Why Deadly Race Riots Could Rattle Myanmar’s Fledgling Reforms

Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, June 12, 2012

The deadly race riots now cleaving northwestern Myanmar are an alarming reminder of a key threat to the country’s fragile and embryonic democracy: conflict among Myanmar’s myriad ethnic groups.

Violence continued Tuesday in Arakan state, three days after President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency there and sent troops to quell the looting, arson, and mob clashes that have pitted the Buddhist Rakhine minority against Muslim Rohingya. At least seven people were reported killed.

The president warned in a televised speech that “if we put racial and religious issues at the forefront … if we continue to retaliate and terrorize and kill each other … the country’s stability and peace, democratization process and development … could be severely affected and much would be lost.”

Many ethnic minorities have waged guerrilla insurgencies against the government since Myanmar’s (Burma’s) independence in 1948, seeking wider economic and political autonomy from the central authorities, which are dominated by the majority Bamar. The current clashes, however, are different, setting two minorities against each other, and posing an awkward security challenge for the government as it seeks to present a softer and more democratic image, steering the country away from military rule.

Hostility between the Rakhine and the Rohingya dates back many decades; as British troops fell back before the advancing Japanese in 1942, Rakhine mobs took advantage of the power vacuum to launch a pogrom against their neighbors.

The Rakhine regard the Rohingya—descended from laborers imported from what is now Bangladesh by the British colonial government more than a century ago—as foreign intruders. {snip}

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The estimated 750,000 Rohingya, one of the most miserable and oppressed minorities in the world, are deeply resentful of their almost complete absence of civil rights in Myanmar.

In 1982, the military junta stripped the Rohingya of their Myanmar citizenship, classing them as illegal immigrants and rendering them stateless. They are not allowed to leave their villages, nor may they marry, without permission. They are forbidden to have more than two children and for many years the authorities have subjected them to slave labor.

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Rohingya make up around 90 percent of the population of north Arakan, but their Rakhine neighbors dismiss them as “Bengali Muslims” and refuse to acknowledge the Rohingya communal identity that local Muslim leaders have forged over the past half century.

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  • John_D01

    This is an aberration.  Soon the people of Myanmar will realize that diversity is their greatest strength, much as it is in America.

    • Let us export our diversity consultants and sensitivity training squads to Burma.  Let them spread the glorious diversity there.

    • JackKrak

      Exactly. How will Myannmar get its space program off the ground and turn Rangoon into a global financial center without contributions from every part of its wonderful ethnic tapestry????

  • xxxtonygunsxxx

      looting, arson, and mob….
    Many ethnic minorities have waged guerrilla insurgencies….
    launch a pogrom against their neighbors….
    descended from laborers imported….
    one of the most miserable  minorities in the world, are deeply resentful….
    sounds like blacks here

  • Global Minority

    Order out of Chaos.

  • The__Bobster
    • IstvanIN

      NJ as well has been hit with Burmese.

  • xxxtonygunsxxx

    everybody don’t forget to jot down your predictions for this coming  weekends black on black  killings, shootings, and mob beatings of whites and/or asians   in chicago, mine is 12 shot dead 37 shot and 2 mob beatings

  • xthred

    Democracy in Myanmar? There’s no democracy in Myanmar. Ask the Karen people.

  • Shawn_thefemale

    Sorry, but as long as Myanmar is a country and not a city in the U.S., I don’t give a rat’s patoot what happens there as long as it stays there. Let them fight their own battles over race.  I no longer have the energy to care beyond our borders. We have our hands full here.

  • Shawn_thefemale

     I hardly ‘only rush to post excessive comments on black crime.’ I post no excessive comments, period; and I post in response to virtually all issues listed on Amren except regarding problems and issues in countries other than mine. There are massive amounts of Multi Cultural and Multi Ethnic issues here to deal with. When it’s in my country is when I make it my issue. Not until. Thanks for the chastisement anyway.

  • You cannot make a Burmese citizen out of a Bengali Muslim, imported from then East Pakistan as laborers into Burma. It won’t work. They are NOT ethnic Burmese, and can never be. It’s like Mexican nationals coming up North to pick lettuce on California farms. That doesn’t make them Americans.

  • You do make salient points. Chinese coolie labor used to build railroads – I honestly believe that if slavery had not been abolished in the U.S. courtesy of the Civil War and the aftermath, the railroad magnates would have brought Chinese over as slaves to build the railroads.

    Then you have Mexican agricultural laborers, and Bantus imported into Northern cities like Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh as scab labor. Henry Ford planted the seeds of Detroit’s destruction, by bringing unskilled bantu scab labor into Detroit, because he thought the autoworkers’s union was a work of the devil.

    Not just endemic to the U.S., of course. The French imported African Bantus into Haiti, to cut the sugar cane crop. Look what that got them.