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Posted by Nick Cheesman

CATATAN REDAKSI: Tulisan ini dimuat ke New Mandala dalam Bahasa Inggris pada 1 Mei 2017, sebelum kekerasan di negara bagian Rakhine terulang pada akhir Augustus 2017. Dr Nick Cheesman, ahli Myanmar dari Australian National University, bicara tentang penggolongan warga Myanmar ke dalam 135 “taingyintha” atau “ras nasional” resmi—dan bagaimana pengecualian Rohingya dari daftar tersebut menyebabkan penindasan terhadap mereka. Semoga terjemahan ini bermanfaat bagi pembaca New Mandala dari Indonesia.

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“Ras nasional” atau taingyintha kini menjadi salah satu gagasan politik utama di Myanmar. Gagasan itu mendorong terjadinya konflik brutal tentang apa dan siapa “Rohingya”. Taingyintha juga memicu kekerasan komunal, yang oleh para peneliti dan aktivis HAM dipandang sebagai kejahatan terhadap kemanusiaan, pembersihan etnis, dan genosida. Sesungguhnya sudah banyak penelitian dilakukan untuk memahami bagaimana dan mengapa “persoalan Rohingya” sulit diselesaikan. Namun sayangnya, tidak banyak yang mendalami peran konsep “ras nasional” tersebut dalam konflik soal identitas Rohingya secara spesifik, dan politik kontemporer di Myanmar. Pertanyaan yang hendak dijawab oleh tulisan ini adalah bagaimana gagasan taingyintha bisa mengemuka secara politis? Bagaimana ide ini tumbuh, berkembang dan berubah?

Taingyintha adalah sebuah istilah yang—seperti dengan banyak istilah politik modern yang menonjol di Asia Tenggara—memiliki sejarah yang tidak panjang ataupun gemilang. Taingyintha juga bukan istilah politik yang penting dalam perjuangan melawan penjajahan Inggris. Meskipun istilah taingyintha muncul dalam dokumen rancangan konstitusi, namun gagal mendapat perhatian khusus di dalam Konstitusi 1947 dalam bab tentang kewarganegaraan. Di dalam versi bahasa Inggris, taingyintha diterjemahkan sebagai “ras pribumi”. Taingyintha bahkan tidak ada di dalam Perjanjian Panglong 1947 yang diperingati setiap tahun dan dipandang sebagai dasar dari kesatuan taingyintha. Gagasan ini tetap berada di posisi marjinal dalam khasanah politik Myanmar sampai dekade berikutnya.

Pada 12 Februari 1964 taingyintha menemukan momentum baru, dari sebuah gagasan sederhana menjadi sebuah ide besar yang didominasi militer. Jenderal Ne Win, yang memimpin kudeta dua tahun sebelumnya, menggunakan gagasan taingyintha dengan sangat antusias. Dalam pidatonya di acara Union Day [Hari Persekutuan], Jenderal Ne Win menekankan perlunya ras nasional untuk berkumpul dan bersatu demi kebaikan bangsa. Ia menyatakan bahwa pemerintah akan bekerja secara sistematis untuk merealisasikan kesetaraan ekonomi dan sosial untuk ras nasional. Jenderal Ne Win juga mendukung program-program ras nasional di dalam literatur, bahasa dan budaya. Pada tahun yang sama, pemerintah kemudian mendirikan Akademi untuk Pengembangan Ras Nasional. Setahun berikutnya, para peneliti dan universitas di seluruh negeri mulai melakukan penelitian untuk mendokumentasikan dan mempublikasikan studi tentang ras nasional. Setelah itu, taingyintha mendapat tempat yang penting dalam kosakata negara dan di dalam program pembangunan negara, dan digunakan dalam upaya ritual persatuan nasional. Pada tahun 1980-an, istilah “ras nasional” sudah lazim digunakan dalam teks politik, dengan merujuk pada persaudaraan historis antara ras-ras tersebut, serta kemauan mereka untuk kerjasama demi tatatan ekonomi sosialis baru.

Ketika tatanan ekonomi itu ambruk karena protes besar di seluruh negeri pada tahun 1988, gagasan ras nasional tidak hanya bertahan tetapi justru muncul lebih kuat dari sebelumnya. Junta militer yang baru berkuasa menyatakan secara terus menerus bahwa “tidak runtuhnya solidaritas taingyintha” adalah salah satu tujuan pokoknya. Karena tidak ada tema pemersatu yang lain, ras nasional dimunculkan pada setiap publikasi dan acara resmi pemerintah. Tahun berikutnya, junta militer membentuk Komite Sentral untuk Pembangunan Perbatasan dan Ras Nasional yang kemudian menjadi Kementrian untuk Pembangunan Kawasan Perbatasan.

Jika pada 1940an adalah masa awal kemunculan taingyintha sebagai istilah negara, dan pada tahun 1960an adalah masa pelembagaan, maka pada 1990an taingyintha lahir kembali, tetapi dengan dua makna yang berbeda. Pertama, ide bahwa ras nasional terdiri dari sebuah komunitas politik tunggal yang bersatu di dalam perjuangan untuk melawan musuh bersama baik di dalam maupun dari luar. Kedua, bahwa ras-ras nasional sekaligus adalah sebagian dari masyarakat itu: yaitu, orang yang hidup tempat jauh, dan gagal maju karena perang saudara dan pengabaian. Diantara dua makna tersebut, taingyintha dipergunakan untuk menjustifikasi operasi militer melawan kelompok separatis. Bantuan negara diperlukan untuk menyatukan kembali seluruh taingyintha dalam kondisi kesatuan yang alamiah, yang telah diganggu oleh kejadian historis.

Kebangkitan konsep taingyintha ini pada 1990an tercampur dengan pesan ketiga lewat proyek yang disebut Gustaaf Houtman sebagai “Myanmarisasi” negara, dimana nama Burma diubah menjadi Myanmar. Burma merujuk pada etnis Bamar, sedangkan nama Myanmar mengundang masuknya seluruh taingyintha ke dalam Persekutuan negara. Anak-anak sekolah di seluruh negeri sekarang bernyanyi lagu tentang Myanmar untuk menandakan taingyintha. Namun buku-buku yang mereka pelajari sesungguhnya tidak memasukkan semua huruf dan bahasa taingyintha, melainkan hanya kelompok dominan saja. Dalam realitasnya, Myanmar hanya menandai budaya dan bahasa kelompok utama, yakni Burma. Untuk berbicara dan membaca menggunakan bahasa Bamar, untuk beradab dan berbudaya seperti Bamar, adalah tidak lebih dan tidak kurang menjadi Myanmar—atau dengan kata lain, menjadi taingyintha.

Saat ini, Konstitusi 2008 mengkonsolidasi ras national ke dalam institusi formal yang melihat komunitas politik bukan sebagai sebuah agregasi warga individu tetapi agregasi ras nasional. Dari kata-kata pembukaannya, Konstitusi 2008 memberikan landasan relasi konseptual antara ras nasional dan kewarganegaraan. Keanggotaan ras nasional jelas berbeda dengan status sebagai warga, dan secara leksikal dan legal ras nasional berdiri lebih tinggi dari konsep kewarganegaraan. Dengan demikian, berbicara tentang Myanmar adalah memperbincangkankan taingyintha, bukan sebagai konsep kewarganegaraan tetapi sebagai ras nasional.

Karena gagasan tainyintha telah melebihi kewarganegaraan, muncul ketidakpastian tentang posisi penduduk Myanmar yang dianggap bukan dari “ras nasional” tersebut. Orang-orang yang lahir dan hidup di Myanmar, tetapi secara yuridis diasingkan, kini harus mencari jalan untuk masuk ke dalam komunitas politik. Dan satu-satunya jalan bagi mereka, secara politis, adalah tunduk pada politik dominasi yang secara inheren merupakan bagian dari proyek ras nasional. Persoalan inilah yang telah diperjuangkan oleh Rohingya.

Advokasi Rohingya untuk menjadi bagian dari taingyintha dilakukan dalam dua bagian. Pertama, untuk membuktikan keberadaan Rohingya yang terlibat dalam perjuangan ideologi dan politik pada tahun 1930-an dan 1940-an, periode dimana konsep taingyintha mengemuka. Bagian kedua mengharuskan Rohingya memiliki status penting dari ras nasional dalam sejarah resmi. Dengan demikian, untuk membangun keberadaan Rohingya di dalam Myanmar tergantung pada proyek penulisan sejarah resmi dan klaim bahwa “ras nasional” itu juga benar-benar ada. Ras nasional telah hidup di dalam wilayah yang sekarang dikenal sebagai Myanmar sejak 1823, demikian juga Rohingya. Ras nasional hidup bersama sebelum penjajah Inggris datang, demikian juga Rohingya. Ras nasional berjuang bersama melawan penjajah sampai masa kemerdekaan, demikian juga Rohingya yang menyerahkan nyawa untuk memerangi penjajah.

Sejarah alternatif dari advokasi Rohingya tidak mempertanyakan konsep ras nasional tetapi justru mereproduksinya agar didengar. Mereka tidak punya banyak pilihan kecuali menunjukkan komitmen pada konsep taingyintha. Karena orang-orang Rohingya pada posisi yang lemah, maka mereka menggunakan setiap kesempatan untuk menunjukkan bahwa mereka membela ras nasional lebih daripada yang lain.

Dalam keadaan seperti ini, tanggung jawab khusus diberikan pada orang-orang yang tidak terikat pada politik taingyintha untuk mempertanyakan konsep taingyintha. Tanggung jawab ini tidak cukup sekedar menolak diskriminasi Rohingya dan mengutuk pelanggaran berat HAM. Tanggungjawab itu untuk meneliti dan menjelaskan bahwa persoalan Myanmar bukan hanya Rohingya, tetapi ada persoalan yang lebih besar tentang ras nasional, dan bagaimana gagasan taingyintha itu sendiri bermasalah.

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Dr Nick Cheesman adalah Fellow di Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University. Bukunya Opposing the Rule of Law: How Myanmar’s Courts Make Law and Order diterbitkan oleh Cambridge University Press.

Tulisan ini dimuat di New Mandala dalam Bahasa Inggris pada 1 Mei 2017, sebagai ringkasan dari artikel berjudul How in Myanmar ‘National Races Came to Surpass Citizenship and Exclude Rohingya yang diterbitkan dalam edisi khusus Journal of Contemporary Asia tentang kekerasaan komunal di Myanmar.

Versi Bahasa Indonesia ini diterjemahkan oleh Danang Widojoko.

The post Ketika “ras nasional” mengalahkan kewarganegaraan appeared first on New Mandala.

Daw Suu and Ibu Mega

Sep. 19th, 2017 06:52 am
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Posted by Dandhy Laksono

EDITOR’S NOTE: the following opinion piece by Indonesian journalist and filmmaker Dandhy Laksono made headlines after he was reported to police under Indonesia’s controversial online defamation laws for comparing Megawati Soekarnoputri to Aung San Suu Kyi. For readers’ interest we are pleased to share a translation of his post prepared by Hellena Souisa.

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It’s hard not to join the crowd of those furious with the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, for what has happened to the Rohingya. A former political prisoner of 15 years, Suu Kyi is now considered to have power and influence after her party (NLD) won national elections in November 2015. However, she has been seen as inadequate in preventing the slaughter of ethnic Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s army and Buddhist hardliners.

In addition to being the leader of the winning party of the election, she is also the State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The office of Counsellor is equivalent to Prime Minister and has a 5 year term. Of course, in a country that has a number of powerful generals, I think political assessments cannot be naive. Often military members have their own agenda that is not always in line with the civilian government in power.

President John F Kennedy was feeling overwhelmed with the agenda of his generals at the Pentagon and the CIA amid the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), which brought him to the brink of starting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Likewise, Suharto and his comrade generals built contacts discreetly with Allied parties in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, when then President Sukarno was promoting a ‘Ganyang Malaysia’ (‘crush Malaysia’) campaign in 1963.

Our judgement of Suu Kyi in the case of the Rohingya should therefore always consider this delicate balance of power within the country, especially as Myanmar has been under the power of a military regime for more than 50 years, one which also had a record of killing civilians: for example, the bloody 8888 uprising in which 3,000 to 10,000 people died. (The number of 8888 is taken from the date of the event, 8 August 1988, while the resistance movement also has the other “magic number” of 7777, from the series of protests started on 7 July 1977).

Nevertheless, it seems that Suu Kyi did not push back in the same way that Kennedy did when he felt he was being harassed by the hardline generals. Instead, there is an impression that Suu Kyi is part of the problem. She always mentions that the case of the Rohingya is another example of violence that also occurs among other ethnic groups, such as the Karen.

The disappointment in Suu Kyi was further evident in May 2017, when the Myanmar Government refused and denied UN reports of what was happening to the Rohingya in Rakhine State. In June 2017, the Myanmar government shut down access to UN investigators.

In 2013 Suu Kyi even made a comment that was considered racist, when being interviewed by the BBC reporter, Mishal Husain. After the interviewer bombarded her with questions about the Rohingya case, Suu Kyi said “no-one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”, according to a biography written by Peter Popham. Moreover, there is an excerpt of Suu Kyi’s interview which showed her determination to accumulate power after she won the election: she said she would be “above the president, I will make all the decisions because I am the leader of the winning party.” The context of the statement was an affirmation of Suu Kyi that although the military group challenged her with a constitution that made her ineligible to be president (because both of her children hold a British passport) she considers herself more powerful than the head of state.

So, how does this have anything to do with Megawati?

In a different context and with different details, Indonesians also have experienced a situation where an icon of the struggle for democracy—one who was once repressed by the New Order regime (such repression meeting its peak in the events of 27 July 1996)—turned out to be unreliable, and did not fulfil their promise of being an agent of nonviolent problem solving.

Even though her party won national elections in June 1999 with about 34% of the vote, the Chairperson of PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Stuggle), Megawati Soekarnoputri, was aware that it did not automatically make her president, since at that moment the president was still elected by the People’s Consultative Assembly.

In her post-election victory speech at Lenteng Agung on 29 July 1999, she continued her campaign and burst into tears:

“For the people of Aceh, if I am trusted to lead the country, believe me, Cut Nyak [comparing herself to the Acehnese anticolonial fighter] will not allow a single drop of blood to hit the land of Rencong, which has great merit in promising the independence of Indonesia. For you all, I will give my love. I will give the outcome of your Arun [natural gas field] so that the people can enjoy how the beautiful Porch of Mecca is if built with love and responsibility for our fellow citizens of Indonesia.”

Not only addressing the Acehnese, who had experienced the bloody operation under the code name of ‘Red Net’ from 1988 to 1998, Megawati also had some words for Papua:

“This is also what I am going to do to my brothers and sisters in Irian Jaya and beloved Ambon. The day of victory is not far away, brothers and sisters.”

But we all know what happened later, as has been written in our history. After she replaced President Abdurrahman Wahid, who took the road of peace and cultural diplomacy in handling Aceh, President Megawati sent 40,000 soldiers to Aceh on 19 May 2003 and declared martial law. Much more than “one single drop” of blood was spilt there.

Most likely, she followed the beat of the drum played by generals and diplomats who engineered the war in Aceh by leaving series of international negotiations deadlocked, even capturing the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)’s negotiator. (This is particularly reminiscent of what the Dutch General de Kock did when he caught Diponegoro during the negotiation process in the Java War in colonial times.)

As a producer of the Liputan6 SCTV news program at that time, the footage of Megawati’s speech in Lenteng Agung on 29 July 1999 was one that I looked for when I made a review of the martial law in Aceh.

According to the digital catalogue, the recording was on one of the Betacam cassettes in the library. I sought for it in racks of tapes, and yet I could not find it. The librarian was also confused because that tape was not on the lending list. I insisted the tape be found immediately.

Senior journalists tipped me off that tapes containing sensitive material have always ended up “missing” in Indonesian televisions stations’ libraries, let alone recordings of the speeches of a politician who becomes president. Hearing that, the librarians and I became even more active in looking for it. We looked in every corner of the library and the editing room, with faith that it was unlikely that the tape was smuggled out. Martial Law was announced early that morning and I only mentioned the tape in the afternoon editorial meeting.

After hours of searching, the tape was finally found on top of a shelf. We could only see the tape after the librarian climbed up a chair. There were no other tapes in there, only that one. When we played it back, it was exactly in the middle of Megawati’s speech. (One tape lasted up to 90 minutes, and usually consisted of a variety of events). Luckily, someone uploaded that historic speech to YouTube, although it is incomplete. (The speech about Aceh can be viewed here from minute 03:00.)

Arun gas field revenue sharing, which she mentioned, was only included in the Aceh Government Law after the Helsinki peace talks in August 2005. Even these negotiations were forced by the tsunami, and not based on political will.

As for Papua, Abdurrahman Wahid, who had never campaigned for president nor wept in front of cameras, in fact implemented humanitarian diplomacy in Papua. The Morning Star flag could be raised as a cultural symbol, and he permitted the Papuans to hold the Papuan People’s Congress.

But when replaced by Megawati, the approach to Papua suddenly changed. The generals who complained during the time of Gus Dur were again given an opportunity to discharge their libido of “nationalism and patriotism”. In November 2001, during Megawati’s presidency, the assassination of Theys Hiyo Eluay occurred. Theys was the leader of a transformation in Papua from physical resistance to political diplomacy.

So until now, the supposedly imminent “day of victory” has taken the shape of a massive and historically unprecedented capture. Right after Megawati’s party returned to power through PDI-P’s legislative victory in 2014, and the election of President Joko Widodo (whom she called a “party functionary”, just as Suu Kyi asserted her power), the number of arrests of citizens in Papua has rocketed to 1,083 people, higher than the number arrested by President SBY. Even according to the records of LBH Jakarta and Tapol, between April and June 2016 alone, there were 4,198 Papuans arrested in various places in Indonesia for expressing their political aspirations.

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Dandhy Dwi Laksono is a documentarian, and journalist. He is a founder of WatchdoC Documentary, and co-founder of acehkita.com, where this article first appeared in Bahasa Indonesia. You can follow him on Twitter at @dandhy_laksono.

Hellena Souisa is a PhD Candidate at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne. You can follow her on Twitter at @sweethellena.

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Posted by Khin Zaw Win

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has been labeled a terrorist organisation. It has caused a number of deaths—local civilian as well as security personnel. It is to be condemned and rooted out—no doubt about that at all. Indeed, since over two years ago, think tanks and diplomats in neighbouring countries have warned me personally about Islamist terrorist groups making their advent in Myanmar and I had passed this information on. The violence erupted as these friends had foretold, and we are now seeing the nature and the extent of the Myanmar state’s response. At this point we need to deeply consider one fundamental question: is ARSA and its attacks the cause or the consequence?

The Rohingya issue has a long provenance, but beginning from the first military junta period (also known as the Burma Socialist Programme Party regime) that community began to be regarded as a problem from at least the 1970s. Immigration operations were carried out in the northern Rakhine border townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw. At least on two occasions, hundreds of thousands of Muslims (mostly Rohingya) fled into neighbouring Bangladesh. Official negotiations had to be held and most of those who had fled were taken back.

The Myanmar government’s next response was to bottle up the Rohingya in those and adjacent townships, in the process stripping them of many basic rights. That region became a ghetto or quarantined area, and the situation festered for decades. The communal violence that erupted in 2012 started in another area of Rakhine state, and quickly spread to central Myanmar and also to north Rakhine. There were burnings and counter-burnings of homes and entire villages, in addition to other atrocities. As a result many Muslim communities were moved into IDP camps ‘for their own safety’, these became in actuality 21st century concentration camps. Rakhine Buddhists have been displaced too, and there are a number of Buddhists from Bangladesh who have sought refuge in Rakhine.

It is well known by now that herding people into confinement (by whatever name it goes) and depriving them of their rights is a surefire way to breed violence, crime and militancy. This policy is as misguided and ineffective as it is inhumane. Continuing it and expecting people to be docile is the height of delusion.

The present crisis, with 400,000 Rohingyas having to take shelter in Bangladesh, is still in its early stages. The Office of the State Counsellor, no less, has announced that 432 have lost their lives. Of the people who have fled, only those who can show ‘proof’ will be allowed back. The state counselor herself will be making a speech to the nation (in English) on Tuesday 19 September—in part to make up for not going to the UN General Assembly meeting, I might add. Here, I would like to say that simply addressing the nation, and all the accompanying pious rhetoric, cannot make up for sheer incompetence in policy and on the ground responses.

Those in positions of authority will do their best to wriggle out of this crisis with bluster, spin and lies. Decent and well-intentioned people within the country and the world over must hold them accountable and task them with effecting urgently-needed changes. At the risk of sounding theatrical, if this opportunity is passed over and lost, the forces of darkness in Myanmar shall win again. Yes, a number of geopolitical assessments have been penned, and I dare say there are people in many foreign capitals making their calculations. But at this point I must stress that human lives matter more than geopolitics, a warning not only for the Rohingya but for all the people in Myanmar as well. If the dark forces are emboldened, other ethnicities and communities will certainly experience the edge of their hand. This occurred in the mid-1960s, when Ne Win gained a measure of popularity by chasing Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese out of then Burma, after nationalising their business and property. Two decades later, hundreds of Bamar protesters had to die in the streets to bring his regime down.

Donald Trump notwithstanding, many developed countries are embracing diversity, multiculturalism and the value of immigrants. Myanmar does not have to be rich or developed to understand and accept this fundamental, undeniable historical fact.

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Khin Zaw Win is the Director of the Tampadipa Institute, working on policy advocacy and capacity building since 2006. His current engagement includes communal issues, nationalism and international relations. He is also an honorary advisor at the Myanmar Institute for Strategic and International Studies, the Foreign Ministry’s think tank. He served under the Department of Health, Myanmar, and the Ministry of Health, Sabah, Malaysia and did the Masters in Public Policy programme at the National University of Singapore. He has held a fellowship with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (New York office) and was also a UK FCO Chevening Fellow at the University of Birmingham. He was also a prisoner of conscience in Myanmar for “seditious writings” and human rights work from 1994 –2005.

Header photo via Flickr user Dany13, used under Creative Commons.

The post Fences and ghettoes aren’t the answer in Rakhine appeared first on New Mandala.

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Posted by Jonathan Saha

Public discussions around Rohingya people currently fleeing violence in Rakhine state, Myanmar, have often involved arguments about history. While critical historical analysis is useful in offering insights into conflicts, History—if treated as a single, knowable past—is not. This is especially true when dealing with ethnicity. Whatever the past was, no amount of historical research can justify the current violence against Rohingya people.

The debate around Rohingya ethnicity lacks awareness of wider historiography (the history of historical research). On the one side, those denying that this is ethnic cleansing argue that there is no such thing as a Rohingya ethnic group. It is claimed that these people are actually Bengali Muslim migrants. The writings of historians such as Jacques Leider have been used, by some, to support this position. He argues that the use of the term Rohingya to connote this Muslim population, although noted by eighteenth-century European travelers, is a modern one. For him, Rohingya is primarily a political identity. On the other side, Rohingya activists have resisted this characterisation. They have countered that there is evidence of Muslims living in the Rakhine region for centuries, and that these groups have periodically been called Rohingya.

Writing in The Diplomat last year, one commentator attempted to disentangle these debates by arguing that “the Rohingya are not an ethnic, but rather a political construction. [emphasis in original]”. This is wrong. Not only wrong in the sense of it being inaccurate, but wrong in two other ways: 1) in that it relies on a false division between the categories “political” and “ethnic”, and then treats the two as if they are mutually exclusive; and 2) in that it assumes that we can definitively know people’s ethnic identification in the past.

Starting with 1). There is no ethnic identity that is not also, in part, a political construction. Ethnicity has proved a difficult object for historians to pin down. Its definitions and modes of expression have changed over time. As a result, surviving evidence of ethnic identification is often hugely varied across time. However, historians working on a range of different time periods argue that ethnic identification is intimately connected to political arrangements. Victor Lieberman, global historian of the medieval and early modern periods, argued, specifically on the case of Myanmar, that developments in state structures were intertwined with shifts in ethnic identification. As polities became more bureaucratic, ruling ethnic identifies hardened. Historians of the nineteenth century, such as David Scott, have argued that colonial regimes fostered a further hardening of ethnic identity, as it became central to how groups interacted with the state. Anti-colonial nationalism and decolonisation only made the political import of ethnicity greater, as work on nationalism has shown. It is not only Rohingya ethnicity that is a political construct, so too is Bengali, so too is Rakhine, so too is Bama. What is more, the use of these different political constructions of ethnicity shape how people self-identify.

2) Just because there is limited historical evidence of Muslims in this corner of the Bay of Bengal referring to themselves as Rohingya, this does not mean that there was not a form of ethnic identification that could be traced back to earlier periods if (and it’s a big if) we could know how this population self-identified. But can we know this? What records would have been left that could evidence how these populations would have seen themselves? We might even ask, if such records were produced, would we be able to fully understand them on the same terms as those past peoples? The terms used or adopted by ethnic groups are historically fluid. Mandy Sadan’s amazing book on the Kachin captures this process of “being and becoming” in detail. Since we can not know, or necessarily entirely understand, ethnic self-identification in the past, its recorded absence is no basis for denying current ethnic self-identifications. This is just as true for Burmese nationality as it is for Rohingya ethnicity. As historians such as Alicia Turner have shown, nationalism as a primary identity is a modern phenomena in Myanmar (as I would argue it is globally), one that has emerged partly out of anti-colonial politics. Just because there was no Burmese nation in the seventeenth century—at least not as we would understand the term today—does not mean that contemporary Burmese people are not really Burmese.

History has limits. We can only know so much. It can only answer certain questions. The discussion around the history of the Rohingya, at its worst, deflects attention away from the problem of defining citizenship through ethnic indigeneity. Such a definition is premised on bad history and ethnic chauvinism, and it is a problem across the world. More urgently, right now in Myanmar it is contributing to an ongoing ethnic cleansing of a people who today identify as Rohingya, irrespective of what we may or may not know of the past.

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Jonathan Saha is Associate Professor of Southeast Asian History at the University of Leeds. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jonathan_Saha.

This post originally appeared at his personal research blog, Colonizing Animals.

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On the latest Rohingya crisis

Sep. 11th, 2017 10:54 pm
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Posted by Trevor Wilson

International media were overwhelmed at the end of August 2017 by reports of widespread attacks by Myanmar’s military forces against elements of the Rohingya population. This occurred once again in northern Rakhine state, near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh.

More than 160,000  Rohingya were reported to have fled to Bangladesh to avoid getting caught up in the violence [at time of posting, UNHCR estimates 313,000—Editor], but were reportedly turned back by the Bangladesh security authorities, or arrested. More than 100 are reported to have been killed in the various military operations that took place.

Such fighting has occurred in the past, sometimes resulting in mass illegal movements of Rohingya into Bangladesh border areas, but this may have been the first time such violence was witnessed first hand by international media.

National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s defensive public statements about the Myanmar Army’s indiscriminate actions against the Rohingya population also shocked many international observers.

Even her latest statement of 6 September still makes no mention of what her government proposes to do specifically in order to remedy the situation of the Rohingya. Her 7 September statement to the BBC about doing the best to maintain stability and to protect all people in the area is not especially reassuring.

Suu Kyi may have her own reasons for continuing cooperation with the Myanmar Army in their current power-sharing arrangement, but why wouldn’t she display some political leadership on behalf of the Rohingya? After all, even if an intervention by her was unsuccessful, she would be given credit for her courage and for her principles.

Behind the latest crisis, there is a significant new factor in the Rakhine political landscape. This is in the form of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), described by Suu Kyi and others as a terrorist group, and showing many of the attributes of Islamist terrorist groups elsewhere.

ARSA has declared links with Islamic State, uses crude anti-authoritarian propaganda, and shows a willingness to introduce arms into what was previously an ‘unarmed political struggle’. The utterly opportunistic nature of their public profile, and blatant use of ordinary Rohingya to cover for their own extremism are similarly shared attributes.

The alleged destabilising role of ARSA has attracted considerable attention from intelligence agencies, with various accusations of external interference adding unnecessary complications.

Remarkably, this latest flight of the Rohingya coincided with the 24 August release of the first report by the Kofi Annan Commission on Rakhine State. It was appointed a year earlier by the head of the Myanmar government, State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Indeed, the Myanmar government has not even had time to respond to the report.

Visiting Myanmar at the time, Annan took the opportunity to reinforce his call for the Myanmar government to accept the essentially practical, but generally short-term, recommendations of his report. Not surprisingly, the report is silent on the question of how a political compromise, or consensus, on the Rohingya inside Myanmar might be struck.

It is hard to believe that the timing of these incidents was absolutely unrelated to the publication of the Annan Commission report.

Many leaders in Myanmar—including perhaps Aung San Suu Kyi herself—are becoming rather exasperated with the high-minded obsession that they see international agencies displaying towards the Rohingya. The Myanmar government as well as the Myanmar Army have openly objected to the one-sided statements about the condition of the Rohingya made by some United Nations representatives, apparently influenced by the more vigorous campaigns by rights groups in recent years.

These campaigns may have considerable justification, as the Rohingya have long been dreadfully treated by the majority Burmans. But the insensitivity of the campaigns has certainly provoked Buddhist extremists, as well as disconcerting others.

Some in Myanmar have also been upset when atrocities documented against Rohingya in neighbouring countries seem to be glossed over.

It is well known in Myanmar that popular attitudes towards Rohingya in Bangladesh are also not positive.

However, these reactions cannot excuse the wilful discrimination that has been practised against Rohingya in Myanmar without reason, for many decades or generations. Nor do they justify Myanmar not according basic civil rights to Rohingya, such as the right to citizenship or the right to seek permanent residence.

The Myanmar National Security Adviser’s undertaking that any Rohingya holding Myanmar citizenship who fled to Bangladesh for their safety could return to Myanmar was intended to be a deterrent rather than being generous.

Moderate and reasonable as the Annan Commission recommendations are, it might be too much to expect the Myanmar Government to do much about them, given its manifest lack of interest in finding any true resolution for the Rohingya.

In these circumstances, Suu Kyi’s reluctance to offer a better deal for the Rohingya is something of a mystery. The likely result of leaving the Myanmar Army to deal with an extremist armed group in its own way, while in accordance with Myanmar’s constitution, is the creation of yet another insurgency. Driven by largely unfounded fears about national ‘cohesion’ without hope of any negotiated outcome.

It does nothing to break the army’s long lasting but unproductive and cruel dominance in Rakhine State.

International leaders visiting Myanmar immediately after the latest incidents only reinforced impressions of the international community’s inability to have any impact on the situation, at least under current conditions.

Visiting Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, could offer no real assistance. Although ASEAN could in theory act as a mediator.

Also visiting Myanmar in the same week, Indian Prime Minister Modi could only repeat in general terms longstanding, but still unfulfilled, promises of development assistance to Rakhine State.

…………………………

This post originally appeared at the Asian Studies Association of Australia’s Asian Currents blog.

Trevor Wilson is a Visiting Fellow on Myanmar at the Department of Political and Social Change in the ANU’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs. He is currently a member of the advisory panel for the ANU Myanmar Research Centre. His 36-year career in the Australian foreign service included serving as Australia’s Ambassador to Myanmar (2000–2003).

Header image: Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The post On the latest Rohingya crisis appeared first on New Mandala.

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