Muslim Press has conducted an interview with Barry K. Grossman, an international lawyer and political commentator focused on human rights related issues, to discuss the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.
“Unlike some of the other simmering conflicts involving Myanmar’s other ethnic minorities, it is absurd to describe the Rohingya crisis as a conflict,” he told Muslim Press. “Rather, it is a carefully orchestrated, man-made, state-sanctioned, humanitarian catastrophe driven by corruption, racism and Islamophobia.”
Here’s the full text of the interview:
Muslim Press: What’s your take on Washington’s stance and involvement in the plight of the Rohingya Muslims?
Barry Grossman: To understand the positions various nations are now taking in connection with the Rohingya crisis, it is necessary to understand Washington’s obsession with containing China, the related “Pivot-to-Asia” project championed by Hilary Clinton as President Obama’s Secretary of State, and the core tactical role served by the Obama Administration’s policy of cautiously engaging the Myanmar government was intended to serve in advancing America’s China policy.
By embracing Myanmar’s former military government and propping up Aung San Suu Kyi, initially as Myanmar’s leader in waiting, the US chose to place its own long term strategic interests over any and all concerns about ongoing atrocities and human rights violations committed by Myanmar’s security apparatus.
From the start of America’s new Myanmar policy, it became clear that Atlantic World nations would not even refer to the Rohingya by name and were more than willing to leave the task of expressing any feigned concerns about humanitarian issues to 3rd string diplomats speaking at events that nobody was particularly interested in.
The Atlantic World’s rush to remove all sanctions and do business with Myanmar while sweeping ongoing human rights violations under the carpet, was quite clearly seen as a “green light” by the Myanmar military to continue its long running program to marginalise and expel the nation’s Rohingya Muslim population in Rakhine State, leading to waves of anti-Muslim violence in 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Perhaps Washington took the view that absent some form of economic engagement, it was powerless to influence the former military controlled government on such issues and considered that what was then almost inevitable rise of Aung San Suu Kyi would, in due course, not only provide an easy channel for dragging Myanmar into the US led Atlantic World’s sphere of influence at China’s expense, but would also lead ultimately to some satisfactory resolution of the Rohingya issue.
If that was indeed Washington’s view, then President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the various ‘Think Tanks’ that formulate policy in the USA were clearly overly optimistic and miscalculated both in underestimating the military’s power and in overestimating Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to opposing crimes against humanity and delivering justice to all minorities in Myanmar.
The Obama Administration’s willingness to address with the Rohingya issue when it erupted in 2012 entirely through low key back-channels while both President Obama and Hillary Clinton travelled to Myanmar with great pomp and circumstance to officially, albeit prematurely, welcome Myanmar into the Atlantic World dominated, international system, was of course bad enough and, in my opinion, played no small part in emboldening both the military and the 969 Movement.
But when we now look at this latest Nakba inspired ethnic cleansing being carried out on a massive scale - complete with countless rapes, murders, and unmentionable atrocities all clearly calculated to stampede the Rohingya out of Myanmar - one can’t help but speculate that the USA and its allies are now using this humanitarian tragedy, not so much to deliver justice to the Rohingya, but rather to take aim at powerful remnants of the military Junta who not only continue to dominate both Myanmar’s security apparatus and legislative branch, but also tend to favour China’s interests over those of the United States.
That said, the statement recently made by the US Ambassador to the United Nations certainly was commendable in that she denounced this ethnic cleansing and at least seemed to call for an arms embargo against Myanmar as well as the prosecution of those responsible for these crimes.
Compared to President Obama’s relative silence on orchestrated, widespread violence against the Rohingya in 2012, 2015, and 2016, the willingness of this Trump appointee to take such a strong position when she has been so obtusely wrong about other regional issues was certainly surprising; but one can’t help but speculate that her concerns for the suffering of more than 1 million Rohingya who are literally being driven into the ground by Myanmar’s military and supporters of the 969 Movement, like those expressed by the UK and other Atlantic World nations, are at best superficial and at worst disingenuous.
It certainly has been clear since 2011 that America’s overriding priority in the region is removing Myanmar from China’s sphere of influence and ushering it into what the Atlantic World euphemistically likes to call “the New World Order” or, more recently, just “the International System.”
While President Trump may have fancied himself as a “policy maker” when running for election, it has become clear that accepting his role as a “policy taker” in matters of foreign policy is the price he has been willing to pay to remain in office as he continues to face a vicious backlash from both the media and the wider establishment. As a result, there is little hope that the Trump Administration will embrace a Myanmar policy which is significantly different than that advanced by the Obama administration.
MP: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been lionized by Western countries as a symbol of democracy, is now under severe criticism from the West. What’s your take on this?
Barry Grossman: Aung San Suu Kyi, like the Dalai Lama, is largely a creation of the NWO. It remains unclear where her true convictions lie but what is clear is that she has in the past addressed herself to Muslims in a manner which was intolerant and shockingly callous. It is also clear, however, that Aung San Suu Kyi feels she cannot say anything critical of the military or which might be interpreted as sympathetic to the Rohingya, without losing a substantial part of her grass roots support and perhaps even putting herself at risk of yet another period of “house arrest.”
That said, her tenuous grip on power seems to have resulted in her overlooking her own words in saying both 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.”
“Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades, embitters, and enrages.”
While, I am inclined to believe that the prospects for any kind of progress with the Rohingya cause are far better with her as the de facto leader of Myanmar’s government than they would be with a military led government, as Myanmar’s de facto leader, she must be held responsible for her role failing to stop these crimes against humanity.
MP: Do you think Western countries benefit from the conflict in Myanmar?
Barry Grossman: Frankly, whatever conflicts there are in Myanmar, I do not see this ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya as being any part of them.
Bearing in mind the military’s role in burning Rohingya villages and committing atrocities intended to cause a mass exodus of Rohingya, all in response to a few alleged attacks on police posts by the nascent Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) who even the Myanmar military admits are armed only with spears, knives, sticks, and a handful ancient pistols which may or may not have ammunition, it is ironic that the Myanmar authorities seem relatively unconcerned about an overwhelmingly Buddhist separatist movement in Rakhine State being advanced by the very well armed and well trained Arakan Army (AR), the operations of which are very often disingenuously blamed on ARSA whose stated aim is simply to protect the Rohingya and compel the Myanmar government to reinstate the citizenship improperly stripped from them by the Junta in 1983.
What the Rohingya are enduring is not a conflict; it is an ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. There are not two sides to this tragedy any more than there are two sides to a rape. There is only the side of state sanctioned criminals, on the one hand, and the position of the entirely powerless and unarmed Rohingya victims, on the other.
Unlike some of the other simmering conflicts involving Myanmar’s other ethnic minorities, it is absurd to describe the Rohingya crisis as a conflict. Rather, it is a carefully orchestrated, man-made, state-sanctioned, humanitarian catastrophe driven by corruption, racism and Islamophobia. Indeed, the similarities with what happened in Palestine in 1948 are so obvious, that I have come to see this operation carried out by Myanmar’s military with support from both the government and extremists indoctrinated by the 969 Movement, as the New Nakba.
As for your question, there are people who seem to feel that Atlantic World countries may benefit from this tragedy insofar as it can be ‘weaponised’ and used to strip the remnants of Myanmar’s former Junta of power and prop up the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi as part of the wider, US agenda to take Myanmar out of China’s sphere of influence by making it a committed, Atlantic World ally.
I suppose only time will tell whether this program succeeds and western nations “benefit” but I, for one, am not prepared to stand by quietly and let more than a million Rohingya be sacrificed as nations line up to take pragmatic, amoral positions calculated only to advance their own geopolitical interests in the nascent Cold War between the US led Atlantic World, on the one hand, and China, Russia and their allies on the other.
Indeed, as Muslims it is our duty, as an article of faith, to raise our voices in support of the Rohingya and to respectfully encourage our political leaders to take responsible positions rooted in Islam to ensure that everything possible is done to bring justice to the Rohingya, without aggravating their suffering by encouraging violent responses which can only see them further decimated by their enemies.
To be clear, what ever some people on the lunatic fringe may be saying, this is not a call to arms and the current crisis, as tragic as it is, cannot be used to justify actions by individuals or fringe groups which can only aggravate the situation.
MP: What role have the Chinese, Saudi and Indian government play in the conflict?
Barry Grossman: It was of course always expected that India’s Modi government would back the Myanmar government’s claims. However, the real bulwark against effective action by the UN Security Council has been the support for Myanmar expressed behind closed doors by Russia and the Chinese, who are of course both permanent Security Council members with Veto powers.
Bearing in mind the NeoCon conceived strategy for a Pax Americana or, if you prefer, US hegemony, as articulated in “The Project for a New American Century’s” now infamous 2001 document “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”, it is extremely disappointing although not surprising that both China and Russia have apparently opted to prioritise their own geopolitical agendas over any humanitarian concerns for Rohingya victims.
In any case, by expressing support for Myanmar’s official position, both China and Russia seem to be staking their strategy for keeping Myanmar out of the US sphere of influence on expectations that either Myanmar’s military will prevail over the civilian government nominally led by Aung San Suu Kyi or the Lady herself will remain unwilling to oppose the will of the great majority of Burmese who have been inculcated in a fanatical form of extreme Islamophobia and racism by both the 969 Movement and the military.
Sadly, this leaves little room for any consideration of the plight faced by more than a million Rohingya who have never known anything except misery, discrimination, oppression, and violence and certainly no prospect for decisive action by the international community calculated to force Myanmar to fully embrace the Kofi Anan Commission’s recommendations. Indeed, with the current split in the Security Council, about the only remaining tactic that can be used is unilateral sanctions imposed by Atlantic World nations. As long as the US continues to prioritise its policy of “containing” China, it seems extremely unlikely that the Atlantic World will take such steps and thereby leave Myanmar firmly within China’s sphere of influence, while at once pulling the proverbial carpet out from under Aung San Suu Kyi.
As for Saudi Arabia, while nations like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Iran have all been outspoken in their condemnation of Myanmar’s role in creating this humanitarian crisis, both Saudi Arabia and the Arab League have, in my opinion, been woefully silent by comparison.
MP: Some sources claim the root of the conflict is “Islamic terrorists” who targeted Burmese Buddhists. Could you comment on this?
Barry Grossman: Certainly, both the Myanmar government and supporters of the 969 Movement (MaBaTha) are making this claim, typically adding that in addition to targeting Rakhine Buddhist civilians and Police posts, it is these mysterious Rohingya elements - allegedly infiltrated by both ISIS and al Qaeda - rather than the military and Rakhine extremists, who have been burning Rohingya villages, while raping, terrorising, and murdering their own people in the most brutal ways imaginable, all as part of some kind of bizarre recruitment campaign, the effect of which, the Myanmar government claims, has been to drive the Rohingya out of the country in numbers now estimated to be around 500,000, through no fault of the military.
These claims have also been echoed by media outlets typically citing reports from the International Crisis Group and in social media circles, typically by individuals taking a reactionary position motivated by racist, sectarian, or nationalistic inclinations.
While the International Crisis Group did release what now seems to have been an overstated report in 2016 alleging that ARSA - which is also known as Harakah al-Yaqin - is a well organised, well trained and apparently well-funded group with connections in Saudi Arabia, as the current crisis unfolded, the ICG has since “walked back” these claims by stating that:
"There is no evidence that ARSA’s goals or members support a transnational jihadist agenda, despite indications that the group may have received some training from members of such outfits. That will not stop those who resent all Muslim groups and grievances from characterising it as such”, noting in a further report that “[i]t is . . . vital to treat with utmost caution claims that the current crisis is being fuelled by militants with transnational jihadist aims. Rohingya communities have not typically been radicalised in this fashion and there are no indications that ARSA has been pursuing goals congruent with those of global jihadist outfits."
The ICG has further stated that the military response to ARSA first operation against border police in October 2016, led to “… [a] months-long, heavy-handed military response …, including a new deployment of Myanmar army troops. As a result, some 87,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh and, in February 2017, a UN investigation concluded that there had been grave and widespread abuses by the military that “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity."
In any case, quite apart from the ICG’s own back-peddling after the both the Myanmar government and elements in the global media grossly overstated the its original position by claiming that ARSA was infiltrated and supported by ISIS and al Qaeda, there are a number of obvious problems with such claims.
First, ARSA if very poorly armed. Indeed, it would almost be correct to say that they are not really armed at all. In any case, even the head of Myanmar’s military noted that in carrying out “attacks” on police posts, they were armed only with “knives, sticks, spears, and a few old pistols”, while photos released of weapons seized from the dozens of ARSA cadre killed by the military show they are also armed with slingshots, darts, swords, and a few very low grade IEDs. This is hardly indicative of a “Jihadist insurgency” armed, trained, and supported by ISIS or al Qaeda.
Second, claims that ARSA is engaged in some kind of ISIS and/or al Qaeda back Jihad are squarely contradicted by its own public statements which not only deny any such connections or support but also make it clear that ARSA see itself as defending the Rohingya against continuous state sanctioned violence and agitating to compel Myanmar to reinstate Rohingya citizenship, an aim which also happens to constitute the core recommendation made by the Kofi Anan Commission. If ARSA has indeed been infiltrated by ISIS and/or al Qaeda as alleged, then this would have to be the very first time any such group has declined to take responsibility for any and all acts of violence attributed to it by their opposition.
Third, as was the case with the military response to the first ARSA operation in 2016 which led the UN to find that “there had been grave and widespread abuses by the military that ‘very likely’ amounted to crimes against humanity," the Myanmar military’s actions in the past 5 weeks have led to thousands of deaths and roughly half a million Rohingya being driven out of Myanmar, none of which can be in anyway explained or justified as a response to alleged ARSA attacks on police posts in August by small bands of very poorly resourced and all but untrained cadre armed with spears, knives, slingshots, darts, some very low grade IEDs, and a few ancient pistols.
Fourth, the fact that Myanmar is still refusing entry to international observers raises serious questions about the regimes bona fides in blaming this massive humanitarian tragedy on the Rohingya themselves.
Fifth, there is clear evidence of Rakhine Hindus, dressed up as Muslims, being used by forces hostile to the Rohingya to burn Rohingya homes, with photos taken of at least one such staged event circulated in Tweets by the government’s Minister of Information as a basis for claiming that the Rohingya were burning their own homes and villages.
Sixth, whatever ARSA may in fact be, more than 1 million powerless Rohingya cannot be held responsible for the actions of less than 500 poorly armed and untrained cadre, and their alleged attacks on police posts certainly cannot be invoked as an excuse for the atrocities that have been committed in carrying out this Nakba-like ethnic cleansing.
Indeed, if the regime was even remotely genuine in claims that it was under attack by “Muslim terrorists”, then it s first order of business should have been to secure the area by setting up movement controls, military posts, and protecting all residents including the Rohingya from the crimes allegedly carried out by this band of some 500 destitute souls armed scarcely better than cavemen.
Barry K. Grossman is an international lawyer and political commentator focused on human rights related issues. He has been extensively published on various legal subjects and is a frequent commentator on political affairs. He is often interviewed by Press TV and other media outlets. He received a B.Comm. from the University of Calgary in 1984 and his LLB from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 1987. After working as a litigator at a major commercial law firm in Toronto, he moved to Australia to teach at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Law in 1988. He later worked for several years as a litigation consultant to the national Australian firm of Freehill, Hollingdale & Page before later taking up a full time lectureship at Monash University’s Faculty of Law. He has resided in Indonesia since 1999.