Mr Ahmad Azam Abdul Rahman is the Chairman of Global Peace Malaysia,
GPM, a Humanitarian Mission across Borders.
He is also the President of the consortium of 77 NGOs.
He is also a Member, founding Executive Committee Member of the Union of World Islamic NGOs.
In addition, he is the Board Member of Kuala Lumpur Society for Transparency International.
He is an Executive Committee Member of the International Movement of Just World.
He was the member of Malaysian Youth Consultative Council appointed by Youths and Sports Ministry.
He was the President of ABIM, Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement.
Burma Digest’s representative in Malaysia, Dr. San Oo Aung, recently got a kind permission to interview this great humanitarian who has a lot of interest in Burmese Politics.
Burma Digest is gathering the views of third persons to break the ice in Burma Politics and to boost the real and rapid progress in the democratization process of our country.
BURMA DIGEST: Dear brother we are glad to be here, with you today.
Abdul Rahman...Thank you very much.
Question…Brother, what is your opinion regarding the possible chances of changes in Burma towards democracy.
Answer…I think, basically, no one country in the world would like to be forced to change the way they do things. So when there is an element of forcing you to change according to your standard or your values, I think naturally there will be an element of resistance.
In the issue of Burma, we have to look from that angle as well, how to change it in a way that is acceptable (to all) and that could be difficult.
We can put pressure but when there is an element of force, then the people would cling to themselves and would resist.
So we have to bring in all kind of approaches to bring change and to bring democracy in Burma.
Question… Brother, you are interested in Burmese Politics and had organized protests at Burmese Embassy
in Kuala Lumpur. And had organized press conferences in KL against the admission of Burma into ASEAN. At the press conference, you had revealed the various evidences of the atrocities committed by the Myanmar Military Government on its religious and ethnic minorities. You had even been to Burma Bangladesh border to help the Myanmar Rohingya Refugees. And you are the prime mover and campaigner in Malaysia to recognize the Rohingyas from Burma. Could you explain about your political activities?
Answer… Well my first contact with Burma was when there were the Rohingya refugees 10 of thousands in early 1990. We were shocked why their own citizens are disowned and rendered stateless citizens, just because their skin colour is not the same or they speak different language.
Because of that, Malaysia has to, in a way, suffer to take care of their problem of Burma . We have to take care of their problem till now.
I was in ABIM as the President then. We started to have a programme how to help them. The only way to help them is to send them back to Burma and let Burma accept them as their own citizen and treat them as their own. And it is the only way.
Question…Any progress in solving their problem?
Answer…It is very unfortunate that there is only very little progress. In the case of Rohingya, they (Military Junta) disowned them. So it is a pity and I am quite surprise why they (SLORC/SPDC) are behaving like that. They were there, born there and the history had shown that they are the part and parcel of Burma.
Question…You had lobbied against accepting Burma into ASEAN. Kindly explain your political activities and reactions.
Answer…Being an NGO, we don’t have the authority at the Government. The only weapon that the NGO has is that to let it known that you are unhappy with your government.
We don’t know why they (SLORC/SPDC) are treating against their own people against the decency of normal human being.
So we organize to demonstrate the reasons why Burma should not be accepted into ASEAN. ASEAN has an accepted way of Governance. Anyway, they had been accepted.
We still have to put some pressure with the hope that they will change , they will have some consideration to accept common principles agreed by ASEAN.
Question…What is the reactions of your government and their reasons?
Answer…We were called by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, when we started to attack on Burma.
If you push Burma, in any way that reasonably is not acceptable to them, they will cling to themselves.
They will close all the avenues for change.
So you have to know when not to push them, try to convince them, and try to help them so that there will be a level of confidence building.
So you have to develop a careful building mechanism to trust us and
Maintain a level of dialogue and conversation.
At the same time, (I believe that) atrocities on their own people must be highlighted, because it is in a modern world, we cannot do what we like to human beings. There are some levels of human dignity on its citizens by any government in the world.
Question…So what should we do to change or win over these Generals’ hearts and minds?
Answer…If you look at the Burmese Generals as the power that be in Burma, if they are not exposed to Intellectual Conversations, invited more on the dialogue, they could not be pulled out of the cocoon of Burma. If not this ailing generals, their sons or their grandchildren will see the light one day.
I hope I can see some degree of changes. And naturally the next generation of generals will change. I don’t think the next generation of generals will be the same as this first generation generals.
Question…So you mean it will be a very long struggle and we have to wait for the future unfolding of events.
Answer…I will like to see the struggle shown by (Nelson) Mandela (of South Africa). He was in jail, could not get out for two decades.
I am sure, after the second generation of leaders, they will have more tolerant views on things.
Of course, we want to see the changes yesterday!
But it is impossible.
We have to go step by step with the systemic efforts and at the end to institute changes over time.
But we don’t know when it will happen. We could not predict when the Soviet Union will collapse in 80′s 90′s. We don’t expect but it had happened.
But there must be a group of people trying to highlight these issues and trying to put pressure in a way for the changes to occur, whether they succeed or not.
Question…What is ASEAN doing to change Burma, is that just a drama or a staged show?
Answer…It is a dilemma.
If we isolate Burma,
if they are not allowed to develop,
there will be no interaction.
If there is no two-way interaction with the people of Burma,
they all will be in their own cocoon.
We want them to be changed anyway. Want to include them in a very part and parcel of the ASEAN.
Then the first thing to do is, we have to open up the doors for interaction and negotiation. May be the first generation generals are very stubborn with their own way of thinking.
But I believe the younger people will see how beautiful KL is, how Thailand is developing fast and the rapid growth of other countries. So the younger generation may have different appreciation on looking things.
Question… West’s economic sanctions were busted by China, Thailand, India and ASEAN’s own agenda. What do you think?
Answer… There are pros and cons of economic sanctions.
Economic sanctions can only work if every body agree or do at the same time.
If one country instituted the economic sanctions and other country is benefiting from it, that would be a failure.
There must be a consensus if we want to see the changes in Burma.
If we want to see that kind of sanctions (successful), they have to be done consensually. Then no country could take advantage to others’ sanctions.
Question…How about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Noble Peace Laureate; she was in jail repeatedly and is now under house arrest?
Answer…I think she is the symbol of resistance and to what is happening to the Burmese people. Burmese abroad and other NGOs must share the same principle of continued highlighting her plight and the issue of democracy in Burma.
Just like what happened to Mandela, the struggles have to continue and the changes have to be planned very well. If no immediate changes in this first generation generals, the 2nd and 3rd generation generals have to change definitely. We must have optimistic views that there will be definitely some changes.
Question… Asean’s way of no-interference is ineffective, should they change their stance?
Answer… The main question is the confidence building mechanism had to be instituted first. The idea of non-interference is to respect the way we do things, that no body should interfere us.
I don’t like people interfering in how I run my own family. Likewise if any other country wanted to initiate change in Burma and telling them what to do, how to run the country, definitely they won’t accept it. So the position or the policy of noninterference is the idea of friends to respect each other in the way of doing things.
But at the same time, we are concern also.
We cannot blinded our eyes with what is happening in Burma.
So the level of building confidence is important.
The trust is very very important.
And those who are very close to Burma, benefiting from trade like China, Thailand and Singapore, having business and interest must play their role of opening up Burma.
Question… What is the role of UN, UN Tribunal or International Criminal Court’s action on the Burmese Government? Or we just need to keep quiet while Burma events unfold itself.
Answer…It is also a dilemma. If we charge one of the Generals in International Criminal Court of Justice, definitely, they are going to be afraid and will hang on to the power at what ever cost it may be.
So efforts to bring changes have to tackle subtly with controlled pressure, to get desired affects. Again, I wish to stress the building of confidence to those who like to see changes in Burma.
Question… Opposition has no much trust on the Burmese Generals as they are clearly buying some more time only. And the generals also do not trust them. Your views?
Answer…The Generals know that_
the opposition is going to take power away from them.
So it is the natural thing that they are buying time.
They are going to do what ever they can to hold on to the power.
They will hang on to power at whatever cost.
They will kill their own people.
People will be put into prison.
There is no straightforward simple answer:
You need to continue with the straight form of various opposition activities
You need to exert Economic Sanctions.
You must exert multiple approaches on how to bring the changes.
We never know which will be effective to bring up the changes in Burma.
Question…Burmese Junta is killing Ethnic Minorities; Karens, Shans and Rohingyas. They are jailing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Shan leaders, and NLD leaders. They are practicing forced relocation, forced labours and forced conversion of religions. What is your view on these atrocities?
Answer…Yes, these are the things they are doing, and it is not acceptable by any standard. If you kill the Ethnic Minorities just because they are different from you, grant or made laws making Rohingyas stateless persons because they are different from you, it is wrong.
You are transferring your problem to the other country. Malaysia and Thailand suffer because of this attitude. It is not acceptable.
How to make them realize and to change them is not easy.
Question…Regarding ASEAN Integration, are you modeling EU and is Burma a thorn in ASEAN? Could ASEAN Integration benefit the people or it is just for the benefits of governments only?
Answer… EU Integration or development is not for every country. Those who are not ready yet could come in later.
If you are not ready, want to take time like Burma,
if they do not change,
they will be left out from benefits of ASEAN Integration.
Naturally, the future leaders (of Burma) would not want to be left out.
They will like to be included. Time frame depends on their (pace of) change.
Question…Is there any possibility of future Academicians, Professionals, workers and students easier to come and work or study here? In other way will there be any easier Immigration Policy?
Answer…There are influx of migrants/workers, 10 of thousands of Rohingyas, other groups from Burma, Philippines and Indonesia. Malaysia also has a certain kind of policy so that it may not affect the demography and social dimension of itself. Again, Malaysia has a selective policy of supporting but understandably generally very strict policy of giving partial preference to certain other countries.
Question…Malaysia is accepting and even granting scholarships to many Burmese and Rohingyas in the International Islamic University and other Private Universities. Is there any chance of accepting more liberally and also into the schools?
Answer… Previously Rohingyas were not allowed to study in Government Primary and Secondary Schools. Just imagine that after 10 years, those Rohingya children without reading and writing skills would give more problem, bigger problem to our country.
So we are in the process of granting them a status so that they could stay, work and attend schools in Malaysia. This started last month but there are some teething problems but it is a right action.
Yes, but we cannot accept or open up free for all.
The feeling of the Malaysians Vs foreigners must be considered.
It could create Anti-other races feelings.
There must be a balance.
Question…The opposition and the Generals do not trust each other. There is a stalemate or deadlock in Burmese Politics. What should we do?
Answer…I have my trusted person. You yourself would be like that. Burma (generals) will also have some trusted countries that they trusted them as very close like e.g. China. China could play some role to try to change Burma.
Question…Could OIC play some role in Burma?
Answer…Burma is not an OIC member. Until and unless the OIC put the Rohingya problem as a minority affair problem in the OIC Agenda, OIC could not do any thing officially.
Question…Which country’s model should Burma take as a role model? Indonesian Military taking 30% of MPs or South Africa model?
Answer…You could take any model, Indonesia, South Africa or even European Countries.Every nation has its own peculiar system and way of doing things.
Thinking Groups for change (Think tanks) in Burma must look all the models.
Military must be given a role to play.
Even the opposition has to realize and accept the fact that the Military has a role.
All Civil Society must also be given the role to play.
Must develop and convinced the idea that every body has the role to play.
All the citizens must be given the role and proper recognition.
That is the best way to convince all of them to bring them to come forward to change.
Question…Is there any real hope of change or we all are just day dreaming for a false hope?
With more tourism and travel (to and fro) the more they see what happening in the world.
Question…What is the role of people to force the change?
Answer…If the people refuse to cooperate:
But the soldiers also have families and relatives who are the part of People.
Ruling Junta, elite have to change if the people oppose them.
So the people should be alerted and open up their awareness (of their power).
Question…We Burmese are familiar with the Buddha’s teaching. Could you kindly share us an advice as a conclusion based on your Islamic back ground?
Answer…Yes, I would finally like to advise one thing.
When our Prophet conquered and entered Medina, in Arabia:
He understood that no one race alone should or could rule the country.
He accepted that no one race is superior to another.
There is no superior race and every body is same.
So the first foundation of Islamic state is the Multi Racial Society.
So my advice to non Muslims and Muslims, who wish to change to democracy_
Whether (you are) Academicians, Professionals, Politicians, Oppositions… all must unite.
Don’t form different groups but unite into a big single group.
In any struggle for change to democracy, no one race can live and fight alone.
Don’t discard the other races with the mentality to form one superior race just because they are not like you.
If not your struggle and policy will definitely fail.
So I think this is the spirit of human dignity and the feelings of human beings regardless of race and religion.
That should be the basic of any struggle.
BURMA DIGEST… Prophet Mohammad had said_ “The ink of the scholar is more valuable than the blood of the Martyr.”
So thank you very much brother, for sharing your valuable and lovely thoughts, ideas and advices. Thank you very much.
Abdul Rahman…Thank You.