Islamization of the CHT and West Papua: Endless Power Concentration

Photo: Modern Tokyo Times

        Sawako Utsumi and Lee Jay Walker       

The non-Muslim indigenous of West Papua (Indonesia) and the Chittagong Hill Tracts (Bangladesh) have been abandoned by the international community for decades, the result being enormous negative ethnic changes, Islamization, and cementing the rule of Bangladesh and Indonesia respectively. Hence, the mainly Buddhist ethnic groups of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and predominantly Christians Papuans face the brutal reality of Islamization, ethnic nationalism being pushed for geopolitical purposes, and losing control over natural resources. Therefore, the indigenous of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and West Papua are being forced on the margins, while various Islamic religious networks are pushing the religious angle.

Islam was minuscule in the Chittagong Hill Tracts but the partition of India would ultimately lead to two majority Muslim nations after Bangladesh became independent in 1971 from Pakistan. Sadly, for the various ethnic and religious groups of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, with Buddhism being the predominant faith, the new nation-state of Bangladesh would start a process of Islamization. This process was rapid because Bengali Muslim migration was endless, while the military angle meant the complete alteration of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Thereby, the non-Muslim cultural, ethnic, and religious angle of this area was altered in the favor of Islam and Bengali nationalism.

Likewise, Islam was minuscule in West Papua until Indonesia swallowed up the mainly Animist and Christian Papuans by altering the demographics and religious angle. Hence, just like the mainly Buddhists of the Chittagong Hill Tracts would face the double edge-sword of Islamization and Bengali nationalism; the West Papuans would face Islamization and the intrigues of Javanization. Therefore, the resource-rich West Papua would witness the crushing of the non-Muslim indigenous by various forms of power concentration processes by Indonesia.

The strengthening of the Javanese and the Indonesian central state is a relentless factor in West Papua. Similarly, other mainly Muslim ethnic groups have settled based on the transmigration program. Thereby, West Papuans face increasing marginalization, the rapid growth of Islam, the exploitation of Indonesian and foreign ownership of natural resources, enormous non-Papuan immigration, and power concentration policies aimed at crushing the indigenous. In other words, the indigenous Papuans have been reduced to “inferior status” in their own homeland based on Indonesian power concentration processes.

Turning back to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Al Jazeera stipulated several years ago, “Indigenous demands for autonomy remain unheeded. And the Hill Tracts remain the most highly militarized region in Bangladesh. Drive around and it feels like an occupation, even if it isn’t being called one.”

Modern Tokyo Times in a past article stated, “The international media is negating the serious issue of Bengali Muslims overwhelming the indigenous in Assam (India), the Chittagong Hill Tracts (Bangladesh), Rakhine (Myanmar), and other areas. Indeed, it appears that Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and Tribal groups don’t even enter the equation. Similarly, the Pope and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) appear blinded by their own respective agendas. Hence, the indigenous remain voiceless and at the mercy of endless Bengali Muslim migration, a land grab, and Islamization by stealth.” 

The Papuans fully understand the above. After all, the indigenous of West Papua and the Chittagong Hill Tracts face endless mass immigration, Islamization by stealth, a land grab, the respective geopolitical ambitions of Bangladesh and Indonesia, cultural shocks and degradation, economic and political marginalization, and other brutal ills that beset the indigenous. Therefore, if the international community continues to remain overwhelmingly silent – while some are benefitting at the expense of the indigenous based on exploiting resources – then all notions of democracy, liberty, human rights, and religious pluralism is being thrown out the window.

Hence, it is high time for Bangladesh and Indonesia to be held accountable for the brutal deeds being done by central forces, whose only focus is the power concentration of the dominant ethnic and religious group. Otherwise, the international community is rubber-stamping the entire altering of the cultural, ethnic, and religious make-up of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and West Papua.

Source: Modern Tokyo Times