You should take what he says with a bucket of salt, especially if his words are accompanied by crocodile tears or the trademark snarks of moral righteousness.
Mahathir once claimed in an interview with the New York Times that the Rohingya have been in Myanmar “for 800 years”.
Yet Burmese authorities are unanimously the Rohingya are Bengali from Bengal (today’s Bangladesh). Indigenous Arakanese living in Rakhine state view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants. Burmans in the country’s other provinces see Rohingya as “new people“.
We in Malaysia use the term ‘Rohingya’ as a matter of course without any question whereas Aung San Suu Kyi, her army generals and a host of Burmese officials absolutely refuse to let the word even pass their tongue.
‘Rohingya’ is self-identification like DAP’s invented “Anak M’sia”
British records mostly document the Rohingya as ‘Chittagonian’. Chittagong is a district in Bengal. There is not a single mention of ‘Rohingya’ by the colonial administration. The British had considered Burma’s Chittagonians living in Arakan to be ‘Indian’.
The bulk of Burma’s ‘Indian’ immigrants hailed from Chittagong — see 1921 population census taken by the British (table HERE).
”During British rule, the designation ‘Rohingya’ was unknown,” wrote DEREK TONKIN who was an officer with the Burma Desk in the British Foreign Office from 1963 to 1966. Tonkin later became British ambassador to Thailand, Vietnam and Laos in the 1980s.
“During the first mass exodus in 1978, the term favoured by the international community was either ‘Chittagonian’ (US diplomatic missions) or ‘Arakan Muslim’ (UK diplomatic missions),“ recalled Tonkin writing in The Diplomat.
To recap, the flight of Rohingya from Rakhine is always balik Chittagong or returning to their place of origin. These exoduses happened in 1978, 1991-92, 2012-2015, 2016 and Aug-Sept 2017 as a result of clearing operations by the Burmese military.
Let’s pick a spelling — err, Roewhengya, Ruhangya, Rwangya?
Or maybe the old Rooinga?
”In the 1950s, both Arakan Muslim parliamentarians and Muslim insurgents (the ‘Mujahids’) shared the idea of an autonomous Muslim zone adopting the Sharia law and Urdu as an official language. Then, under the push of a younger generation, there were discussions to adopt a name [ethnicity] of their own,” said DR JACQUES LEIDER in a September 2017 interview with an Indian publication, The Wire.
“This issue was politically contested as there were already many group divisions that weakened political cohesion,” continued Leider who is an expert on Arakan history. ‘Various spellings such as Roewhengyas, Ruhangyas and others were proposed, all linked to an old, but as it seems, mainly orally used term ‘Rwangya’. The current spelling, Rohingya, is traceable in print since 1963.”
”In British administrative records, none of these terms had ever been used. For decades, the Muslims in Arakan were classified according to religion (Muslim), language (such as Bengali) and place of origins (predominantly Chittagong),” Leider explained.
The Chittagonians always spoke Bengali and wanted autonomy
ANTHONY IRWIN was a captain in the British army who had fought the Burma Campaign of February 1944 in Arakan.
In his 1945 book Burmese Outpost, Irwin had called the Rohingya by the term “Mussulman Arakanese”. Before the 1950s, no outsiders ever referred to them as Rohingya.
One brigadier general who also fought on the Arakan front during the Second World War, C.E. LUCAS PHILLIPS wrote in his 1971 book: “The Arakanese spoke a dialect of Burmese, but the Chittagonians stuck to the Bengali of their homeland, but, if educated, spoke Urdu as well”.
Prior to WWII, the British were also busy fighting in Burma. Its three Anglo-Burmese Wars took place in the years 1824–26, 1852 and 1885. Unfortunately for the Burmese natives, the series of wars were all won by the British and hence creating the demographic mess that is the legacy of Rakhine today.
“After the end of the war and during the following years, the region’s Muslim population increased greatly, thanks to the immigration of the Chittagongs, who came in the wake of the British,” wrote historian MOSHE YEGAR about the change of demography in Arakan.
Moshe’s 1972 book The Muslims of Burma also highlighted the distinction between Arakan’s indigenous Muslim groups who were classified as “Indo-Burman” by the British in contrast to migrants from Bengal who were classified as “Indian”.
Rohingya were imported by British, not 800-year-old community
“During the British era, a Muslim population of laborers were brought into that area [Rakhine state] from the other side of the [Naf] river. But they were not called Rohingya. They were called Chittagonians,” said BERTIL LINTNER, a Swedish journalist who has authored several books on Myanmar.
Lintner was previously Burma correspondent of the now-defunct news magazine Far Eastern Economic Review and had covered this region for FEER for more than three decades. In his 2017 interview with a Burmese publication The Irrawaddy, Lintner said, “And it seems only recently that a lot of these people have started identifying as Rohingya.”
In the video below, Lintner discusses the Rohingya issue with former Anmesty International sec-gen Salil Shetty.
A 2017 research paper by DR HANS-BERND ZÖLLNER employs “the term ‘Rakhine Muslims’ in a broad sense when speaking about the disputed group of some one million people who mostly live in northern Rakhine”.
One of Zöllner‘s areas of expertise is the topic of nationalism in Burma and his doctoral thesis had focused on Burmese independence movements. He believes ”the present Rohingya conflict can be regarded as the continuation of the ‘clash of civilizations’ that goes back to the conflict between the British and the Burmese Empires at the turn of the 18th to the 19th centuries”.
According to him, “Muslims were regarded as not ‘belonging’ to Rakhine just as the Buddhists refugees to Bengal after 1784 had not ‘belonged’ there”.
Dapsters told by DAP to again and again believe Atok
The consensus of the cited European experts – who are either credentialed academics or having a firsthand knowledge of Burma – is that ‘Rohingya’ is a relatively new (or recycled) word.
They agree that the Rohingya self-referential group identity can be traced to a politically expedient creation of the 1950s. Although it is acknowledged that the Rohingya have been in the Rakhine for several generations, nonetheless their history in Burma does not go as far back as half a millennia or “for 800 years” as asserted by Mahathir.
DAP’s #PM9 wannabe is merely spouting his own sneaky set of ‘facts’ that do not align with received scholarship.
The very much exaggerated timeline on the provenance of ‘Rohingya’ that has been stated by Mahathir is not shared by neutral observers such as Tonkin, Leider, Irwin, Phillips, Yegar, Lintner and Zöllner quoted above.
Mahathir can simply say the most calculatedly outlandish things; only DAP supporters will still psych themselves to believe his words.