Burma seems like an unlikely safe haven for extremist terrorists. Its society is tightly controlled, with many residents forced to notify their village headmen of any guests for merely staying the night (in 2005, after a small explosion in front of the Traders Hotel in Rangoon, the government clamped down and restricted travel and lodging for citizens and required residents of some townships to post a family portrait in front of their home to ensure nobody was hiding.)
Recently, I wrote about Burmese antagonism toward Burmese Muslims and their alienation in Burmese society. So it is no wonder that some Muslims would resort to extremist Islam (it’s such a cliché in America now, especially with presidential candidates reiterating a phrase of that sort.) The DPA reports that today, 10 suspected al-Qaeda operatives from Burma were arrested in the northwestern state of Manipur, India:
“The group of 15 Muslim migrants had entered Moreh from Myanmar without valid documents. We shall be handing them over to the police Monday for further interrogation,” defence spokesman Lalit Pant was quoted as saying by the IANS. No arms or ammunition were recovered from the group, which comprised 10 Myanmar and five Bangladeshis who were planning to enter Bangladesh from Manipur’s neighbouring state of Assam.
Burma has had a handful of Burmese nationals suspected to have ties to Muslim terrorist organizations in the past. In 2003, the Myanmar Times reported of a Burmese national arrested in Pakistan, suspected of being tied to al-Qaeda. In 2004, another Burmese man was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, according to the Myanmar Times, for possessing “vital documents” linked to al-Qaeda operatives.
In 2003, the Burmese government released a statement in response to the U.S.’ sanctions in Burma. According to the Myanmar Times, it states the following:
The Myanmar people are primarily Buddhist, a religion notable for its peacefulness and tolerance. We have 135 different national races living together in harmony.
The Burmese government does not classify the millions of Chinese (except, strangely enough, for the Kokang, who speak Mandarin and live in Shan State) and Indians who live in Burma as part of its national races. And nor does the Burmese government practice a policy of tolerance of other religions. Tourist guides may boast that Rangoon has more mosques and churches than pagodas, but that is irrelevant. As long as the government propagates or simply ignores Buddhist monks who preach hatred and violence against Muslims, tolerance does not exist.
So, it’s not wonder there are Muslim extremists within the country. Years, or more succinctly, decades of neglect and discrimination have outcast an immense part of Burmese society, comprising 5% of the population. The Burmese government needs to count its blessings–there have not been major rifts between different religions and ethnic races and needs to adopt religion-blind and race-blind policies. I believe in precaution, and I truly believe this is in the best interests of the military government itself. I am not blaming the government solely–these men, if they are in fact al-Qaeda operatives, are responsible for the poor decisions they’ve made.