Similitude

For all its overtures in respect to the Myanmar crisis, your celebrated Leader of the Ummah — the pious nation of legend — has much in common with that indicted State.

In the 1980s and 1990s, its military rulers also brutalised its citizens, to international acclaim. Full page adverts would often be placed in the broadsheets by Human Rights organisations in respect of both countries, while activists would protest arms sales to their ruthless regimes. Their treatment of particular ethnic minorities came in for particular censure, with worldwide solidarity movements established to campaign on their behalf.

Over the past decade, like Myanmar, it too has tried its best to send the army back to the barracks and institute constitutional reforms to revert to civilian rule. In this, the Leader of the Ummah has made more progress than Myanmar, where the civilian government remains subservient to military power. Both countries have popular and long-serving leaders with an authoritarian streak, who were once Political Prisoners, barred from office by constitutional rules drafted precisely for that purpose.

Again like Myanmar, it too has a large ethnic constituent seeking greater autonomy, amongst whom are separatist militants engaged in open armed conflict with the State. Luckily, the Leader of the Ummah is fairly fortunate in having just one major ethnic conflict; Myanmar, by contrast, has numerous separatist insurgencies in several diverse states. In both countries, separatist militants frequently target police and military posts. It too calls them terrorists.

The Leader of the Ummah has also been accused of targeting civilians in its battle with the separatists, a charge which it too vehemently denies. It too prevents journalists and aid workers from reporting from areas of conflict, and frequently accuses those that do of supporting terrorism.

And despite its condemnation of others, it too has at times closed its border to refugees fleeing violence in neighbouring States on the rationale that it could not differentiate between genuine refugees and militants.

Like Myanmar, it too commissioned an unpopular peace process with separatist rebels which it eventually abandoned, leading to worse conflict than ever before. Its citizens in the main remain unmoved by the plight of this large ethnic minority, and Muslim Nationalists in the country advocate the use of merciless violence against them and their supporters. Like the civilian government of Myanmar, its leaders have refused to condemn allegations of war crimes, stating instead that the claims are misinformation and Western propaganda.

It too sees itself a victim of imperialist conspiracies. It too says the armed insurgents are financed and supported by foreign powers, who are working hard to divide the state for their own strategic gains. And its great leader also has a vast contingent of overseas admirers who celebrate his leadership, come what may, championing him as the voice of the voiceless and Leader of the Ummah, irregardless of what his detractors say.

Of course there are clear differences between the two countries: it is not a parallel universe. But the similarities ought to be a salutary reminder to those who advocate saviour politics that the very traits they celebrate in one and condemn in the other, are in fact present in both. It may just be that the Leader of the Ummah has better reputation management, and is better at projecting its self-image out to the world. But read their political landscape, as we read the landscape of the enemy and, well, the Leader of the Ummah just seems as compromised and complex as every other nation on earth.

Old Blighty

It would be wise to study Burmese history, particularly the period of British Colonial rule and World War II, rather than circulating articles about Rohingya fighting for the British during World War II and invoking it as a special relationship.

Myanmar’s 70 year-long civil war between its various ethnic groups and the government stems in large part from British policies prior to independence.

British policies encouraging Indian migration into the Arakan region and later arming the Muslims to create a buffer zone against the invading Japanese army (or rather the native groups allied with them and others) sowed seeds of resentment that has lasted decades.

Against this background, what can British intervention achieve, other than further strengthen local suspicions that the Muslims are a proxy in an imperial game of divide and conquer, exasperating decades-old tensions?

Myanmar’s political landscape is of course vastly more complex than the legacy of British policies. There were periods when the Rohingya enjoyed stability and representation in government. But the nationalist mythology fostered by the military during its long and brutal rule included the sentiment that the Burmese people were victims of British imperialism, and those that allied with the British were aliens and traitors.

Hence the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army is viewed not as a liberation front, defending its people against government brutality, but as a well-armed separatist group funded and supported by foreign powers.

Unfortunately in the age of the internet when unverified information, propaganda and lies are so prevalent (and high speed Internet access is now commonplace in Myanmar), these old legends are given new urgency and force, resulting in an upsurge in violence and communal tensions.

Sadly Myanmar’s 70 year long civil war shows no sign of abating, as it rages on in several states, with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

It is a tragedy of epic proportions that needs a solution, but I am not sure that invoking myths of a special relationship with the British will help, whatever it’s post-Brexit Empire 2.0 pretensions.

Allahu Akbar

Science, more than religion, reveals the true wonderment of the Creator.

Reading about a universe 14 billion years old filled with 200 billion galaxies, containing billions of stars around which planets capable of sustaining life swim — and the intricacies of the life forms found there — in all of this the real meaning of “Allahu Akbar” hits home.

Far more potent than popular religion.

Foster carers

We started the process to become foster carers a few years ago. We attended the initial intensive mandatory training sessions, staying the course despite intrusive questioning and the air of suspicion that seemed to hang over us because of our religious beliefs.

However it became clear as we began the assessment process that there was no way we could actually afford to be foster carers; as this article says, there was no pay for this 24/7 full-time job, just a rather meagre childcare allowance. We realised shortly afterwards that foster caring, at that stage, was not for us. There may be immense rewards in looking after children in great need, but it is no easy life.

Foster carers deserve immense respect for the work they do, not the perpetual animosity of society and the state. 

Jolt

I thought I was reading an evangelical website focussed on the Christian faith, until I saw the comments left by readers, which were even more maniacal, unbalanced and hateful than even the standard rabid responses to articles in the Daily Mail.

The rush to judgement, unwillingness to verify facts, hostility to the other, resistance to forgive, fervour to attack and pervasive hubris, in which conceit and self-righteousness trumps all — this all came as a shock to me, having clearly spent too much time with Methodists and Anglicans who believe in creating a better world for all.

Spinning yarn

I see that reporting what another newspaper wrote is now considered journalism. I’ve read virtually identical reports in every major news outlet across the political spectrum, which all state the one known fact so far: that The Times newspaper published a story. The veracity of the story is not for discussion, as clearly everyone’s news desk is on holiday, eeking out the last days of summer.

Muslim foster carers

I am very dubious about stories concerning Muslim foster carers in the press, allegedly depriving a five year-old Christian girl of her cultural heritage, leaving her distraught and afraid.

Prospective foster parents are heavily vetted before they are allowed to foster, as anyone who has gone through the process can attest. And in my experience, people with religious beliefs are especially scrutinised and challenged for their views on a range of thought-to-be difficult topics.

Given the emphasis on putting the needs of the child first and being mindful of cultural sensitivities in the training and assessment process, I find it extremely hard to believe that any of the claims are in fact true.

Either way, stories of this kind are hardly going to encourage Muslim families to foster, at a time when there is a great need for them to do so. Muslim children are already widely placed with non-Muslim carers, because there are too few Muslim foster placements. Indeed, I know of several Evangelical households personally, fostering children of all backgrounds, raised in a practising Christian milieu. That, of course, is a non-story, which would never make the front page of a national newspaper.

But maybe that will change because of reporting like this, when the prospect of being vilified for dressing differently or speaking a second language discourages Muslim parents from playing their part in caring for other people’s children. A job, by the way, you don’t do for the money, given the paltry allowances foster carers receive.

Maybe when there is an abject shortage of foster carers and a child’s life is put at risk because there was nobody to look after them… maybe then it will feature on the homepage of a national newspaper again. But I’d imagine it would be couched in terms like these: “National shortage of foster carers because Muslims refuse to integrate and play part in civic life of nation”.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Problematising the Muslim community is clearly the nation’s favourite pastime on a news-quiet Bank Holiday weekend, when newspaper sales are flagging. If this was about genuine concern about the welfare of the child, the article would have been broadened out to discuss the case of all children in foster placements whose cultural or religious background differs from that of their carers — but that was not the case. This was pure scaremongering for political gain.