When President Obama visited Burma, or the country of Myanmar as it now is known, he briefly mentioned the plight of the Muslim Rohingya population.
This could be credited to the awareness raising and advocacy being done by members of the Burma Task Force USA.
Established last August, they were set up with the goals of stopping what they have called a genocide against the Muslim population in Burma (their numbers are down 2 million) and to open the doors for Muslim humanitarian agencies to get in and provide relief on the ground and in the neighboring countries and camps where refugees are fleeing for safety.
In February last year, some may recall that 97 people died of starvation and 33 were ‘rescued’ (now placed in a third country detention center) after 25 days at sea and the crisis is just continuing to exacerbate. The Task Force also wants to help stop the flow of migration by calling for a return to normalcy within Burma itself.
Indeed, just this past November, US House of Representatives Resolution 418 was introduced, urging the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people and respect internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within its borders. At this time they have been stripped of citizenship and not allowed to marry (or risk imprisonment), have children, or pray in congregation. Interested readers can find the full text of the Bill now in subcommittee mark-up here http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/bill/h-res-418-urging-government-burma-end-persecution-rohingya-people-and-respect-internationally
According to Robert McCaw, Government Affairs Manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) DC, following an Action Alert they sent out, over 580 emails were sent to Congress for co-sponsorship on this issue.
“The list of those signing on has grown as the larger Muslim community has exerted pressure and shown they are concerned with the outcome and eventual enforcement of the Bill,” he says. The aim is to make support very broad and bipartisan so that it can pass. CAIR considers it one of their fundamental duties to assist Muslim American groups to organize and engage civically and as such has provided the Task Form with a platform and a template to use to raise awareness for their issue within the State Department and via other stakeholders.
On a more grassroots level, the ADAMS center has also been involved in the awareness raising efforts. When they were approached by the Task Force they took the issue to their Board who when learning the facts about the ongoing massacres, and seeing that there was little coverage in local or national media, agreed to a campaign aptly called ‘Burma Awareness Day’. Led by Sohel Ahmed, this consisted of interfacing with the Task Force to take khutba talking points that had been drawn up and coordinating that they be distributed to all the khateeb on a singular Friday across ten locations, an event which was just orchestrated recently on February 28, 2014.
Not only were facts presented about the situation and about the House Resolution, but sign up sheets were made available for joining the Task Force effort with events on Capitol Hill scheduled for this spring and beyond and to raise funds for the continued work. Sohel Ahmed said, “this was a very successful awareness raising campaign and now there are 4,000-5,000 community members more informed about the situation.” Similar smaller actions have taken place in Ohio and other places and any Masjid interested to get involved in the efforts can get the Imam packets from Zaeem Zafar, Outreach Coordinator of the Task Force, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. In the khutbah, they appeal to Quranic ayah: 42:38-39, successful Muslims are those who respond (with due process of law and hikmah) when they are wronged.
According to Sarah Murad, Volunteer Coordinator for the Task Force, “The situation in Burma is dire, no one is paying attention to the issue of the Burmese Muslims, while they are targets for persecution and genocide on a daily basis. A report was recently released proving that the government has been approving and enacting policies of persecution against the Rohingya.”
Eyewitness accounts can also be found on their website. She continued to say, “our main project at this point in time is doing everything we can order to pass the House Resolution; we have reached out and continue to work with multiple communities and volunteers to go out and meet with their congresspersons in order to gain support and co-sponsorship.”
There are also daily action alerts (such as calling the Burma Embassy) and ongoing demonstrations in different cities being organized to keep pressure up.
As a coalition group, the Task Force is currently made up of the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America, Free Rohingya Campaign, American Muslims for Palestine, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA NY), Islamic Council of New England (ICNE), Islamic Organization of North America (IONA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Justice For All, Majlis Shura of Atlanta, Michigan Muslim Community Council, Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), Muslim Leadership Council of New York and the Muslim Peace Coalition. Visit http://www.burmamuslims.org/