“It’s a little ironic that the monks don’t see the inherent human rights issues”
When it comes down to it, it’s really a religious issue. Our people are not used to human rights issues, so they don’t care much about it. But when it comes to religion, it’s a big deal. A lot of people believe that Islam is against Buddhism, and some monks see it almost as an enemy.There’s a lot of popular support for the protests, partly because the monks are so respected, but also because President Thein Sein [who was elected president of Burma’s new civilian government in 2011] is heading up a number of reforms in the country, and people want to support him. There’s also a lot of misinformation about what’s going on in Rakhine state. For the most part, the public have been given only one side of the story: that the Rakhine people have suffered the most and at the hands of the Rohingya.It’s a little ironic that the monks don’t see the human rights issues inherent to the situation. But in our country, there is a lot of discomfort with Islam. There is a fear that Burma will be ‘Islamafied’. But in reality, Islam has peacefully coexisted with us for a long time.
“It’s a question of justice”
We decided to hold the protest for three reasons. First off, we wanted the world to know that the Rohingya are not among the 135 different ethnic groups that are recognised in Burma. We also wanted to make sure everyone knew that we, as Burmese people, do not condone their acts of violence. Lastly, we wanted to highlight the importance of border security, by pointing out the fact that there have been some on the western border [which runs along Bangladesh] in the past who were not concerned with Rakhine’s security and did their job carelessly.We have lived peacefully among different religions and ethnicities for years. But we now have these illegal Bengali immigrants demanding to be recognised as a native ethnic group and asking to be granted citizenship. We want people to know the truth, that the Rohingya are not Burmese and that they are not a peaceful group. If they lived quietly, we would allow them to stay regardless of the fact they entered the country illegally.It’s not that we want all immigrants, illegal or not, to leave Burma. There are a lot of illegal Chinese immigrants here too, but the difference is that they just go about their own business. They’re not trying to swallow native tribes and colonise the country, or destroy our religion. [Burma’s entire Muslim population makes up 4 percent of the population.]