MYANMAR is a country that is supposed to be recovering from years of dictatorial rule and moving towards democracy and an opening up to the rest of the world. It is a country with an opposition leader who has won the Nobel Prize for her struggle against dictatorship and for upholding human rights.
It is also here, however, that Buddhists are killing Muslims with the apparent complicity of government forces, most recently in the town of Meiktila. This blatant violation of human rights, duly documented in a BBC-obtained video has elicited no more of a response from Aung San Suu Kyi, than previous massacres documented and now released by the Human Rights Watch office in New York.
The European Union, taking its cue from America, has lifted sanctions as a reward for moving away from military rule and so far appears unmoved by the atrocities visited upon the Rohingya Muslims who are primarily distinguished from other Burmese only by their religion. The Muslim world has done little to ameliorate the plight of these Muslims other than support token resolutions in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
In Nigeria, the latest clashes in the north between the Boko Haram, translated loosely as ‘western education is forbidden’, and the Nigerian army has, according to some possibly exaggerated reports, killed 185 people.
Founded in 2002 with the aim of having an Islamic government in northern Nigeria, the leaders of Boko Haram are said to have only elementary knowledge of the Holy Quran but have achieved some recruiting success because of the unemployment and poverty prevailing in the region.
The group is now apparently sending volunteers to fuel the insurgency in Mali where Islamists after some initial success have been routed by the French forces sent in to support the secular government.
All the Mali insurgents achieved was the destruction of Timbuktus famous libraries containing invaluable texts and manuscripts from the era when Timbuktu was the seat of Islamic learning. All that will be achieved in Nigeria or nearby Mauritania is the destruction of the little economic progress that has been made and the exacerbation of the conditions of poverty and unemployment in Muslim-majority areas.
In the West, the Boston bombing, and the emerging conclusion that the brothers from Chechnya were radicalised by local rather than foreign sources, has led to calls for increased vigilance. Almost inevitably the US authorities will move towards the UK model, keeping more than 5,000 Muslims under constant surveillance along with greater emphasis on ensuring greater interaction with Muslim communities and mosques.
News yesterday of arrests in Spain of two suspected terrorists from the Maghreb and in Canada of two residents with Arab-sounding names, perhaps of Arab extraction and accused of having connections with Tehran-based Al Qaeda operatives, can only worsen the paranoia.
It goes without saying that stricter standards will now be applied to Muslims seeking admission either as immigrants or visitors to the US and, even more so than now, Muslims in the West will have to contend with ‘Big Brother watching’ and the prejudices that plague a suspect community.
In the Arab heartland, strife flows not from a struggle against Western domination but from sectarian differences within the world of Islam. In Syria, where more than 80,000 people have died and more than a million have had to flee the country, the struggle for liberation from dictatorship has become a battle between Islamic sects.
Even if all the promises made by the Syrian opposition in the recent meetings in Istanbul are faithfully abided by and even if President Bashar al-Assad is finally driven out, Syria will take decades to recover from the destruction and perhaps the same length of time to restore a measure of sectarian and ethnic harmony.
Iraq has an even greater sectarian divide exacerbated by the Syrian conflict and to compound the problem an ethnic divide between the Kurds in their autonomous regions and the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad. Despite burgeoning oil revenues, Iraq’s infrastructure and particularly its power sector have yet to be restored.
The daily bombings in Baghdad and other major cities, occasioned at least in part by what is seen as the persecution of Sunnis by the Shia-dominated government, has promoted a sense of insecurity. The results of elections for provincial councils held in only 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces will not be known for some time but since elections have not been held in Sunni-dominated areas the sectarian divide will only become more pronounced, perhaps giving Al Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliates a further boost.
In Egypt, clashes between pro- and anti-government forces continue. The economy, partly rescued by $5bn in loans from Libya and Qatar, needs an IMF package but the elimination of food and fuel subsidies that the IMF will insist upon will provide fresh impetus to the opponents of the Morsi government.
In Palestine, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s resignation has raised new questions for the internal administration of the territory under the Palestine Authority while Gaza continues to suffer the privations caused by the economic blockade. To make matters worse, the Palestinians have been asked to recommence negotiations with the Israelis without insisting on a freeze on settlement activity. How will the Palestinian people and Hamas in Gaza react if Mahmoud Abbas agrees to do so?
So much has already been written in our media and around the world about the sorry state of affairs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is difficult for political parties having no links with Islamist extremists to hold mass rallies or engage in other large-scale election activity. The armed forces are having to contend with a difficult insurgency in the tribal areas. In Afghanistan, reconciliation remains a seemingly unachievable goal while President Hamid Karzai’s decisions become less and less understandable.
To say that the Islamic world is in disarray and decline and that Muslim communities find themselves under siege-like conditions in the West and elsewhere is perhaps an understatement. Is this what Islamic resurgence is about?
The writer is a former foreign secretary.