Don’t be afraid of open debate

Don’t be afraid of open debate

Read all in AZMI SHAROM‘s original posting in the Star Newspaper.

Ideas are meant to be put through the crucible of debate; otherwise,

  • they will never develop
  • and never change.

Freedom, ultimately, is about the ability to make choices. It boils down to what is basically the tyranny of thought: we disagree with these ideas in a book and we will jolly well do all in our power to prevent you from reading about them by strict censor.

It is their right to hold such an opinion, but to deny citizens the freedom to explore other opinions is not only authoritarian; it is also an insult to the intelligence of the people.

Ideas are meant to be put through the crucible of debate; otherwise, they will never develop and never change. And the stagnation of ideas will ultimately mean the stagnation of human progress. This is why the banning of books is so destructive.

Regardless of what these books may contain, no matter how vile one feels their contents are, the only way to oppose it is by intelligent debate.

If an idea is bad, destroy it intellectually, or risk seeing it grow silently underground. And if you can’t destroy it intellectually, then perhaps it is time to re-examine your own world-view.

At the end of the day, banning books is stealing from us the right to make informed choices. Informed choices are also what elections are about.

Without the necessary information on all the political parties and candidates being made available to the voters, without full disclosure of the incumbent government’s record being done, elections become farcical.

Thank heavens for the Internet. It has given an avenue for Net-linked citizens to find out about events and ideas that may not be available in the more traditional media.

However, those who do not have access to cyberspace are still beholden to the usual sources of information. And these sources are in turn beholden to the incumbent government through restrictive laws (coincidentally the same laws that are used to ban books).

We are a democracy, true enough, but we are an infantile democracy. And the primary reason for this puerile state of affairs is mainly the lack of truly open debate in politics.

This, coupled with general cynicism about issues such as gerrymandering, has led to many citizens being totally disdainful of the entire election process. Personally, I think this is a defeatist view and I shall be voting in this election if I am able.

Dr Azmi Sharom is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely his own.


Future leaders of Burma should earn our trust

 Future leaders of Burma

should earn our trust

How could we trust future opposition leaders if they even refuse to listen or read the atrocities unfairly committed on the Burmese Muslim Minorities.

I am not blamming them or any other Burmans or Monks or Journalists but at least they should listen to us, and to give us promise to treat equally as the fellow Burmese citizens.

They need to convince us that they will practice secular government and all the decisions to choose, appoint, promote, select, transfer, award scholarships etc  would be strictly bases on meritocracy.

No compromise between

right and evil

Thomas Cranmer | Feb 28, 08 2:53pm

Politics is an arena in which personal convictions and public service intermingle like no other; a home of great power and yet a place where decisions require consensus and approval on many levels. Within a country composed of many religions, and bearing in mind the common root of convictions and beliefs, I feel it valuable to refresh our predominantly secular view of politics and politicians to include a religious point of reference. With your permission I would like to share my own personal viewpoint founded upon Christianity, in the hope it might at least provoke some thought about the political demands placed upon all of us by our respective religions.

As a Christian, I know that I am by no means isolated amongst members of the world’s major religions in being required to apply the guidelines and rules of my religion throughout my live without exception. The forthcoming election is certainly an occasion during which this requirement can be exercised, for insomuch as a Christian believes one candidate would do more good than another in the eyes of the Lord, it is incumbent upon the Christian to vote for that candidate.

Thus far, I am sure all seems quite agreeable. However, danger lurks in the naive application of such a principle; the promises made by a candidate before election frequently fail to reach fulfillment. Oftentimes the candidate lacks the experience, resolve or ability to bring about the changes promised. In yet other cases, the newly elected politician feels free to ignore promises which were made and begins to views them as merely a means by which to win votes.

How then should the Christian decide, given that promises cannot be taken at face value? A useful measure of the worth of a man is by the deeds he performs; as the Bible teaches, a good man will not bear bad fruits, nor a bad man bear good fruits. When one considers a candidate, a Christian should care to judge him based upon his past performance as well as what he promises for the future. If the fruits of his past are bad, why should one think that the fruits he will bear in the future will be good?

Yet still, this is not enough to judge a politician, for in the complex world of politics, a man’s will is not always entirely his own. There are frequently loyalties to political parties, other people or communities which will influence him if he is elected. It is true to say that a man cannot serve two masters; that is to say that he will serve God in his work, or he will serve his other master; he can never serve both entirely but will pay lip service to one and obey the other. Christians learn that to serve the weakest amongst us is to serve God himself, making true service of the most disadvantaged amongst mankind no conflict of interest with serving God. So, one should measure candidates against that yardstick and ascertain whether they strive to help everyone who is hungry, needy, ill or otherwise helpless and without the slightest regard to the creed, race, background, or nationality of those people, for these are signs of true service of God.

Needless to say, a Christian should count against a candidate any form of inequity, corruption, repression or works which enrich the wealthy above enriching the poor – for whether these are silently accepted or vocally supported they are a powerful indication that the politician seeks not to serve God but the evils of greed, thirst for power or base racist and nationalist depravities. Every good man fit for public office fights against these things at every step of the way, whatever the consequences may be for self, family, party or nation, for there can be no compromise between what is right and what is evil. Should no candidate match up to these very basic and most essential of requirements, then a Christian does well to pray for and hasten the finding of new candidates from amongst the most upright and God-fearing members of society.

Of particular importance to a Christian is that he must ensure that the candidate who gains his vote is one who will not stand in the way of God’s will. Importantly, this means choosing a candidate who supports freedom of religion, a freedom which allows Christians to be uninhibited in their obedience to the Word of God. One might check whether a candidate fully supports the right of Christians to spread the Good News to people of all races, religions and nations, and to serve God through every part of their lives. To me as a Christian, any politician who condones or leaves unopposed a limitation upon the teaching of Christianity and laws restricting forms of Christian public worship is in direct opposition to the expressed will of God.

As a Christian, I pray that the new government will have upright and God-fearing members sufficient that the will of God will be furthered throughout their term of parliament, and that God’s guidance and blessing will upon those in authority, throughout this nation and in all nations.

Communalism is a phenomenon hitherto unknown to Burma.

Burmans are known abroad as hospitable people and as such, they are friendly to foreigners, especially to Indians to whose country Burma owes her cultural heritage.

Racial hatred against Indians was a thing unheard of in Burma prior to 1930. Indians had even taken part in the movement for political independence. The Burmans on their part, also had demonstrated their solidarity with the Indian struggle for freedom. Dhobama Asi-Ayone, a nationalist organisation with socialist tendencies, the vanguard of the anti-imperialist struggle in Burma, have made various attempts to bring the two communities together. Dhobama Asi-Ayone has widened its scope by including the Indian masses. In all the workers’ struggles under the leadership of Dhobama Asi-Ayone, the Indian workers are fighting side by side with their Burmese comrades. Imperialism could  not tolerate the growing solidarity of the Indians and the Burmans.

Reference: Race Riots in Burma by Than Tun”

Anti Indian and anti Muslim sentiments

started during British rule

Anti Indian sentiments started after the First World War during the British rule.

Reference: Moshe Yegar, Muslims of Burma, page 32

In Burma there were half million Muslims in 1921. More than half of Indians were Indian Muslims.

Reference: Moshe Yegar, Muslims of Burma, page 29 paragraph 1 and foot note 1. Page 31 line 1, 2, 11

Although Myanmar Muslims are different from the Indian Muslims and Indian Myanmar Muslims, Burmese Buddhists put them together even mixed with Hindu Indians, and called them Kala.

Reference: Maurice Collis, Trials in Burma

”’The root of this hatred was”’

#Difference in religion.
#Basic anti foreigner feelings.
#Low standard of living of the recent migrants.
#Recent migrants willingness to do, Dirty, Difficult and Dangerous jobs.
#Indians bought the Burmese lands especially Chittiers.
#Indians had already filled up and monopolized the government services when the Burmese were later ready for those jobs.
#Professional competition.
#World economic recession of 1930 aggravated the competition for the reduced economic pie.


  1. Maurice Collis, Trials in Burma
  2. Moshe Yegar, Muslims of Burma, page 111, paragraph 4, line 8 to 15. Page 27, paragraph 4, line 5,6,7. Page 31 paragraph 2. Page 32 paragraph 4

 Anti Muslim riots in 1938

There was another anti Muslim riots in 1938, while still under British rule. The real basic hidden agenda was aimed at British Government but the Burmese dare not show this openly. The growing Nationalistic sentiments fanned by the local media disguised as anti Muslim to avoid the early detection and notice followed by the full blown force of mighty British Government machinery.Throughout the Burmese struggles against British rule, all the political issues, movements, meetings, demonstrations, riots, rebellions and even the revolutions were instigated, inspired, influenced and led by newspapers.


  1. Democratic Voice of Burma, Media conference (July 19-20, Oslo) Burmese Media: Past, present and future by U Thaung (Mirror/Kyae Mon news paper Retired Chief Editor
  2. Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 32 paragraph 4.Page 36,  paragraph 1, line 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15

Burma for Burmese Campaign

Burmese started the Burma for Burmese only Campaign. Then marched to the Muslim (Surti) Bazar.


 Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 36, paragraph 3.

While the Indian Police broke the violent demonstration, three monks were hurt. Burmese Newspapers use the pictures of Indian police attacking the Buddhist monks to further incite the spread of riots.


 Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 36, paragraph 4. Page 37, line 1,2

Muslim properties: shops, houses and mosques were looted, destroyed and burnt to ashes. They assaulted and even massacred the Muslims. It spreads to all over Burma and recorded that 113 mosques were damaged.


 Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 37, paragraph 2.

British Official White Paper

This paragraph’s basic facts are taken from Maurice Collis’ Trials in Burma. He was the judge in Rangoon, eye witnessed the riots and wrote his book based on the British Official White Paper given by, The Simon Commission. (The Royal Statutory Commission, appointed according to the Law of the Government of India 1919, The Montague-Chelmsford Law.)


 Maurice Collis, Trials in Burma

The Inquiry Committee by  British

On 22.9.38. British Governor set up the Inquiry Committee.


 Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 38, line 1

They found out that the real cause was the discontent in the government regarding the deterioration in sociopolitical and economic conditions of Burmans.


 Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 38, paragraph 2

The book was used as an inciting factor by the irresponsible Burmese newspapers.


 Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 38, paragraph 2, line 12,13,14

They use the anti Muslim propaganda as a disguise to cover up for the political struggle to gain independence.So the Buddhist used the Muslims as a scapegoat, for the first time, to fight against the British.

The Simon Commission (The Royal Statutory Commission, appointed according to the Law of the Government of India1919, The Montague-Chelmsford Law) to inquire the effects of Dyarchy system of ruling Burma, had recommended that special places be assigned to the Myanmar Muslims in the Legislative Council.

It recommended that_

  1. full rights of citizenship should be guaranteed to all the minorities:
  2. the right of free worship,
  3. the right to follow their own customs,
  4. the right to own property
  5. and to receive a share of the public revenues
  6. for the maintenance of their own educational and charitable institutions.
  7. It recommended Home Rule
  • or independent government separate from India
  • or the status of dominion.

But the British Government refused to accept all those recommended except the separation, at the round table committee on India held in London in 1930.

Muslims under General Ne Win

When General Ne Win swept to power on a wave of nationalism in 1962, the status of Muslims changed for the worse. Muslims were expelled from the army and were rapidly marginalized.
The generic racist slur of “kala” (black) used against perceived “foreigners” has especially negative connotations when referring to Burmese Muslims.

The dictatorial government, which operates a pervasive internal security apparatus, generally infiltrates or monitors the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations.

Accusations of “terrorism” are made against Muslim organizations such as the All Burma Muslim Union

Many Muslims have joined armed resistance groups who are fighting for greater freedoms in Myanmar.

Bertil Lintner predicted the 1988 Anti-Muslim riot
Being familiar with the above usual maneuver, adopted by the Burma Military Government, Bertil Lintner, famous Sweden journalist expert on Burma, was certain that the economic failure and political dissent would be covered up by inciting anti-Muslim racial riots. The premonitions and predictions he made made since 17th. of April 1988 in the Bangkok Post, really come true within a couple of months’ time.

Reference: 17th. of April 1988 in the Bangkok Post

Myanmar Government agents managed successfully to incite the anti-Muslim riots in Taung Gyi and Prome, the native town of Ne Win.  Hundreds of Muslims were killed especially in Prome. Properties of Muslims were looted or were put to the torch. Houses, shops, mosques, Muslim religious schools and even the Muslim orphanage were destroyed in those areas. The Military Intelligence chief Brigadier General Tin Oo surreptitiously launched an anti-Muslim campaign in Min Doan and Kyone Doe but that attempt, fizzled out and failed to create widespread community riots in the country. After that some of the Muslim victims fled to the east near Burma Thailand border and formed a group of Muslim freedom fighters who vowed to fight against the central Burmese Government.

Reference: Bertil Lintner, famous Sweden journalist expert on Burma, 17th. of April 1988 in the Bangkok Post

Anti-Muslim Riots in Mandalay (1997)

The racial tension in March 1997 between Buddhists and Muslims and the attack on Muslim properties was ”’apparently masterminded by the ruling regime in Burma”’. The bronze Buddha statue in the Maha Myatmuni pagoda, originally from the Arakan, brought to Mandalay by King Bodawpaya in 1784 AD was renovated by the authorities. The Mahamyat Muni statue was broken open, leaving a gaping hole in the statue, and it was generally presumed that the regime was searching for the Padamya Myetshin, a legendary ruby that ensures victory in war to those who possess it.

Reference: Houtman, Gustaaf. Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics: Chapter 5 Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa Monograph Series No. 33. Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 1999, 400 pp. ISBN 4-87297-748-3</

On 16 March 1997 beginning at about 3:30 p.m. a mob of about 1,000/1,500 Buddhist monks and others shouted anti-Muslim slogans without provocation of any kind on the part of the Muslims.  They targeted the mosques first for attack, followed by Muslim shop-houses and transportation vehicles in the vicinity of mosques, damaging, destroying, looting, and trampling, burning the religious books, committing acts of sacrilege.  The area where the acts of damage, destruction, and lootings committed in Kaingdan, Mandalay.


On May 1997 the unrest in Mandalay allegedly began after reports of an attempted rape of a girl by Muslim men. At least three people have been killed and around 100 monks arrested.

Reference: Chronology for Rohingya (Arakanese) in Burma

 Anti-Muslim Riots in Taungoo(2001)

In 2001,”Myo Pyauk Hmar Soe Kyauk Hla Tai ” (or) The Fear of Losing One’s Race and many other anti-Muslim pamphlets were widely distributed by monks. Distribution of the pamphlets was also facilitated by the ”’Union of Solidarity and Development Association (USDA)”’. The ”’USDA”’ is the civilian support wing of the military regime.

Reference:Myanmar’s Muslim sideshow, by Cem Ozturk. Asia Times online, Oct 21, 2003. Paragraph 22

Many Muslims feel that this exacerbated the anti-Muslim feelings that had been provoked by the destruction in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

Reference: Crackdown on Burmse Muslims, July 2002.

The above anti-Buddhist actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan was used as a pretext to commit violence against Muslims in Myanmar by Buddhist mobs. Human Rights Watch reports that there was mounting tension between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Taungoo for weeks before it erupted into violence in the middle of May 2001.

Buddhist monks demanded that the Hantha Mosque in Taungoo be destroyed in “retaliation” for the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Mobs of Buddhists, led by monks, vandalized Muslim-owned businesses and property and attacked and killed Muslims in Muslim communities.

Reference: Myanmar’s Muslim sideshow, by Cem Ozturk. Asia Times online, Oct 21, 2003.

Buddhist monks demanded that the ancient Hantha Mosque in Taungoo be destroyed in retaliation for the destruction in Bamiyan.

Reference: Crackdon on Burmese Muslims, Human Right Watch Briefing Paper 

On May, 18, however, Han Tha mosque and Taungoo Railway station mosque were razed to ground by bulldozers owned by the SPDC junta..

Reference: Crackdon on Burmese Muslims, Human Right Watch Briefing Paper

On May, 15, 2001, anti-Muslim riots  broke out in Taungoo, Pegu division, resulting in the deaths of about 200 Muslims, in the destruction of 11 mosques and setting ablaze of over 400 houses.

On May, 15, the first day of the anti-Muslim uprisings, about 20 Muslims who were praying in the Han Tha mosque were killed and some were beaten to death by the pro-junta forces.

On May, 17, 2001,  Lt. General Win Myint, Secretary No.3 of the SPDC and deputy Home and Religious minister arrived and curfew was imposed there in Taungoo. All communication lines were disconnected.

Reference: Burma Net News:July 16,2001

The mosques in Taungoo remained closed as of May 2002. Muslims have been forced to worship in their homes. Local Muslim leaders complain that they are still harassed.  After the violence, many local Muslims moved away from Taungoo to other nearby towns and as far away as Yangon. After two days of violence the military stepped in and the violence immediately ended.

Reference: Crackdown on Burmese Muslims,
Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper

There also were reports that local government authorities alerted Muslim elders in advance of the attacks and warned them not to retaliate to avoid escalating the violence. While the details of how the attacks began and who carried them out were unclear by year’s end, the violence significantly heightened tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Reference: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices  ,
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 4, 2002