Myanmar (MNN) — The spread of the Islamic State has reached South Asia. Experts warn the terror group could be recruiting fighters from the Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar.
Partners Relief and Development CEO Steve Gumaer doesn’t find that surprising. “When people are marginalized and people are as demoralized as the Rohingya, for example, are in West Burma, then they fall prey to the offer of community that [ISIS] is reaching out with.”
The people group has no country to call home. There is no government protecting them. They’re easy targets for the Islamic State. “They’re reaching out to families, not just fighters, and they’re offering them a new narrative on what’s happening in the world. ‘You have experienced being disenfranchised, like we have; we will give you a place in our society.'”
Violent clashes between the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists have been ongoing in Myanmar for a number of years resulting in up to 100,000 Rohingya Muslims attempting to leave the country. From there, says Gumaer, “One of the concerns that leading thinkers have right now is those marginalized Muslims in South East Asia, in Burma. [They’re] only a step away from Indonesia and Malaysia where there’s already a clear recruitment strategy there.”
Their numbers would join those recruited from other Muslim areas of Southeast Asia, but why would they willingly perpetrate the kind of criminal activity they were trying to escape? Gumaer says most of the refugees have been driven to desperate measures for help. “I don’t believe most of them understand the violent roots and the radical form of Islam that they’re promoting.” He says most of the Rohingya they’ve worked with are dedicated to peace and they’re dedicated to a path that is the opposite of what ISIS is promoting. However, Gumaer adds, “I believe that once they end up in the hands of IS, they too will feel they’ve made a poor decision, but then they’re stuck.” The solution? Get in front of the problem. Make joining the Islamic State less attractive. “To stop it means to deal with the poverty, the denial of justic, and the suffering of those marginalized minorities.”
That’s easier said than done. Years ago, $30 marked the start of the Gumaers’ adventure of learning. Building relationships with partners on the ground, seeing where needs were, getting aid on the ground–all these elements were difficult. Raising awareness about the near-genocide happening has been a huge challenge. Gumaer says, simply, it’s a call for justice. “Our team looks at the announcement of Jesus in the world in Luke 4 as really marching orders. He’s announcing His mission when He says, ‘I have come so that the oppressed, the captives, can be set free.'”
Getting others to move past apathy has been perplexing. “We see the mandate of Christ where He says, ‘Setting the captives free, healing the sick, feeding the poor’ not as nice suggestions and not spiritualized truth, but we see them as simple fact.” Gumaer shares what happens when they show this kind of love to the Rohingya. “Without exception, the people we help want to know what our secret is. Our secret is that our leader has led us into this place where we love and care for our neighbor as we love and care for ourselves.”
Can fighting the growth of the Islamic State really boil down to pray, give, or go? “The Gospel calls us to so much more than our talk. It calls us to our wallets, our mouths, our cars, and our time. The answer to the question is that there is so much that people can do,” responds Gumaer. Click here to get started on your journey.