Listen to the Children

Muhammed sits sketching a stick man and then he picks up a green pencil crayon, colouring in the man he has drawn. No one has bothered to ask these children about what they witnessed during last year’s massacre of the Rohingya in Burma. No one seems to care what children have to say.

Ten or so children sit in a bamboo hut, in what is now a make-shift Rohingya village at the end of a dusty road. The village is nothing but a collection of huts and tents put up in sand. This is not where these children are originally from, they were forced here after they were chased to the water amid sword, spear and gun attacks while their homes in the Kyauk Phyu village were burnt down last year.

The sun beats down; the children surround us, wanting to see the foreigners. The American doctor, (I won’t reveal her name for her protection) works with the Rohingya and pays special attention to these children. She seems like the only one that wants to hear what they have to say.

They are all drawing away, boys and girls. Then they hold up their drawings and share their stories with the rest of the class. Some children look-in from outside, through the cracks in the bamboo and the plastic sheeting that covers the outside, peering in to see something and hear something that no-doubt they have heard before. But now, it is being shared in a manner that it has not been shared previously.

Abdul is mute. This is his first time drawing and he is eleven. His drawings are detailed. They show death, houses burning, soldiers, monks and local Rakhine carrying weapons. All the drawings are similar; they all show things that children should not be subjected to.

The children’s accounts are vivid and graphic. They all say they saw people hacked into pieces. In one drawing Hussain draws a stick man, with his heads, arms and legs separated, he says he saw someone chopped to pieces. There are bodies in red water.

“I saw dead people in the water, I saw Rakhine stab them whilst they were trying to swim.”

That’s why the colour of the water is red.

All of the children are still scared, they have been dispelled with deadly force out of their village, and their homes burnt to the ground, all of them told me that they suffer from nightmares. Even in their sleep they cannot escape the horror of what took place. Of how the military, monks and civilians slaughtered Rohingya and drove them out, now forced to live in IDP camps, cut off from the rest of the world. They are not allowed to leave the area. The Rakhine on the other hand have no such restrictions.

He doesn’t smile. Sharp face and defined features, his eyes are striking, they are painful to look into, wise beyond their years and have seen things that no human being should have to see. He explains how they ran from the sword wielding Monks.

“A boat was set on fire. People jumped into the river and tried swimming. The Rakhine came on boats and stabbed people with their spears as they tried swimming away.”

There was one disturbing story that a number of the children drew and explained to me. A mentally ill child, was killed, he was beheaded.

“Did you see it with your own eyes?” I ask. “Yes,” they all reply.

The picture that emerges after speaking to the children is that themilitary, the police, the monks and Rakhines were involved in the massacre last year. The doctor tells me that these children are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress disorder. One child has since saw a Rakhine man and passed out.

In one village, the water buffalos were late coming back. Whilst the children were playing, someone shouted, “they’re coming!” the children began to run and scream, they thought the mobs were returning to finish them off.

“These kids need a child psychiatrist,” the doctor tells me. “I’m doing what I can.”

The children have coloured in the monks orange, green for the military and police, and just black for the Rakhine mobs.

“The Rakhine and the mobs came first, then when some of our family defended themselves and fought back the army came in and shot them,” says Ramina.

She’s 13-years-old and acts like a woman twice her age. She is clearly the one that the children look up to, mature, controlled and has a sense of authority about her.

Abdul draws a bike amongst the death and destruction, he points to himself to indicate it belonged to him, and then rolls his hands forward symbolising the cycling of the feet. “Where is your bike now?” He waves his hand away, and pushes his arms back and forth like he is running; he had to leave it behind, a sullen sadness in his eyes.

The doctor lets the children take one pencil crayon each, their faces light up, smiles beaming, it is the first gift they have received in a while.Their childhood has been interrupted, simply because they are Rohingya. As soon as they were conceived they were destined to be persecuted by this state that professes to be moving towards democracy whilst actively engaging in the brutality and cleansing of the Rohingya.

The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens of Burma and have no rights. I suppose this fact is a mere inconvenience to World leaders and Corporation CEO’s as they compete for Burma’s natural resources. Human rights abuses are not spoken about when you have the potential to sign multi-million dollar deals.

The world has remained silent at the cycle of violence. Rohingya is not just a word, they are real people, with feelings; they are children who want to draw pictures; they are people who just want to be able to live; they are the Abduls and Ramina’s just like the Billys and Janes who just want to be able to ride their bikes.

You are free to share (copy, distribute, transmit), remix (adapt) and make commercial use of this article. Please just credit to Assed Baig, include link to and consider supporting @rj_fund a crowd funded project that made this report possible.

Massacre in Meiktila: That was my friend

A burnt property in Meiktila following attacks on Muslims,March 2013. photo by Hein Aung

A burnt property in Meiktila following attacks on Muslims,March 2013.
photo by Hein Aung

Following recent attacks in central Myanmar against Muslims, the displaced have been fleeing to the central city of Mandalay. Buildings were burnt down and the ‘official’ death toll stood at 32, as angry mobs roamed the streets. The reality of events is very different from what we have heard on our TV screens. Burmese state media is not the most reliable of sources and very few independent or Western journalists have reported directly from the ground.

The displaced are scattered across the city, accommodated by fellow Muslims and are still very scared to return to their homes in Meiktila, a hundred miles away.

I traversed through side streets to the site of one building housing the displaced. Young men stood guard, looking wary and suspect. After a long discussion we were allowed in to interview some of the refugees, they asked for their faces to be blurred out on camera. The metal gates to the building were unlocked and we were allowed in.

Hafiz, a seventeen-year-old student, had been in school at the time when the violence began. His teacher told him to run,

“we ran, we saw the younger children falling over, the older kids had to help them,” he said, recalling his account. “We hid, and then moved from place to place until we were rescued and brought here. I’m not sure where some of my other friends are.”

He looked around to his classmates in the small open space opposite a mosque in the mainly Muslim district of Mandalay. I showed him some pictures from a local journalist; two of them were of dead teenagers. He put his hand up to the camera touching the screen,

“that’s my friend,” he said.

We showed him another and he struggles to speak

“and this one, those are Osama and Karimullah,”

he paused; his friends surrounded the camera and inspected the pictures of bodies on the ground, in unnatural poses.

Hafiz’s friend. Murdered in Meiktila, March 2013. Photo by Hein Aung

One body, Osama’s, has a massive gash to the back of the neck, which looks like it was caused by a machete. The other boy had a massive laceration in a similar place, both bodies had been there for three days before a local journalist, Hein Aung, took the pictures. They are too graphic to print. The class mates consoled each other, two friends lost. The pictures confirm their fears, but there are still friends unaccounted for, but we have no more pictures that can be identified, the rest are of burnt corpses. Not that that was a comfort to these young men, to anyone. Nearby, one hundred and five year old Kairunbi, laid on the floor, exhausted. Her seventy-one year-old daughter watched over her.

“We had to use a stretcher to get her here,” she told me. “We will go back when it is safe to do so,” she added. “We could be here for a while.”

Muslims have long been an oppressed minority in Myanmar. Last year’s massacre of the Rohingya Muslims caused outrage in the Muslim world but the Western media gave it little attention. The Rohingya are not recognised as Burmese citizens. The darling of the West Aung San Suukyi, a former political prisoner, democracy advocate, and current member of the Burmese Parliament, remained silent when asked about the Rohingya, an action further cementing their fate, as the leader of democracy in Burma refrained to speak out for their freedom.

This time, the Muslims are Burmese citizens, not Rohingya, but this did not stop them from being attacked. Every person interviewed said that the police stood by and did nothing whilst they were being attacked. Many here believe that this was pre-planned and that the official story, that it began with a dispute in a gold shop, is just a cover for violence against Muslims. The extremist Buddhist monk, Wirathu, had only given one of his sermons ten days before the violence. His group, 969, is infamous for their extreme views and protests against Muslims who they call ‘invaders’ and ‘Kalar’ – a racist term used to describe Muslims. He is known in the country for his anti-Muslim stance, he has even published a book called ‘From the jaws of a wolf”, which tells a story of a Buddhist woman married to an abusive Muslim man.

We continued throughout Mandalay, interviewing person after person displaced by the riots. But this violence was different from that in the Arakan state last year, although the anti-Muslim sentiment was the same. This time, local Buddhists and student groups from nearby Mandalay city launched a rescue operation saving hundreds of lives. The local Buddhists from Mandalay city, who have lived side by side with Muslims for centuries, were not prepared to have their neighbours slaughtered.

Myint Myint, who was saved by a Buddhist monk, said she blames the Buddhists in Meiktila, not the ones in Mandalay. Her nephew, Farooq, aged just fourteen, saw people beaten to death and then burnt. His voice crackled recalling the events, he and others hid in some houses and looked on as the slaughter took place. None of the above interviewed wanted their face on camera; they fear reprisals from extremist Buddhists if they are found out to have spoken to a foreign journalist.

Khin Htay Yee, was not afraid, though. She broke down in tears as she recalled how her Buddhist factory manager sheltered them in the factory as the slaughter took place outside. The mob outside threatened the manager that if he did not let the women out that they would break in and rape every last woman. She managed to make a phone call to Mandalay where some Buddhist monks had already left to rescue Muslims from the onslaught of the enraged mob.

The violence took place over three days and only stopped once the army came in and restored order to the streets. The majority of the displaced are still being kept in a sports stadium in Meiktila, guarded by the military.

Muslims in Burma are now afraid that the violence will spread even further and there is even a strong indication, due to protests, leaflets and military movement that a third massacre against the Rohingya Muslims in Arakan is planned for the coming days. The language of propaganda is reminiscent of that in the Balkans before the Bosnian genocide, Muslims are accused of invading, of waging jihad, of acts of violence against Buddhists, but many here believe that the military is behind the increase in violence, something Human Rights Watch pointed out in their report on the violence in Arakan last year accusing the military of complicity in the massacre. The Burmese military junta ruled Burma until recent political reforms, which has opened up the country somewhat to the West.

A Muslim in Yangon told me

“the military want to assert their power, and want to prove they are the ones that can restore order, they are using us to prove their point.”

If this is the case, then we will see more deaths in the coming weeks.

You are free to share (copy, distribute, transmit), remix (adapt) and make commercial use of this article. Please just credit to Assed Baig, include link to and consider supporting @rj_fund a crowd funded project that made this report possible.

Modern Warfare Map Removed After Muslims Complain

Over the last few days I have been receiving messages about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  Apparently the game shows a hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammed) on the picture frame in the bathroom. This features in the multiplayer maps, Favela. 


The Arabic script said “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty”.  Muslims deem it offensive to have religious text in a bathroom.   The paintings having been brought to Activision and Infinity Ward’s attention, the map has been removed until it can be edited.


Muslim gamers complained and spread the news via social media. 


An Activision representative told the gaming website Kotaku:
We apologize to anyone who found this image offensive. Please be assured we were unaware of this issue and that there was no intent to offend. We are working as quickly as possible to remove this image and any other similar ones we may find from our various game libraries.

We are urgently working to release a Title Update to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 3. We are also working to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 2 through a separate Title Update. Until the TU is ready, we have removed the Favella multiplayer map from online rotation.

Activision and our development studios are respectful of diverse cultures and religious beliefs, and sensitive to concerns raised by its loyal game players. We thank our fans for bringing this to our attention.

Islamic film protests: a fundamental rift between the Muslim world and the West

A debate I was involved in on the Voice of Russia.

This studio discussion is on the protests that have spread across the Muslim world over a US made video insulting the prophet Muhammad.

Those protests have now been going on for 10 days. The first began in Cairo, then the unrest spread to Libya. That cost the US ambassador Christopher Stevens his life.

Protests engulfed Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia.

More violent scenes have been reported in Pakistan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Exacerbating the anger is the publication in a French satirical magazine of cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad.

So are we witnessing a fundamental rift between the West and its values, which says free speech is paramount, and the Islamic world which says insults against religion should not be tolerated?

VOR’s Daniel Cinna discusses this with Charlie Wolf, American broadcaster who blogs for the Daily Mail; Rodney Shakespeare, co-founder of the Global Justice Movement; Assed Baig, a freelance journalist and film maker; Dr Robert Barnidge, Professor of Law at the University of Reading.

Understanding Muslim Anger

USA flag
Demonstrations have spread around the world after an anti-Islam video, made by someone named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, insulting the most revered figure of the Muslim world, the Prophet Muhammed was posted on youtube.

Why is it that this short video, apparently the work of one insignificant individual, can instigate such outrage?  While the filmmaker and his ilk may be a global minority, for Muslims, as well as for much of the rest of the world, they epitomise the ignorance, imperialism and arrogance of the West in its dealings with the Muslim world.

The origins of the film itself are very dubious, its production values are such, that it looks like it was made in a basement.   The insults to Islam or the Prophet Muhammed are obviously dubbed over the original soundtrack.   The film seems to have intended provocation based on some aspect of an apocalyptic ideology.

Today, as in the past, Muslims remain part of a global brotherhood that is unlike anything that exists in the West. This ‘Ummah’, the wider Muslim community, transcends political borders, artificial boundaries and international time zones.  Yet, what the West apparently finds so hard to understand is that Muslims continue to have a sense of the sacred along with a respect for the concept of community as well as brother and sisterhood.  For these Muslims the Prophet Muhammed is sacred.

As a result of the outrage caused by this video it is now possible to see even the simplest, poorest and non-political Muslim take to the streets, as they would rather see their families shamed by such public behaviour than have their religion, which they continue to hold sacred, insulted.  Even the corrupt, pro-Western, Muslim leaders recognise this, accepting that they have to speak out against any attacks on the sanctity of their religion, as their own seat of power would be in grave danger if they did not. It appears that the American establishment has been caught off guard, as is evident by its slow reaction to label the video ‘disgusting’ and ‘reprehensible’.

Middle-class Muslims and non-Muslims alike talk of how Muslims should rise above the prejudice.  It is not that simple since most Muslims do not come from the privileged positions necessary for such a stance. One look at the literacy rates for Afghanistan, as well as the rates at which literacy levels have fallen in Iraq since the US invasion, shows that Western intervention results in people having to choose between eating and sending their children to school.  The mass education that we receive in the West is not widely available to others around the world, while, in the West we are not usually confronted by an occupational force of foreign troops every time we leave our homes or the daily psychological trauma of imminent death.

While American and British troops continue fighting a war in Afghanistan, which, along with the war in Iraq and the occupation of Palestine, encourages a feeling of helplessness across the Islamic world, many Muslims ask, ‘how can we help each other and unite the Ummah?’  These are the Muslims who feel they are being globally humiliated by the policies of western governments and, with the aid of 24-hour ‘impartial’ news, their humiliation is beamed un-sanitised into homes around the world 24/7, for all to see and none to escape.

Now with Muslim lands not to mention hearts and minds being occupied, along with constant attacks in the press, a perceived loss of Islamic self identity has taken hold. Is it any surprise that Muslims who see the central figure of their religion being insulted and mocked should feel dehumanised even further?

Many of these Muslims feel that they have no option but to take to the streets in order to express their anger and frustration.  They are fighting for what they feel is right, for what they believe in and are taking it out on any symbol of Western imperialism – embassies being the primary targets.

These are the same Muslims who felt helpless when images of prisoner abuse emerged from the void of Abu Ghuraib.  They are the ones who felt helpless when half a million people, or more, were killed in Iraq with millions more displaced.  Helpless as Israel bombed Lebanon and Gaza and their Arab leaders belly danced around the West. Their sense of helplessness compounded as drone attacks plague Pakistan and the international blight of Guantanamo stays open for business.  Helpless as the infamous Danish cartoons printed in the name of freedom of expression spread around the world like a virus. Helpless in the face of Kashmir’s continued occupation.   Helpless as Bosnian women, violated and brutalised in rape camps, are denied an international forum to voice their anguish.   Helpless as a flattened Grozny struggles to its feet. Helpless as America carries out drone attacks, breaching the national sovereignty of independent countries with impunity.  Helpless as Switzerland, home to 400,000 Muslims, bans the building of minarets.  Helpless as France bans the hijab from schools.  These are the Muslims who feel helpless in every way imaginable.  Is it any wonder that there is so much anger and frustration across the Islamic world? Is it wrong for humiliated and insulted Muslims to react so passionately? As the most revered figure of their religion is insulted and their lands are stolen. Or should we bring up the United States anti-terrorism,interrogation techniques such as water boarding or the many other forms of state sanctioned torture for good measure?

With the media’s shouts of ‘revolution’ still ringing in our ears when Muslims recently demonstrated against their own oppressive governments, the media now shouts something different as these same Muslims protest.  When these Muslims react the media cries ‘barbaric’ and ‘savage’;  Eurocentric and orientalist terms that were strangely absent from public discourse during America’s ‘shock and awe’ campaign in Iraq.

Imperialistic wars have seen the Muslim lands divided as arbitrary lines were drawn on maps by the Western powers with no consideration for the local people, while their religious institutions were dismantled and their cultures destroyed.  Tyrannical leaders were then imposed on the population with an American or Western seal of approval.  History has continually demonstrated that there is only one objective of imperialism, the exploitation of the lands natural resources which is usually facilitated by the facade of stability, democracy and freedom.

The humiliation of the contemporary Muslim world, as some see it, has taken place, largely in the last century. What the imperialistic governments in the West must realise is that occupying countries and killing civilians is one thing, but to attack the religion, the sacred text and the Prophet, will bring out the masses onto the streets to fight. It will ignite the Islamic concept of ‘ghayra’, the idea that Muslims love something so much that they are willing to fight and die for it.

It remains the arrogance of the West, where there is nothing really sacred anymore, to demand that everyone in the world abandon their religious beliefs in the name of civilisation and progress.  While it has long been ‘funny’ to joke and mock the Christian prophet and disrespect the holy texts of Christianity, this idea is completely foreign and abhorrent to Muslims. Mocking what is held sacred has not been legitimised and integrated into the culture of the Islamic world.

This video has not come out of nowhere; it is a manifestation of the environment created by the so-called ‘war on terror’. The Islamaphobia used by Western leaders to justify their wars has sparked the flames of this fire. That is why Muslims across the world will find it hard to differentiate between one crazy filmmaker and the American government as a whole. This film is a product of the environment created by America, and maybe the fire, the venom, and intolerance has become uncontrollable.