Social Activism

Seminar held at a Canadian University to discuss the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

On October 10th, 2017, an awareness-building and fundraising event was held at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The two-and-half hour-long event was jointly organized by the International Development Studies Department, the Religious Studies Department, and the Bangladeshi Students’ Society of Saint Mary’s University. Entitled “The Rohingya Refugee Crisis and Myanmar: Causes, Concerns and Solutions”, the seminar intended to raise awareness about the atrocities faced by the Rohingyas at the hands of the Myanmar Government and its military; and to help fundraise for the refugees living in Bangladesh.

The seminar was chaired by Dr. Gavin Fridell, Canada Research Chair & Associate Professor in International Development Studies at Saint Mary’s University. The discussion panel comprised of Dr. Ali Riaz, University Professor of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University—who joined in from Normal, Illinois through Skype; Dr. Mohammad M. Rahaman, Associate Professor of Finance and Canada Research Chair (CRC) in International Finance & Competitiveness of the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University; Dr. Sailaja Krishnamurti, Assistant Professor of the Department of Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s University; and Dr. Karen McAllister, Assistant Professor of International Development Studies department at Saint Mary’s University.

After Kazi Niaz Ahmed, an alumnus of Saint Mary’s University and the Publisher of Foreign Affairs Insights and Review magazine, welcomed all on behalf of the organizers, the proceedings were handed over to Dr. Fridell. He acknowledged the presence of Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, the President and Vice-Chancellor of Saint Mary’s University, among the audience and invited him to share his thoughts. Dr. Summerby-Murray thanked the organizers for the timely event and stated the importance and urgency of the cause. He thought it was very fitting that higher educational institutions should discuss and debate issues and discourse around human migration at a historical level, especially, given the time and age we are living through.

After Dr. Summerby-Murray had concluded his brief remarks, the event started off by showing two short documentaries by Sky News and BBC World News on the current Rohingya crisis. The audience was deeply touched and moved by the sufferings and predicaments faced by the Rohingya people.

Afterwards, the panel discussion began. First, Prof. Riaz discussed the response of the Bangladesh Government to the crisis. He also touched on the reactions of Myanmar’s South East Asian neighbours; the international community e.g. the UN, the ASEAN etc.; and of major international players like the US, the EU, China, India, and Russia. He shared with the audience some possible scenarios based on facts and his analysis, and what his concerns were in such cases. He posited that the route of the issue was as much an economic one as it was an ethno-religious one, and one of the keys to resolving the situation lied in working with China multilaterally.

Next, Dr. Rahaman took the floor and conveyed the views and concerns of the Bangladeshi community in Halifax regarding the grave situation. He explained the policy, resource and logistical limitations the Bangladesh Government had and how the international community should help the country in dealing with the situation.

Later, Dr. Krishnamurti elucidated links between the Rohingya crisis and Buddhist nationalism. She connected the dots between the Theravada branch of Buddhism practiced in both Sri Lanka and Myanmar and the rise of militant Buddhist nationalism in those countries. Sri Lanka’s treatment of the Tamil secessionists was particularly noted.

Photo: Panel of Discussants. Seated from left to right: Dr. Rahaman, Dr. Krishnamurti, Dr. McAllister and Dr. Fridell. Dr. Riaz could be seen on the TV Screen.

Subsequently, Dr. McAllister delivered a PowerPoint presentation in order to succinctly capture the history of Rohingyas and the effects of British colonial legacy in the then Burma. She also discussed the evolution of modern Myanmar as a state, and how various undemocratic digressions and internal social and ethnic dynamics had negatively affected the Rohingyas.

After the panel discussion had been over, the floor was opened for a lively public discussion and Q & A session. Participants came from various professional backgrounds e.g. students, faculty, and staff members, researchers, community leaders, practitioners etc. Attendees shared their own views, concerns, proposals and hypotheses regarding both the short-term mitigation and the long-term solution to the problems and issues raised. They also posed questions ranging from Canada’s leadership role to the role of corporate interests in this crisis to the panellists.

Finally, Dr. Fridell delivered a thank you note and made a call to action by way of requesting to donate to the Rohingya Refugee Fund that had been set up by the Bangladeshi Students’ Society. The fundraising drive is still going on as this news report was being written. The society targets to collect CAD 2000, which will be sent to refugee camps in Bangladesh directly through UN-channels.

Rapporteur: Kazi Niaz Ahmed

Saint Mary’s University is situated in Mi’kma’ki, which is the traditional ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people.

Welcome Speech by Kazi Niaz Ahmed at the Saint Mary’s University Seminar to discuss the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Hello, everyone. My name is Kazi Ahmed. On behalf of International Development Studies and Religious Studies departments and the Bangladesh Students’ Society at Saint Mary’s University, I welcome all. Thanks for attending this seminar today on the Rohingya refugees, who have been driven out from Myanmar into neighboring South and South East Asian countries. First of all, we acknowledge that we are in Mi’kma’ki, which is the traditional ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people. Secondly, let’s make it clear that we are here not because of any religious, ethnic or linguistic identity of the Rohingyas but because we care for their suffering as fellow human beings. And we would have done the same if they had belonged to any other religious or ethnic denomination. Our response to such humanitarian crises must remain secular.

Having said that, the Rohingyas are an ethno-religious minority in the Buddhist majority and ethnic Bamar dominated Myanmar. Rohingyas are predominantly Muslims, although there is a small minority of Hindus within them. And they are of Indo-Aryan ethnicity. They have been facing persecution for many decades now under the Myanmar military Junta. The sheer scale of suffering, humiliation, and apathy these people have been subjected to reminds us of the treatment received by Moses and his people, the Hebrews, at the hands of the Pharaohs of Egypt. Eric Paul Schwarts, the President of Refugees International and former United States Assistant Secretary of State, said that he had never witnessed crimes against humanity of such a scale in his entire life. He saw children who had suffered horrendous physical injuries and human beings who had been treated like animals.

Therefore, we thought we needed to do something and draw Nova Scotia’s attention to this matter of grave concern. That is why we are here today to discuss and raise awareness about this unfolding tragedy of Biblical proportions. We are also collecting funds for the Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh. We will send the collected money through the UN refugee agency –UNHCR—to refugee camps.

Without further delay, let me introduce the Chair and moderator of today’s discussion—Dr. Gavin Fridell. He is an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in International Development Studies at Saint Mary’s. His research interests involve examining the political economy of fair trade, free trade and global trade governance, and how trade issues play out among social movements and states. His publications include a book on fair trade coffee. He is also an Associate Editor of Studies in Political Economy. It is my pleasure to hand over this afternoon’s proceedings to him. Thank you.

Remove Winston Churchill’s Statue from Spring Garden Road, Halifax, NS, Canada

Petition through Change.org on June 28, 2020 to Halifax Public Library System, Halifax Regional Municipality, Mayor Mike Savage

Most often than not, Churchill is glorified as the war-time leader in Western cultures especially in movies, TV serials, novels and pieces of art such as paintings, sculptures and statues. However, Churchill’s consistent racist views towards people of colour and his diabolical policies towards British colonies are often overlooked by the media and the public due to his leadership during WW2. Nevertheless, the pains and sufferings of people of the colonies were real and still vivid. For instance, it has been documented that his policies towards India during WW2 was the direct cause of the devastating Bengal famine of 1943 that killed 3 million people. He said the Indians are “a beastly people with a beastly religion” and “breeds like rabbits”. He claimed that no genocide of the indigenous and aboriginal people took place in the Americas and Australia as the White race is superior and more worthy. The list just goes on. He was known for enacting policy based on race and skin colour. In these times of protest over racial justice and equality, such a figure should not be glorified in a public square in Halifax. His statue should be removed in an orderly manner and placed in an indoor space with the proper context and appropriate description of his actions so that people can learn history correctly.