The unresolved communal riot in Myanmar

More than 18,000 Rohingya Muslims, many sick and some with bullet wounds, have fled the worst violence to grip Myanmar in at least five years, while thousands more are stuck at the Bangladesh border.

Myanmar has been the site of serious conflicts between Buddhist and Muslim communities, particularly in Rakhine state where at least 146,000 persons have been displaced since the first riots in June 2012. This violence has prompted International Organizations dedicated to early violence to issue alarms, but the dynamics of this conflict are understood differently in Myanmar.

The first and most deadly incident began in June 2012 when widespread rioting and clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims, largely thought to be Rohingya Muslims, left 200 dead and displaced thousands. It was the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman which sparked off that deadly chain of events.

In March 2013, an argument in a gold shop in Meiktila in central Myanmar led to violence between Buddhists and Muslims which left more than 40 people dead and entire neighborhoods razed.

In August 2013, the rioters burnt Muslim owned houses and shops in the central town of Kanbalu after police refused to hand over a Muslim man accused of raping a Buddhist woman.

In January 2014, the UN said that more than 40 Rohingya men, women and children were killed in Rakhine State in violence that flared after accusations that Rohingyas killed a Rakhine policeman.

In June 2014, two people were killed and five hurt in Mandalay. Myanmar’s second city, following a rumor that spread on social media, that a Buddhist woman had been raped by one or more Muslim men.

The communal riots between these two groups traces back to a long  

history. The racial riots ensued during the 1930’s between the majority Burman Buddhist ethnic group and Muslim migrants of Indian descent, ultimately leading to the nationalist DohBama (We Burma) movement. This pivotal event subsequently saw the beginnings of Burman-Buddhist ethno nationalism and the start of nationwide anti-Indian sentiment, which later evolved into anti-Muslim attitudes. Indeed the perception that foreigners ran much of Burma’s finance and commerce was seen unacceptable. Anti-Indian and anti-Muslim attitudes were compounded during both the Japanese occupation of Burma (1942-1945) - when Muslims in British Burma, going against the leanings of the Burmese Independence Movement, sided with the colonial British-and the subsequent Rohingya Mujahideen rebellion (1948-1961) in which the Rohingya waged an unsuccessful secessionist campaign to create a separate Islamic state that would eventually join East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Prolonged periods of repression were accompanied by cycles of Rohingya migration from Rakhine state to bordering Bangladesh. The Burma citizenship law was enacted in 1982. The law did not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group of Myanmar stating that any ethnic group that settled in Myanmar after 1823 (the beginning of the first Anglo-Burmese war) was not entitled to citizenship. This act essentially legitimized discrimination against the Rohingya, which continues today.

Today a segment of Burman Buddhist monks represented by AshinWirathu is re-igniting sentiments of intolerance and flaming lingering resentment towards Rohingya, preaching hateful rhetoric and sowing fear in the attempt to change the ethnic demographics of Rakhine state. 

Ongoing repression of Rohingya is driven by Burman Buddhist fear of Islamic encroachment into Myanmar, as  well as an ongoing  

belief that the Rohingya could potentially threaten  Burmese Sovereignty by further segregating Rakhine state.

The authorities have been criticized for failing to act swiftly and assertively enough.

They have resorted to declaring states of emergency and night time curfews in some instances but they have been unable to prevent incidents from breaking out in the first place.

In April 2013, Human rights watch said that although state forces did intervene to protect fleeing Muslims, more often they fuelled unrest either by standing by or taking part in violence.

The government rejected these allegations and insists critics do not understand the situation on the ground.

There have been some limited judicial consequences with at least 10 Muslims and 20 Buddhists sentenced for their role in the Meiktila violence in 2013.

The government has yet to present any long term proposals to resolve the conflict.

There are two salient narratives driving anti- Rohingya/ anti- Muslim sentiments. The first is constructed around a fear of Islamic encroachment into Myanmar and demographic besiegement y Muslims- an idea that runs deep in Burman Buddhist society.

The second narrative espoused in the growing Burman-Buddhist nationalist movement is that "the Rohingya started it”. That is, Rohingya throughout history have 

arely followed Burmese national interests, instead several times having threatened Myanmar’s newfound sovereignty.

The root causes of the recent waves of inter religious violence involving Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state are deep, complex and date back many centuries.

Even the origins of the word Rohingya and how they came to be in Myanmar are controversial with some historians saying the group dates back centuries and others saying it only emerged as a campaigning force last century.

The Burmese government says they are relatively recent migrants from the Indian sub-continent. As a result the country’s constitution does not include them among indigenous groups qualifying for citizenship.

Historically, the Rakhine majority has resented the presence of Rohingyas, who they view as Muslim people from another country. There is widespread public hostility towards the Rohingya in Myanmar.

The Rohingya on the other hand, feel they are part of Myanmar. Neighboring Bangladesh already hosts thousands refugees from Myanmar and says it can’t take any more.

The clashes have raised concerns about the fragility of Myanmar’s democracy.

More than 400,000 people are calling for the leader of Burma’s national League for Democracy Party Aung Sang SuuKyi to be stripped off her Nobel Peace Prize over her response to the Rohingya Muslim crisis. People have now signed a petition on change.org demanding the Nobel committee withdraw the award from Ms.SuuKyi, who has been widely accused of failing to protect Burma’s Rohingya population.

Myanmar embraces Buddhist culture, not a modern one. The one important aspect of Buddhism is peace. That’s why they couldn’t handle these Rohingya Muslims through any wrongdoings. And the number of refugees in Myanmar occupies such a large number. It’s an ethical issue in reality.

We can’t blame the government or leaders like Aung Sang SuuKyi, since they are feared to comment or take any action on this issue. If they protect these Rohingya Muslims, these clashes and communal riots will sustain forever. If the government provides a peaceful atmosphere to live and stable conditions to sustain for these Rohingya Muslims, it will negatively affect the tranguility of Myanmar. That’s what keeps the government stays silent on the issue.

South African outspoken Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged Aung Sang SuuKyi to intervene in the crisis. “I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent  on public affairs out of profound sadness,” he writes in an open letter to his ‘beloved younger sister’ SuuKyi that was 

posted on social media. “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” Tutu said in his statement. Tutu who helped dismantle apartheid in South Africa and became the moral voice of the nation has joined in the condemnation.

Another one who commented on the issue is the world’s most well-known Buddhist icon who said that the plight of the minority group made him “very sad”. Speaking to reporters the Dalai Lama said the suffering of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar would have inspired Buddha to help. The Tibetan spiritual leader said those who are harassing Muslims “should remember Buddha”.

The Dalai Lama said he had also delivered this message to Myanmar’s leader Aung Sang SuuKyi several years ago at a meeting of Nobel peace Prize laureates.

Myanmar needs to be seen as a stable state, but it is always going to have to contend with the fact that it is one of Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries and people are watching to see how the government handles tensions between its many communities.

World Organizations and other nations should come forward to resolve the issues in Myanmar. Since, it is not in control of the nation. If this continues Myanmar will become the platform for world’s largest communal riot.

World Organizations and other nations should come forward to resolve the issues in Myanmar. Since, it is not in control of the nation. If this continues Myanmar will become the platform for world’s largest communal riot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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