IN CONVERSATION : ASIF IN PICCADILLY GARDENS, MANCHESTER

 

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Some of the many volunteers stewarding Drive for Justice’s Stop Rohingya Genocide demonstration.

 

AUDIO Coming soon

Asif of Drive for Justice tells me about the Stop Rohingya Genocide demonstration and the importance of voice.


TRANSCRIPT

A: It’s Asif here from Drive from Justice ….

JO: So, I’ve come down to .. I had to find out where to come but I asked for “where’s the most likely place for an effective rolling demonstration at the weekends in Manchester?” and they said Piccadilly Gardens .. so I’ve come down at lunchtime and what I’ve walked into … I saw a sign for Stop Rohingya .. is that how I pronounce it?

A: yes … Stop the Rohingya genocide ….

JO: yes … so I saw a sign on the fountain and I also saw lots of hi-vis vests so there’s something going on that is a little bit organised … and I’ve happily through all the help of the people I’ve met … I’ve met Asif … do you want to just explain who you are Asif …

A: Hiya … my name is Asif … I’m a social activist … a human rights activist … part of an organisation called Drive for Justice … it’s a Blackburn based organisation … but we”ve actually taken the initiative on this to take the cause of the genocide which is taking place in Myanmar … on the Rohingya people …. and we thought it was important to raise awareness ….

JO: So, Drive for Justice existed before this specific incident or episode flared up? Yes?

A: Yes. It started up a couple of years ago … about three years ago … Drive for Justice … we realised that there are a lot of issues around the world about injustice, genocides, ethnic cleansing … all sorts of issues which are … you know … not helping the world … and we thought we needed to raise a voice … have a collective voice

JO: yes

A: and stand up to people … stand up to the powers … stand up to the people committing the injustices … and just demand change and ask for basic human rights for people across the world …

JO: So Drive for Justice is … is it a Blackburn based …

A: It’s a Blackburn based organisation, yes ….

JO: and that’s … I think most of the guys I have spoken to so far are down from Blackburn …

A: but it’s not [ ]

JO: you’re expecting … [ ]

A: we’re expecting people from all over the North West … we’ve had contacts from Bradford, Keighley, Dewsbury, Oldham, Rochdale, Bolton … across … Leeds … as far as Leeds … even Birmingham …

JO: yes ..

A: where people have contacted us because we’ve made this whole issue [ ] we’ve said this needs to be a collective voice … rather than having pockets of [ ] demonstrations … let’s have one big demonstration in the focal point for us in the North West which is Manchester Piccadilly Gardens

JO: yes ….

A: as you’ve said … mentioned before … it’s a popular place for holding demonstrations and as you can see, it’s pretty ideal for that … [ ] … we’ve got the raise the voice … and in the last week or two the mainstream media has started to pick up on the issue of what’s going on …. to the Rohingya people in the Rakhine province in Myanmar … it’s clear that it’s ethnic cleansing .. it’s genocide … and the United Nations [ ]

JO: who’s doing what to whom?

A: well … it’s the actual .. the military junta

JO: yes

A: the Myanmar government is actually carrying out ethnic cleansing on the people … on the Rohingya people … by torching their villages … murdering their men, women, and children …. [ ] making their lives so unbearable that hundreds of thousands … I think in the last week .. two .. three weeks approximately three hundred thousand people have been displaced … many of them have gone to Bangladesh … seeking refuge there …

JO: yes … which is in a … terrible shape itself …

A: and Bangladesh is a third world country as well … and there’s issues there where the three hundred thousand people have gone … and it is not something new .. the Rohingya people have been encountering persecution and subjugation by the Myanmar government over the last forty years … I mean we could trace it back to 1982 …

JO: I think a lot of people are surprised/disappointed that a lot of this is going on under Aung San Suu Kyi …

A: Aung San Suu Kyi … yes … a Nobel Peace Prize Winner … obviously … many of us … many of us supported her during the time she was in prison … by the Buremese military and we wanted her to be released … because we saw her as a human rights champion … in the similar fold as somebody like Nelson Mandela … but obviously … now … when she’s been released … she’s … they’ve had democratic elections … [ ] she’s been … she’s effectively the leader of the government … she’s Prime Minister … and yet she’s been relatively quiet on the subject … if not giving it some sort of tacit approval … to what’s going on … [ ]

JO: and you think it’s as far as that … possibly

A: I think it has gone as far as that …

JO: it’s not that she’s sort of … can’t do much ’cause of the internal or the foreign politics of it …

A: I think there’s internal issues … I think there’s an element that she’s more of a symbolic .. ’cause really it’s the military still controls and dictates what goes on in Myanmar …

JO: yes

A: I think it’s more a symbolic thing where they’ve gone through this democratic process and effectively, she’s been elected … However, given her relative silence on the subject … over the last couple of weeks … you would expect her of all people .. the Nobel Peace Prize winner … to be speaking up and saying this is wrong and should stop …

JO: [ ] but there’s been nothing …

A: there’s been nothing … actually the few words she has said, she’s been in sort of denial about it … and yet report after report … which has been … you know … from organisations like the United Nations, Human Rights Watch … Amnesty International even … a year ago … produced a dossier on all the human rights abuses … upon the Rohingya people … you know .. mass killings …. all sorts of persecution … and actually … most of it’s actually legalised by the fact that back in 1982, the Rohingya people were denied citizenship … that law was put into place to effectively marginalise, discriminate, and persecute the Rohingya people …

JO: to make them sort of non … non-people …

A: and they have become … over the years … stateless people … I think many correspondents .. experts on this subject … actually refer to them as stateless people …. because there’s a debate over what state do they belong to … but these people, the Rohinya people in Myanmar … have been there for centuries … you know … their ancestors were there … so there’s that element … but the Burmese .. Myanmar so-called indigenous population … and then … another dimension to this … a lot of these atrocities have been committed by Buddhists … I think that’s taken people by surprise … you wouldn’t expect….

JO: it’s jogged their idea of what a Buddhist is …

A: you know … what a Buddhist is … I think one of the leaders of the sort of Buddhist movement in Myanmar .. he’s … many speeches he has given and effectively he has encouraged the ethnic cleansing ’cause they want to get rid of these people … they’re saying “they’re not indigenous … they’re nothing like us” … etc, etc … . but there’s absolutely … you can’t … there’s just no way that could stand up to any sort of scrutiny … so, for us, for Drive for Justice … and I think for everybody else … it’s a basic question of human rights …. basic human rights … these people should be afforded those basic rights … all the pressure should be put on the Myanmar regime, right … I dread to call it a government .. let’s just call it a regime …

JO: yes…. sure …

A: right … who should stop all this happening … and give these people their rights and come up … I think the world should push for a long term solution … right … for these people … why are they stateless when they shouldn’t be stateless?

JO: what’s the …. I am going to … if I may … just for two or three minutes following this … I’ll stop it and start another little segment with you …

A: yes

JO: broadening the discussion out a bit … and you talk about anything you want to talk about as well … but just to finish up this little bit … what’s the … what do you think the cross border … the international relationships are with Burma … there’s oil there, isn’t there?

A: there’s oil … there’s gas … it’s got … it’s rich [ ] resources

JO: yes … so I imagine all the usual suspects are …

A: there’s a lot …

JO: Total is in [ ]

A: [ ] right … there’s a lot of geopolitics going on here …

JO: presumably this is why that regime is sort of

A: yes

JO: allowed to do

A: Burma is another … I keep referring to it as Burma … it’s Myanmar now …

JO: yes

A: Myanmar is just another example where we have these … effectively third world countries who are rich in resources … what tends to happen is the powerful multinationals … they seem to exploit the situation for their own ends … and in that process … hundreds of thousands if not millions .. suffer …

JO: yes

A: I think that’s been replicated across the world … or even in modern times …

JO: this is kind of business as usual, yes?

A: I think you’re right … it’s business as usual … I mean we had Rwanda … in the 1990s … up to a million people died in the genocide … again, there were big powerful players … people just sat idly by … we had Kosovo, Bosnia … we’ve had Syria in the last few years …people just dying unnecessarily for causes, for reasons … you know … which are just beyond any belief … this is more about power, money .. innocent civilians are the ones who [ ] pay the price …

JO: yes … So what you think can be … and by the way … if you feel the need to disappear, disappear …. but what do you think today’s event … and hopefully you can get … do you think you will get ten thousand here? Five [ ]

A: well again .. it’s a question of how long is a piece of string … we’ve all been promoting this

JO: what would you be hoping for?

A: I’d be happy with a couple of thousand … right

JO: ok … but that’s a fairly large body of people, yes?

A: it’s fairly large … I mean demonstrations [ ] not as easy as people think to get so many masses out for a demonstration … I mean, this event, we’ve promoted it through social media … quite heavily … we’ve got some prominent speakers today speaking …we’ve got George Galloway speaking … we’ve got the MP of Blackburn, Kate Holland, speaking … we’ve got … you know … Naz Shah the MP of Bradford … [ ] and we’ve got a number of other religious figures speaking …

JO: So, some very, very big names there … the MP [ ] ..

A: [ ] yes .. we’ve tried to get across a [ ] broad church of people speaking on the subject ’cause we don’t think it’s an issue for one group of people … I think it’s just simply a question of what all of humanity [ ]

JO: and what do you hope will be achieved in the short term by today …. just talking about it tactically … as a tactic … ’cause this is an example of a power people have … yes …

A: yes

JO: what can be done with it?

A: I think this is where people get frustrated … they think the futility of signing petitions … lobbying their MP … going to demonstrations … it doesn’t seem to make any difference .. but actually the reality is that all this makes a difference … every little bit …. of demanding, raising the voice … being loud … being louder than .. you know … the ones who are asking for inhumane treatment of people … the louder the voice … it has an effect … and, bit by bit, every single bit … makes a difference .. effects change … For example, two three weeks ago, the media wasn’t covering what was happening to the Rohingya people … it just wasn’t covering it at all … and then people started asking questions …. people started raising their voices …. across the country … I mean I could just … specifically to the UK … and then over time … because their voices got louder and louder … then the mainstream media had to take an interest … now we’ve had Channel 4 News … we’ve had the newspapers … [ ]

JO: So you can actually force the media into a position … even if they’re dragging their feet … you can force them to …

A: even if they’re dragging their feet … you can force them but you have to do it by raising your voice … and that is lobbying them … writing letters tothem …. big demonstrations … the louder the voice … whatever means at our disposal … whatever peaceful means we have … we use them to raise the voice for the voiceless … because those people there in Myanmar … the Rohingya people haven’t got a voice …

JO: yes …

A: this could be said across the board … the people in Kashmir don’t have a voice … the people in Palestine … the international community is their voice … for all these people … and hopefully … this is just one small event … which builds the bigger picture …

JO: yes … that’s brilliant …

A: thank you

JO: you are very good at this …

A: thank you

JO: thank you


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