Rohingya crisis: a call to arms for Islamic fundamentalism?
Given the rising militancy and a serious security threat for regional stability, there are some legitimate security concerns as we dig into the ongoing Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. But the intelligence and security officials in New Delhi and Dhaka will have to delve deeper into the ideological dynamics of a probable radicalization of the Rohingyas.
The common preceptors in India — human rights activists, journalists as well as the Islamic clergy — barely engage with the Rohingya crisis from a deeper ideological point of view. Often, they also fail to debate how the Rohingya issue can be exploited by radical Islamist outfits, many sponsored and endorsed by the Pakistani military establishment. Given this, it is imperative to demystify the Rohingya issue from this theoretical angle.
At least in theory, there is a possibility that the Rohingyas can be used as a ‘humane tool’ to radicalize a section of Indian Muslims riding on a clutch of ‘Muslim victimhood’. But regrettably, they are living in complete denial of the radicalization aspect of this issue.
A call to arms
An in-house jihadist magazine, al-Qalam has published an article aptly described as the first ‘clarion call’ by a South Asian terror outfit—Jaish-E-Muhammad – for violent jihad in Myanmar in retaliation against the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar. The extremist Islamist outfit’s house magazine—al-Qalam—which is published in Urdu in print and online is freely available. Jihadi literature like this has considerably helped in radicalizing a sizeable number of naive Urdu readers particularly in Pakistan, Kashmir and even some parts of the Urdu-speaking states in India.
In its latest edition, a weekly magazine, which claims to be the torch-bearer of Islamic journalism, carries an article penned by Maulana Masood Azhar, the emir of the Pakistani terror group, Jaish-E-Muhammad. At the very outset, Azhar threatens the ‘oppressive’ Myanmar government to prepare for “the thudding sound of the footsteps of its conquerors”. He states that “the country will be soon deprived of peace and tranquility”.
A cursory look at the key contents reveals the potential for radicalization embedded in this piece. It reads: “The global Muslim community (ummah) is feeling the pain of the Muslim nation…It is because of the sacrifices of the Myanmar Muslims that the ummah is waking up and we are seeing this new awakening among them…All of us must do whatever we can for the Myanmar Muslims. Just say your prayers, and get up to help them. You don’t need to show off what you are doing: just do it, and never stop.” The full Urdu article can be accessed online.
This is the first time that an extremist Pakistani jihadi ideologue has raised a war-cry in Myanmar. Significantly, this call for jihad has come in a weekly column in al-Qalam regularly penned by Maulana Masood Azhar under his pen-name ‘Sa’adi’. In this article headlined as “Betab Burma” (Distressed Burma), the article appeals Muslims of the subcontinent “to do something, and do it urgently”. Given the growing anguish among the country’s Muslim citizens against the Myanmar’s crackdown on the Rohingyas, the call for jihad by the Jaish-E-Muhammad and their ilk can further fan the flames of radicalization in India. The Jaish-E-Muhammad has sown the seeds for such religious strife.
Many other extremist Islamist outfits are taking advantage of the Rohingya crisis in a bid to follow the ‘fatwa’ issued by Azhar. Even Bangladesh fears that the Rohingya issue could be exploited by terror outfits in the country to recruit more cadres to their fold.
Bangladeshi officials are concerned that some of the homegrown jihadi groups would recruit students from the thousands of Islamic seminaries in the country to “fight for the rights of the Rohingya”.
For instance, the Aqa Mul Mujahideen, an extremist off shoot of the Rohingyas has originated from the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami-Arakan (HUJI-A), is believed to have close ties with both the Jaish-E-Muhammad and the Jama’t ud Dawah. There are reports of Rohingyas fighting alongside Pakistani extremists in Kashmir. One of their top leaders, Chotta Burmi, was killed in Kashmir along with Jaish-E-Muhammad commander Adil Pathan last year. Earlier Burmi allegedly shared the dais with Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan according to a media report.
Scores of Islam-based social media groups are purportedly sharing pictures of persecution against the Rohingyas and fanning fear among the Indian Muslims. There is some evidence that the Rohingyas are predominantly influenced by the Wahhabi-Salafism, considered as a puritanical and violent strain in Islam. Surprisingly, there has been no theological refutation of these jihadi underpinnings. It is beyond doubt that it is humane to provide distressed refugees escaping a genocide with shelter, food and clothes.
The author is a scholar of classical Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication studies. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org