear that the Middle East is very diverse and many minorities exist within this vast region. Meanwhile in nations like Iran and Turkey, it is clear that they are mainly non-Arab nation states. Despite this, we often hear about the “Arab street” or the “Arab Middle East.”

However, new forces are shaping the Middle East and many ethnic minorities have moved to different Gulf States in order to find work. So while some ethnic groups face Arabization policies, persecution, or assimilation; other new ethnic groups in places like Dubai are changing the ethnic map. Therefore, the next time someone talks about the Arab Middle East, just remember the “real Middle East” which is a patchwork of many different cultures and identities.

Also, I have only “scratched on the surface” because you have many other ethnic and religious groups in this vast region. At the same time, you have great richness within the Syriac world and others. If we lose sight of the past and how minorities are struggling today, then we are also losing out on a rich history which gives beauty to this world.



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