The Rohingya problem has once again reared its head. The Myanmarese Army is engaged in a prolonged battle with them after they were driven to an armed clash which was being blamed on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). There is also a dispute about the torching of 2600 homes in various villages and towns of Rakhine State. Ethnic Myanmarese refer to the Rohingya as ‘Bengalis’, which sums up a claim that the Rohingya are actually from what is now Bangladesh, and which denies that they are Myanmarese citizens. Actually, that is the root cause of the entire problem: the unwillingness of the Myanmarese majority to grant the Rohingya citizenship, as well as do the Bangladeshi state.

Whether Myanmar is ruled by military dictators or, as now, elected governments, the majority’s sentiment has been taken care of. Though elections have in 2015 again led to the triumph of Aung San Suu Kyi, as in 1989, they have not led to the Rohingya question being solved. She may well be the darling of the West, having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but as far as the Rohingya are concerned, she is firmly with her countrymen.

Incidentally, the religious colour to this entire situation is perhaps inescapable. The Rohingya are Muslim, while Myanmar is part of a Buddhist heartland that includes Thailand and Cambodia. It should be remembered that while there is no significant Muslim minority in Cambodia, Thailand hosts the Pattanis, who are across the border from Rakhine state, and are akin to the Rohingya. However, they do not suffer any citizenship disabilities.

The Burmese state narrative links the Rohingya to the time Burma was part of the British Indian Empire (it only became a separate British colony in 1937). According to this, Muslim squatters from neighbouring Bengal moved in. However, even under this narrative, surely over 80 years of residence, which means that very few of those who moved in as children with their parents would still be alive, let alone anyone who moved in as adults. Even grandparents would have been born and bred in Rakhine, having got married there and raised families. Yet they are still denied citizenship. Bangladesh also refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for them, and the latest clashes have included some between the border forces of both countries. This undermines the post-Westphalia model of citizenship, where individuals must belong to a certain state, which guarantees certain rights, including protection when they travel abroad.

The plight of the Rohingyas has registered with Muslims worldwide, with the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu offering to help Bangladesh financially if it accepted the Rohingya refugees, and Pakistan and Indonesia raising the issue. The latter’s Foreign Minister raised the issue during a recent visit to Myanmar, with the added importance that it is a founding member of ASEAN, the regional grouping of which Myanmar became a member along with four other regional states. Of the original ASEAN members, apart from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei are also Muslim-majority states. These will be countries more closely interested than Turkey in to OIC Summit on Rakhine for later this year that Cavusoglu mentioned. There have been other OIC attempts to intervene, but they have not had much of a result so far, with Myanmar refusing to allow any fact-finding missions from the OIC, or even the UN.

In Mughal times, before the British united it to the Indian Empire, Burma was a place of refuge for members of the dynasty. Shah Shuja, the second son of the Emperor Shah Jehan, and the brother of Auranzeb, fled to Arakan (the modern Rakhine state) after being defeated in the succession struggle and died there. This prompted Aurangzeb to clash with (and beat) the rulers of Arakan, defeating their Portuguese allies and occupying Chittagong apart from a boundary dispute in Assam. The British exiled the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, to Rangoon (now Yangon), and there are still descendants resident there.

One of the major victims of the crisis there are children, who form a major proportion of the 90,000 Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh in August. This is apart from the 400 who have been killed and the 11,700 ‘ethnic residents’ who have fled Rakhine state. (‘Ethnic resident’ is how the Myanmarese living in Rakhine are officially described). It should not be forgotten that, apart from those children suffering directly by being killed or injured in the violence themselves, or losing one or both parents, or siblings, there are also those who suffer hunger, and ultimately malnutrition.

One of the aspects to be noted is the possibility of Buddhism, supposed by the West to be a religion of peace, engaging in militancy and violence. That Hinduism, perceived in the West as Gandhian, following ahimsa (nonviolence) and engaged in nonviolent resistance, could throw up the BJP and its cult of violence, should be regarded as a precedent for Buddhism. This might indicate that another Western favourite, because of its supposed peaceableness, Sufism, could manifest a potential for violence. Indeed, it could be argued that it has already done so, in Mumtaz Qadri, the police guard executed for murdering Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Certainly, Qadri chose to identify himself as a member of the Qadiriyya Sufi order than by his caste, tribe, place of origin, or any of the other origins of a surname. It should not be forgotten that the Ottoman government encouraged the crack Janissary troops to take up membership in a Sufi order, and that the famous Daghestani struggle against Russia was led by Imam Shumayl, a Sufi leader.

Yemen is another failure of the Westphalian model, though very different from that of Myanmar. There, Muslims are killing Muslims, as Saudis battle Houthi rebels. The entire region has been rendered unstable, with the UAE and Qatar still at daggers drawn. The Yemen struggle, even though prior, is on top of that, and both test the mettle of new Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad ibn Salman. The harsh reality is that whoever is assigned the fault for the Yemen imbroglio, Yemeni children are suffering in large numbers. No less than 2.2 million are estimated to be suffering malnutrition, while millions more go hungry. Then there is the cholera epidemic there, which is the result of the collapse of the healthcare system (affecting 8 million children), and of an inability any longer of access clean water (affecting 7 million). Children are a quarter of the 425,000 estimated cases of cholera, and half of the resulting 2000 deaths.

These two issues are exercising Muslims the world over. The Rohingya issue is about as old as those other two festering sores, the Kashmir question and the Palestinian. The first emerged from the 1947 partition and independence of India, while the second from the end of the British mandate over Palestine in 1948 and the forcible creation of a Jewish homeland. The Rohingya issue can be traced to the 1947 independence of Burma. Yemen too is two former British colonies, and the violence there can be traced to its rule. The British have set the main fires in the Muslim world, but it is up to the Muslims to put them out themselves. It seems that liberation from colonial rule was not enough: freedom from their successors is also needed.