The Rohingya Have Turned to Violence — and I Can't Help but Sympathize

The Rohingya Have Turned to Violence — and I Can't Help but Sympathize

By Alex Hotz

Rohingya family fleeing from Dekibonia village in Myanmar crosses into Bangladesh on Feb. 6, 2017.
SourceAllison Joyce/Getty


Abandoned by the international community, the persecuted Rohingya are weaponizing. 

By Alex Hotz

The author is an OZY video producer who lived and reported extensively in Myanmar.

Few sentiments will lose you friends faster in modern America than professing sympathy for jihadists, but that’s the unenviable place I found myself in last week after reading the U.N.’s new report on human rights abuses carried out against the Rohingya in northern Myanmar. The 43-page report, published on Feb. 3, is essentially a catalog of the most horrific acts humans can inflict on one another. The crimes include gang rapes, murders of pregnant women and the killing of babies. In each case the victims were Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority group, who purportedly did nothing to provoke their attackers — Buddhist neighbors and Burmese authorities.

And that brings me to the jihadists.

On the same day that the report was released, CNN published something remarkable — the first-ever interview with a Rohingya jihadi leader. Jihadi terrorist groups are well-established across much of South Asia, but in Myanmar they are almost nonexistent. This one — Harakat al-Yaqeen, or “Faith Movement” — carried out their first attack on a border post on Oct. 9, 2016, and killed nine guards.

“We, the vulnerable and persecuted people, have asked the international community for protection against the atrocities by the government of Myanmar, but the international community turned its back on us,” the group’s leader, Atah Ullah, said to CNN.

Ullah is right. After a 2012 pogrom in which 140,000 Rohingya were relocated to squalid refugee camps, the Rohingya have begged the U.N., foreign powers, journalists and anyone who would listen to save them. And that’s not hyperbole. The Rohingya need to be saved.

Within the walls of the camps, which they cannot leave without apartheid-style passcards, there is no education past the fourth grade, no sanitation, no access to basic health care and virtually no employment. The situation has become so bad that thousands routinely risk death and drowning on packed smuggling vessels bound for neighboring nations.

As the U.N. and others have said, there is a systematic genocide that has been carried out against the Rohingya for almost five years now.

With these facts and the U.N.’s latest report in mind, I read about Harakat al-Yaqeen with some sympathy. Having witnessed the Rohingya’s plight firsthand during a reporting trip to some of the Myanmar refugee camps, I’m convinced that, as Ullah said, the international community has indeed “turned their back” on the Rohingya.

The question of when violence is justified is inherently subjective, and I should be clear that I don’t condone the murder of potentially innocent Burmese guards. What’s more, it is clear that the jihadis are not making things better. In response to Harakat al-Yaqeen’s October attack, the Burmese army launched security operations that prompted a mass exodus of 66,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.

That said, I can’t help but sympathize with Ullah when he says, “Finally, we cannot take it anymore.”