ABBY COHEN: I'm Abby Cohen, and I am the Director of the Southeast Asia Program, and it's my great pleasure to welcome everyone to this afternoon's panel. I'd particularly like to welcome our keynote speaker Michael Charney, who's a professor of Asian and military history at SOAS. Our invited panelist, Eaint Thiri Thu, who's a film producer and graduate student at the University of Minnesota.
And Anne Blackburn, who is professor of Asian studies and director of the South Asia Program, who has very graciously agreed to step in at the very last minute because our colleague Magnus Fiskesjo, who was going to be the moderator for days' panel has fallen sick-- nothing serious, but rather quick onset and no condition to join us today. So Anne Blackburn is graciously stepping in. And I'd also very much like to welcome Geethika Dharmasinghe, who is a graduate student in Asian literature, religions and cultures, and who was key to organizing today's event.
So I would like to welcome everyone here, both on behalf of the Einaudi Center, as well as the Southeast Asia Program and the South Asia Program, together with the Collective of Concerned Students on Global Issues.
So today's event is part of the Einaudi Center's roundtable discussion series. And these roundtables address issues that cut across disciplinary boundaries or regions of the world. They tend to feature distinguished guests from around the world, and faculty experts from Cornell. Last week, we held a roundtable about the Indian Ocean in the 21st century, and the tensions there among India, China, and the United States. Other recent topics have included the potential of geothermal energy, the future of the World Bank, and the Syrian refugees crisis.
Today's event is part of a series of events on the Rohingya crisis, which has been jointly organized and hosted by the Einaudi Center, the Southeast Asia Program, and the Collective of Concerned Students on Global Issues, and co-sponsored also by the South Asia Program. And I'd like to give special thanks not only to Geethika, together with the other students who have been involved, but also to the Einaudi Associate Director, Heike Michelsen, who has really made today's events possible. And we've had an action-packed couple of weeks. So we really appreciate everyone's efforts to bring these events together.
So at this point, I'd like to invite Geethika to come up, and she'll say just a few words from the students' perspective about what we're about to hear about today, and then we'll get started with our panel on The Roots of the Rohingya Crisis, the Eradication of Myanmar Ethnic Group. Thank you very much.
GEETHIKA DHARMASINGHE: Thank you, professor. I would like to share why as students we want to organize these events on Rohingya right now. Of course, I gave a little background. Last week, we had the event with Gayatri Spivak, but I'll present it again, those who missed that event.
On August 23, 2017, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivered a set of recommendations to the president of Myanmar, [INAUDIBLE], on the ongoing problems in the Rakhine State. His commission prescribed actions to overcome the ethnic strife and solve the issue of Rohingya, including those who have been confined to internal camps in Rakhine since the violence in 2012.
But instead, an attack by Rohingyam elements became the start of what the Myanmarme called, a clear and separation. Three weeks later, top UN officials declared that the new Rohingya refugee crisis amounts to an act of ethnic cleansing. Over half a million Muslims have fled from Rakhine State in Myanmar during the last two months, and are desperately seeking refuge in Bangladesh and India.
Hastily created refugee camps are not able to meet the demands of the number of refugees that are still coming today, in every day, and now may number 800,000. As we read news reports on the violence every day, we must make more of an effort to understand its history and context. It is with this hope that we want to discuss not just the Rohingya crisis, but also the global politics within which it is situated.
The root cause of the crisis goes back to colonial times. The fight between the British and Japanese during the Second World War, divided the people living in Myanmar along religious and ethnic lines. After the end of the war and the independence of Myanmar, the Rohingya were never accepted into the new nation state as citizens. They have since been part of a long struggle against the injustices of the Myanmar nation state.
Today, the Rakhine State conflict, and the ensuring mass displacement of Rohingyas continue to be plagued by destructive forms of nationalism, and occurs in a context of American, Chinese, Indian, and Russian interest in Myanmar's natural resources and strategic Indian Ocean ports. The recent elections of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, were treated as a shiney light for democracy in Myanmar. But recent events have provoked a reassessment of her image. Perhaps we can ask whose dreams and expectations has she given up? Was she ever a messiah for the ordinary people in Myanmar and Rohingya?
Meanwhile, this shows a model of the nation to gain self-determination and independence can no longer work. We must look for a new vision for self-determination and peace. This is most evident in recent politics in Europe and the United States, which require us to question the concept of the nation state itself. As we move into an age where our hope for equality, under the regiment of Europe and United States, is fading away, we have to think of what models and what visions the new world will be based on.
It is convenient and easy to talk of human rights and be morally outraged at the situation of the Rohingya. As students in the United States, there are many things we can do. But we must develop our ideas and create a discourse which can allow us to intervene in a way that fights, not just of certain interest, but for humanities, as such. We need to recognize shared struggles between people and those who stand with [INAUDIBLE] solidarity with similar ground and struggle, such as those of Yemen, Palestine, Syria, and of communities in the United States itself.
Thank you. I would like to invite, in my grace, Bogdanove to talk about-- this group, under-graduate group. They're organizing a Rohingya event series on Rohingya, so she would like to speak about that. Thank you.
GRACE BOGDANOVE: Hi, everyone. I'm Grace Bogdanove. I am here on behalf of a 25-student organization coalition. We organized a Rohingya Week of Action that's starting next week on Monday. It's going Monday through Friday. And I think the most important event that we hope to see you all attend is our symposium on Thursday. We'll have a panel, a short film screening, and an art exhibit for you all to enjoy and to learn from.
So if you guys could go to our Facebook, that's where you'll have our event information. The Facebook event is entitled Rohingya Week of Action, and there are a ton of student organizations cosponsoring, so you'll probably find it floating around on your Facebooks anyway. But we hope to see you all there. Thank you.
ANNE BLACKBURN: So it's a great pleasure to be with you all today. I won't speak long now, just to say, first of all, that I regret very much the absence of our colleague Professor Magnus Fiskesjo, who has done so much, along with student organizers, to support a series of events and discussions related to Rakhine State, Rohingya crisis, and wider Indian Ocean questions. So we regret his absence today. And I'm just pitching in, in his unfortunate absence.
I've been asked to let you know the format for today's event that Michael Charney will offer a keynote lecture, starting in just a moment. We then have the pleasure of a response from Eaint Thiri Thu, who is here with us from the University of Minnesota. And then we will open up for a wider conversation, plenty of time for Q&A and discussion.
So for now, allow me to ask Michael Charney to come to the podium. He is Professor of Asian and Military History at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. A military and imperial historian, specializing in Southeast Asia in both the pre-modern and modern periods. I have, myself, used Michael Charney's work and benefited from it.
He received his PhD at the University of Michigan in 1999. Later joined the National University of Singapore, and then the school of Oriental and African Studies, or SOAS, as we know and love it, at the University of London. So it's a pleasure and an honor for us to have you here, Michael. Please, join us.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: Thanks for coming. Thanks to Geethika for inviting me, and to the Southeast Asia Center for arranging all of this, and Anne, for your introduction.
I'm going to just start speaking, because I have to pack a lot into 45 minutes. I'll be speaking today about some of the reasons that the Rohingya crisis has come to be, and why it is so persistent, and why it probably won't be resolved for some time to come. The Rohingya are mostly, but not all, Muslim. They have been in the Rakhine region of what is today Western Myanmar, Burma, since the 15th century, possibly earlier.
Officially, the population of the Rakhine region of Myanmar is a little over three million, and this number includes one million Rohingya within the country, but not the one million outside. For the latter to be included, they would form majority of the regional population. The Rohingya have also been identified as non-Myanmar Indians and alien Muslims by the Myanmar military, Buddhist extremists, and from what we can see, segments of the main NLD leadership in the country.
This has led to their being subject to constructive impoverishment. Most currently, they're being violenced out of Myanmar. The Rohingya situation is extremely complex and there are no easy answers. And on my dissertation, written many, many years ago, I tried to determine where the Muslims and Buddhists of Rakhine came from, and when they emerge. My idea was that the region was subject to the influences of Buddhistian and Islamization at about the same time, and for many of the same reasons.
I think that Buddhists and Muslim religious communal identities, the kind of religious identities that really mobilize people to act collectively, are relatively recent in Rakhine, and Myanmar as well, for that matter. The physical geography and climate of the Rakhine region favors approaches to living, and ruling, interacting, and community building. Social mentalities that were flexible and inclusive, that favored the emergence of ethnically and religiously diverse communities. And states, that by European standards, would be seen as heterodox and a major source of confusion.
We find lots of evidence that Buddhists and Muslims got along quite well. That trinal and sectarian problems were what motivated religious problems, but mainly Buddhist and Buddhist and Muslim on Muslim problems. The Muslim population itself, though small at first, jumped in size dramatically in the 17th century.
The Rakhine kingdom was taking in thousands of Bengali slaves, and Bengali soon to be Muslim's captive every year. Many of these captives were sold to European companies, but most probably stayed in Rakhine. Some, with special skills, entered the service of the Rakhine Court. Others, those that were seen as less skilled, were planted in the Kaladan River areas, where they grew rice.
Substantial recorded tensions emerged only centuries later, and in connection to the poverty and political empowerment in the region, after a period of forcible Burman occupation, beginning in 1784 and ending in 1824, 1826, depending on how we determine that. At this point, in 1826, the Rakhine people had no king, and communities had already been broken up because of years of the young being sent, as forced laborers, to Irrawaddy Valley, or others being driven north as refugees across the border.
Monks and religious teachers, thus, became essential to mobilize and collective action for community rebuilding. And about this time, large numbers of Rakhine, both Muslim and Buddhist, were returning to Rakhine as well, and tensions grew on this rice frontier amongst communities that were becoming increasingly politicized around religion.
Now, the political geography is also important. Rakhine is on the Northwestern frontier of the Myanmar state. As Victor Lieberman has discussed at length in Strange Parallels, Myanmar is one of three charter states that swallowed up a number of different polities by about 1830 on mainland Southeast Asia, making it one of the major lowland states of the region. And by 1784, it had stretched over the mountains and separated from Rakhine, and had included Rakhine as well.
And as James Scott has discussed most recently in The Art of Not Being Governed, but I think commented more directly upon it seen like a state, we can see more easily accessible and traversable lowland areas, a state space, space that lends itself to state administration, and see more difficult mountains' topography that predominates in Southeast Asia's border regions as nonstate space. That space which is difficult for a state to govern, and has been reached last by all the bad things associated with state controlled administration.
The parts of Rakhine that the Rohingya inhabit represent such an area of nonstate space. And the southern parts of Rakhine, that are predominantly inhabited by the Rakhine Buddhists, we might think of as state space. Now, why this is important is that one way to view the problems we see now in Northern Rakhine is that these anti-Rohingya pogroms are the last thrust of full lowland state integration. The Myanmar military is literally pushing Burman civilization up the hills, for Scott has said in other contexts, civilizations can't climb mountains.
This would certainly seem to be the case, when we look on the other side of the border, where Bangladesh is accused by local Buddhists, also historically Rakhine, of doing exactly the same thing. Pushing them out and across the border into Myanmar, the Bangladesh state, like the Myanmar state, now fully integrating its frontier, nonstate spaces into the body politic, and with it, the national language, the national faith, and the national culture.
Alternatively, we can see the impact of the expanding state in Rakhine a little differently. It has rendered many lowland Rakhine Buddhists into a different people than they had been in earlier centuries, with a different social mentality. Traditionally, the Rakhine, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu adopted approaches to life, state building, and community building, that were inclusive and heterogeneous, and give very little evidence of religious or racial bigotry until quite late.
As the Myanmar state expanded to incorporate Rakhine lowland space, the state promoted, both consciously or unconsciously, in fits, but also structurally, the Irrawaddyization of Rakhine, something that other scholars have called, for other parts of Burma, the process of Myanmarification. Many Rakhine Buddhists left the impoverished region, became an important population in colonial and post-colonial Rangoon and Mandalay. And later returned to revisited Rakhine, reinforcing the influence of Burman cultures, language, and mentalities in Southern Rakhine.
At the same time, the Rohingya experience the same kind of phenomenon. As other borderland peoples, they embrace the border like the Kachin, the Shan, and the Mon, the Karen, and many others along Myanmar's frontiers, and use it to their advantage, the border, refiguring life around it.
Rohingya interacted increasingly with areas north of Myanmar, and it's fair to say that they were influenced from Bengal and India and other areas, in the same way as Southern Rakhine were by the lowland Burmans. This helped to bifurcate the Rakhine people further. Perhaps inclusiveness declined among both groups, but regardless of the differences, it did not and should not be seen as having disenfranchised the Rohingya of being generally Myanmar ethnics. In the same way, the interactions with Thailand did not and does not make the Shan and Mon any less Burmese, nor make the Kachin and their interactions with the Son and Yunnan any less Burmese either.
Now, I will be highlighting what today I believe were the major factors at work in what we might call anti-Rohingya hysteria in contemporary Myanmar I'm not speaking about the religious communal's hatred within Rakhine that has emerged between Buddhists and Muslims in the era during the British colonial period, although I see this as an interrelated problem with the national anxiety over Rohingya today. But what has made this a national problem, why it has provoked a national response historically and today, and why this can only be resolved with a national solution, is due to four main factors.
First, colonialism. Colonialism impacted Rakhine differently and further back than it did the rest of Myanmar. It is to colonialism here that we can source many of the problems around the Rohingya issue today. Second, Rakhine's incorporation into the Myanmar nation state and the Myanmar national imaginary over the long term has provoked racial, religious, and political fears and animosities that have been fanned by different interests.
This is something you're going to find in every society. What makes things more of a problem in Myanmar is the active collusion of the military and the violence. The hostility to the Rohingya also takes the form of depictions of them being physically and, thus, biologically different. This has been suggested in official statements by Myanmar government officials.
To take one example, one Myanmar military commander recently publicly stated that accusations that the Myanmar military had raped Rohingya could not have happened, because his Burman soldiers would have found Rohingya women too physically repellent to rape. Any accusation of rape must then be a lie, fake news, to use the parlance that is now in vogue in the upper echelons of the NLD government.
Third, I think a great deal of blame should be directed at the failed transition to democracy in 2015, and the continuity of military control. Fourth, when we dig down to the bottom of the problem and its effects, problems and its effects, we can discern clear economic advantages to some groups, and expelling or otherwise forcing the Rohingya out of their areas of habitation. A great deal of blame has to be directed at the invisible forces of the much less discussed investment transition in the country, which has swept up Myanmar in fits and starts since 2010, but particularly from 2015.
Northern Rakhine, like many areas under Myanmar ethnic occupation, is the least exploited historically for mineral and other resources. And Rakhine, in particular, is in proximity to natural gas reserves in the Bay in Bengal, as well as pipelines bringing oil to Yunnan. I would also like to pose the invisible forces of the economy in another way, economic development. Because of increased investments and some supposed transition to democracy and economic growth, more resources are available, and more opportunities have presented themselves to stimulate the economy of Rakhine.
There is a possibility now of ending the poverty in the region. But compared to other parts of the country, it's going to be a relatively small pot, and there are lots of people in the region who will be competing for new opportunities that may become available. There is, thus, an incentive in eliminating from this competition half the population before those opportunities emerge.
By eliminating the Rohingya, the poor Rakhine Buddhists of the Deep South will have a much less complicated path to securing the benefits for themselves. This is one reason why some of those activists and scholars most supportive of the Kofi Annan proposals for peace hook on to suggestions for economic development as a solution. Unless these are directed explicitly at helping both the Rohingya and the Rakhine Buddists equally, I fear that following these proposals will encourage greater violence against Rohingya, rather than less.
Now, the basic argument directed against the present day Rohingya, is that although no one can deny the presence of the Rohingya before British rule, it is argued by some that so many Muslims from Chittagong and Southeastern Bengal entered Rakhine during the colonial period. This effectively means that the present day Muslims in Rakhine are far more likely to be Bengali than the original Rohingya stock. This argument, which we can call the nativist argument, is specious because it relies entirely on a myth, a myth that has grown ever since it was a twinkle in the eyes of Sir Arthur Phayre in the 1830s and 1840s.
The myth of 1824 was that when the British introduced colonial rule into Rakhine, this removed the obstacles to foreigners coming into the country, and invited in thousands of Bengali Muslims, who the British believed were better workers than the indigenous Buddhists. This created, in this myth, the first major Muslim populations in the region, led to Muslims overrunning Northern Rakhine, and forcing indigenous Buddhists out.
By extension, as each part of Myanmar was acquired by the British, Indian immigration continued without legal controls. The censorship laws of 1982 formally identified these groups as non-national, non-Italian thought races, non-national races. An important part of this myth is that the British altered the system against the Burmese Buddhists who were the indigenous population, located, since time immemorial, within the boundaries of the modern Burmese state or the Burmese kingdom.
This myth, however, is grossly misunderstood, and misrepresented the history of Rakhine. To fully understand Rakhine's colonial context, we need to forget about the modern borders of Myanmar and re-imagine the political geography of the 17th and 18th centuries. Colonialism, as I mentioned, began in Rakhine far earlier than in other places in Myanmar. We are conventionally told the British took away Rakhine after the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826, but this is not strictly true.
Rakhine is a region of people and a civilization stretched from the southern part of the literal, to the northern part of the literal, and the northern half, including Chittagong and Ramu, was occupied by the Mughals in 1666, and then ceded to the British in 1760. The notion of a Rakhine south of the Noff River as a self-contained zone that was not part of a larger area and interaction of peoples. Even with the 40 years of Burman occupation reveals a poor awareness of the history of the region.
Rakhine, as a pre-colonial region, stretches, as I mentioned, to the northern literal, and the population from top to bottom are Rakhine, despite the artificial boundaries drawn by the Mughals, and particularly, later on by the British. Southern Rakhine was forcibly joined to the Irrawaddy Valley in 1784, when for a period of 40 years, the Burmans falled a forcible invasion of Southern Rakhine with a military occupation, and the expulsion of many of the inhabitants, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu. They had, in the past, invaded and occupied the area for a few decades at the beginning of the 15th century, introducing the first Therevada Buddhist colonists, and members of the Ava and Pegu Courts to rule over the kingdom.
This occupation, again, from 1784 to 1824 of Southern Rakhine, however, happened at a time when Burmese Proto national identities were evolving and becoming politically important. Irrawaddy sectarian Buddhism was enforced. Local Buddhist and Hindu images of significance were hauled off to the Irrawaddy Valley. Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus were taken away by the thousands to work on rail projects within the Irrawaddy Valley. And those people who could-- Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists-- fled to Northern Rakhine, that part of the English East India Company where they populated a new refugee camp, that became known as Cox's Bazar.
At this time, the documents established that Buddhist refugees called themselves Rakhine, and the Muslims and Hindu refugees called themselves by their own word for Rakhine, Rohan, thus, Rohania, or Rohingya today. These refugees would remain inside Bengal until 1824, when the first Anglo-Burmese war broke out. It was only in 1826 that Southern Rakhine was rejoined with Northern Rakhine under the Bengal presidency, after the aforementioned period of 40 years of occupation by the Burmans.
The British decided to make a singular abstract Rakhine, one that lost over its more mundane geographical and ethnic features, and was oriented around Buddhism and Myanmar. The British had decided that nations had the same culture, language and religion. When they looked at Eastern Bengal, they started to see the area as historically Muslim and Bengali speaking. Being Muslim in Rohingya now came to be connected to the northernmost center of the literal, closer to other Muslims, and hence known as Chittagongian Muslim.
Being Buddhist-- by contrast, being Buddhist in Rakhine meant identification with the Southern Rakhine, and the areas closest to Buddhist Myanmar. The British made a conscious choice to organize only the Buddhist Rakhine into an army that would help company forces invade and liberate occupied Rakhine from the Burmans, what became known as the Mog Battalion.
This unit, and other company forces, kicked Irrawaddy settlers out, kicked out the Burman administrators and soldiers, expelled the foreigners from their land. And after their victory, the members of this unit became the new Buddhist elites of colonial Rakhine.
1824 thus saw the introduction not of foreigners, but their expulsion, after 40 years of harsh occupation. It saw the return of the first wave of indigenous refugees. The Buddhist refugees, identified as proper residents by the British, who would soon be followed by others in the decades ahead, including other Buddhists, Muslims, and small numbers of Hindus.
Now, that's one aspect of the myth of 1824 that needs to be redressed. British rule marked the end of foreign occupation and foreign immigration, and the beginning of repatriation of Rakhine's Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindu indigenous populations. This was not immigration, but return migration, and saw the return to the land of its original inhabitants.
But British scholar administrators in Rakhine favored the Buddhists not the Muslims. The British already knew about Bay of Bengal Muslims from decades of occupation of Calcutta and surrounding Bengal presidency. The Buddhists were something new. In their eyes, there was also more at stake with the Buddhists, because they noted that Rakhine Buddhist spoke Burmese, appeared to worship in similar ways as the Burmans. And the Burman Court was trying to maintain influence through religious patronage across the frontier, and through Buddhist missionaries dispatched to the region.
While the British faced the possibility of a land invasion over the Rakhine Yoma from a Burma Court that appeared from the late-1830s to have become arrogant and aggressive again, they had a natural fear that the Rakhine Buddhists might help the Burmans drive the British out, despite the recent harsh memories of the Burman occupation in earlier decades. Probably just as attractive was the orientalis desire for written texts. Buddhist monks in the early 15th century had brought old text from Irrawaddy Valley, just as Rakhine armies brought over a great deal many more in 1599, after sacking Pigou.
Rakhine was a treasure trove of materials that could be translated and published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, or the Royal Asiatic Society, or later on, by the Polytech Society. And the Buddhist side of things offered the opportunity to build vast intellectual and frequently useful political imaginaries. This is an advantage and attraction over and over again. Lowland states with written archives are relied upon to speak for all history in an area. Because those materials are the easiest to access, the easiest to use for documentation, whereas populations like the Rohingya that have oral-based literature, and histories only have input in their own histories regarding more recent times, when European sources and documentation become available.
So we arrive at histories of ethnic groups, produced by European scholars, that parrot the biases and misconceptions of old Burman State sources. And so we see in Rakhine the emergence of the Buddhist historical imaginary as the official history of the region. The most significant force behind this recovery of the Buddhist past was Sir Arthur Pharye, a member of the Indian Army in the lands of the East India Company.
Phayre was brought in as administrator, and he was very much influenced in his thinking of the centralist biological and religious elements, seen as part of the nation during his own time. Phayre brought with him Western migration theory. Peoples rose and conquered others, and civilization thus represented a layering of episodic political change.
When Asia was viewed through this framework, the histories of different societies in India and China and all those in between, appeared to make sense. Civilizations did not move on their own. They were carried most often by conquerors. Indianization occurred in the lands of further India, because Indian colonists and conquerors brought it with them. Islam was brought to the Bengal that Phayre first served in, because Muslim warriors had brought the region under control by fire and sword.
But always, somewhere deep down, was the original civilizational matrix of the original inhabitants. In this context, it is interesting to consider Phayre's first assumptions about civilization change in Rakhine. For him, anything Muslim or whatever did not look Mongolian, as he considered the true inhabitants to be, was brought from India into the country artificially. And whatever looked most like what he saw in the Irrawaddy Valley was that closest to the original purity of the true sons of the soil.
As he wrote-- I've skipped a slide-- the Arakanese are the same stock as the nation which inhabits the Valley of the Irrawaddy. Their national name is Myama. They are a section of that nation, separated from the parent stock by mountains, which, except toward the southern extremity of the range, admit of little intercourse from one side to the other. Hence, those Arakanese living in the northern part of the country, adjoining Bengal, have some peculiarity in dialects and manners. They touch upon a people totally different from themselves, and race, language, and religion. There, the original Mongolian features of the people have been considerably modified-- the nose being more prominent, and the eyes less oblique than they are found to be among the people of the south of Arakan and in Burma Proper.
Phayre, unfortunately, never considered whether the verse was true, that Burmans, Buddhist culture, and Burmese language were brought over the Rakhine Yoma, instead from the Irrawaddy Valley, at least within historical time. Nor did he consider that those areas which he described in terms of Scott, James Scott would label, state space, easily administered, hadn't deviated from what had been in place in Rakhine originally. And that as one move northwards, they increasingly encountered Rakhine people and culture that had preexisted the Burman and Mon invasions of the early 15th century.
Nevertheless, Rakhine, and the Burman nation model, fit his ideas of civilizational advance, and initiated a British administrative attitude in the colony that accepted whatever was in the Irrawaddy Valley as the correct template by which to reconstruct a Rakhine nation as the Myanmargy. Phayre believed that the Rakhine was not an ethonym, but a regional appellation. And true Rakhine call themselves Myama or Burman. He then identified all Burmese speakers, people speaking Burmese language, living north on a path that stretched well into Bengal as racially Burman.
As the Chaungtha hill tribes, who now became Burman as well, were the least civilized by his standards, they must have been from an earlier wave of Burman immigration. Highland groups, like the Chin and Kumese, must also have been offshoots of the Burman race as well. The Rohingya he saw as being unrelated because they spoke a different language, and thus Phayre argued, their ancestors must have been Bengali.
Phayre's ideas would be seen as grossly unscientific today, and probably would be if he had not taken one additional step. He put the Arakanese national history project into a Burmese Buddhist silo. He decided that only Burmese language chronicles could be used to reconstruct the history of the region, establishing a template for writing Myanmar national history in which Rohingya voices, and those of other non-rationals would not be recorded or considered. Phayre, himself, would produce his first nationwide history of Myanmar in 1869 when he published his article on the history of the Burma race about 15 years before he published his better known book, the History of Burma in 1883.
The Burmese language historical narrative provided Phayre was a pressi made by an Arakanese Buddhist, [? Niamey ?] in 1841 of many of the available Rakhine Buddhist chronicles. I've read this, and my copy is actually that used by Phayre, and it includes Phayres' handwritten notes alongside the Burmese language texts, and it's held in the African Asia collection in the British Library. [? Niamey ?] was unconscious of Western ideas of the nation and national origin, so he unconsciously included elements of the history that recorded that the Rakhine King had fled from Burman Buddhist invaders at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries.
This King had naturally gone to the Muslim Courts of Bengal, and he got their aid, including Muslim troops, to kick out the Burman foreigners. Having done this, he built a mosque, adopted a Muslim [INAUDIBLE] title, issued coinage bearing the Kalima, the Muslim confession of faith, and showed religious tolerance to everyone-- Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus in the kingdom.
Now, what's interesting is that [? Niamey, ?] like other Rakhine of his time, was aware, and more importantly, did not contest the fact that their history was that of Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu populations. They were happy to see civilization as something that evolved by intercourse and out of heterogeneity. Their indigenous chronicles indicated that they understood their roots as not coming from the Irrawaddy Valley, but from India. There was thus something in how Rakhine looked at society that the British of the empire found hard to understand. Ethnic heterogeneity, independent of ethnic hierarchy.
This was something that did not fit the mold of European empires of the time, which held tightly to civilizational and racial hierarchies. And academics and disciplines that emerged out of enlightenment, similarly found it difficult to look beyond the unitary frameworks that drove 19th century efforts to strictly categorize all kinds of information from plants and animals to nations. Burma became identified as Buddhist and Burman, and Eastern Bengal is Muslim and Bengali.
Despite these religious and ethnic silos built by Europeans encasing countries and peoples on the basis of western political and ethnic register, it was possible, at the same time, to be a Muslim and a Buddhist kingdom for a court at the same time, to patronize Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians through the material support and protection and tolerance of their religious sites. It was possible to have both Buddhists and Muslims living in the same villages, working in symbiosis, rather than trying to forcibly convert or to exclude the other.
[? Niamey, ?] was so unaware of what Phayre wanted, that in his history he included the Muslim and Buddhist titles of the king. Buddhists and Muslims, among the historical actors, and the different kinds of religious sites. Phayre rejected this, and although he derives most of his own history of Rakhine from [? Niamey, ?] Phayre removed or ignored in his main narrative what did not appear to match his notions of what made his Buddhist Rakhine imaginary Rakhine. Where earlier observers, Charles Peyton, for example, had referred to Rakhine's kings by their Muslim titles, Phayre explained away the discrepancy in his appendix, labeling the handful of Muslim titles listed as foreign. And excusing them as requirements of being tributary to the salt of Bengal. Or later being, because of these Rakhine kings over lordship over the City of Chittagong.
But the project went further than Phayre and history writing. British administration in Rakhine similarly shaped religious ownership. Muslim religious sites may have been identified as Buddhist. Anything that was not Buddhist and was not currently being worshipped that actively by resident Muslim communities was torn down. British archaeologists such as E. Forchhammer, who uncovered further sites, could not explain the strange styles with which the temples they found had been built. Why what they believe to be Muslim and Bengali symbols, writing and paraphernalia, were found in what must have been pagodas, and assume that the Buddhists here must have had some degree of religious syncretism.
British educational policy finished the job in deciding an education policy in the 1840s to imprint on all young Rakhine of the future ways to view their world. The English East India company decided that the Muslims of Rakhine would be educated as Muslims and Bengali, and that Buddhists in the region would be educated as Buddhists and Burmese.
20 years later, Rakhine was divided again. The southern half identified as traditionally Buddhist and Burmese, and an area that had been occupied by Myanmar in the past, would be separated from the Bengal presency, and added to what became British Burma, British Myanmar. Atlases and gazetteers helped to reinforce these divisions. Rohingya, as we know, they referred to themselves, but late 18th century at the latest, became merely Muslims, when in the south were Chittagongian Muslims when they had been born in Northern Arakan. But Rohingya ceased to be an officially recognized category.
This was so much the case, that late colonial scholarship followed suit, usually informed by Buddhist scholars of the region who had been educated in the colonial schools at [INAUDIBLE]. Working with a colonial judge, Maurice Collis, [INAUDIBLE] produced the next generation of English language scholarship on Rakhine, and in particular, identified the Muslim, Buddhist coinage of early Rakhine rulers as a sign that Rakhine's rulers had not been Muslim, but had been Buddhist and adopted, what later scholars have referred to, as Islamicit political symbols-- I've used that term, Islamicit, as well for this. So I'm partly guilty of this as well.
In other words, Rakhine's rulers who founded the Mrauk-U dynasty in 1430 were Buddhist, and only use titles like sultan, Islamic names, adopted the Muslim confession of faith, and so on, on their coins and their chronicles, and built mosques because they needed to be respected by neighboring Muslim rulers. Later scholars accepted these explanations without investigating further from the angle that perhaps they were Muslim rulers showing tolerance for the Buddhist elements of their population. Had Rakhine remained exactly the same, with the same sources, coins, and the like, but been located politically within modern Bangladesh rather than in modern Myanmar, we might have easily done this. National frameworks of our current day lend a disproportionate weight to our default understandings of the past.
I stress that local Rakhine Buddhist resentment of the Rohingya was already there in Rakhine, and actually, some of those Rakhine Buddhists, that were loudest about the Rohingya's being foreign, come from exactly the same towns as the Rohingya's do. Under any conditions, after the end of the colonial period, the colonial template of religious and ethnic division would have continued, and there would have been local tensions within Rakhine under any government, whether it wound up being a democracy or a dictatorship. Witness, for example, the Mujahideen separatism of 1947 to the 1950s.
But what turned the Rohingya into potential fuel as a national political issue and the target of national policy was this myth of 1824. It is a key part of thinking about the national races, the 135 national races today. Now, I'm going to go into the history of this and its evolution to the present. I'm not going to go into the history of this in depth, but I'll go over it in brief.
This concept picked up speed in the post-independence period, in particular, from its prominence in the Revolutionary Council period thinking from 1964, its prominence and the citizenship laws in 1982, and was pushed into school text and other government publications from 1990. There was no real list of what these 135 national races specifically were. It was usually used as a legitimizing phrase to explain why the Rohingya or the Chinese or Indians were not included.
Now, although some can argue, such as Nicolas Cheesman, that the 1982 citizenship law did not make being a member of the national race as the only requirement for being a citizen, or directly remove citizenship from the Rohingya overtly. In essence, it did. It established different categories of citizenship. If you were a member of one of the national races, you were a citizen, even if you did not have papers. If you were not, you had to have papers showing that you had been born in Burman in 1948-- you had been within Burman in 1948.
This made only the Rohingya and other officially non-nationals peculiarly vulnerable to registration abuse. The enactment of the law was preceded by military operations on the border to sweep out undocumented aliens in 1978, the Nagamin operations. This caused the first major exodus of the Rohingya out of the country, a quarter of a million people.
When the military replaced the BSPP government in 1988, it required a change of documentation again, in which government officers denied registration to many of the Rohingya. In any case, the Hunta at the time reified a line of thinking about Rakhine that could be traced back, in one way or another, to Phayre's work in the 1840s. Buddhist Rakhine were Rakhine, but Muslim Rakhine, the Rohingya, were not.
The idea that the Rohingya are not part of the 135 national races, like others, is very significant because it makes the Rohingya part of the legacies of colonialism, and something that can and should be dealt with as part of the last steps of achieving complete independence in their mindset. It is this reason, Myanmar authorities ease their consciences for not permitting Rohingya children to attend schools of any kind past primary schools, except for madrasses, so they could learn the Koran and nothing else. It's why the Bangladesh government has had to provide basic training in different skills to Rohingya refugees, because so many are functionally illiterate and lack skills of any kind to use to support themselves economically.
Now, I'd like to return briefly into Arthur Phayre, the 1830s, '40s man who started all of this. As Cheesman has argued, the encroachment of the national race's concept into legal requirements for citizenship and its trumping residents has left the path of claiming to be a member of the national race, the only feasible path open for Rohingya to seek citizenship. Because they wind up being excluded through unfair defacto practices that render nil, nominal [INAUDIBLE] avenues.
Claiming Rohingya to be a national race, it is argued, is something that Rohingya advocates have done. It is this act, trying to claim to be a national race, that makes Buddhist, Rakhine and others upset. The underlying tension then that has caused the explosion, the explosion is a very old one. 200 years in the making because of Phayre's early orientalist work. The myth of 1824 has encouraged not just Rakhine Buddhist hostility, but also, misunderstandings and scholarly critiques, even sympathetic ones, of the longer term causes of this hostility, rather than the shorter term sparks. The Rohingya's are just as much a national race as any one else.
Now, one would expect that the Rohingya situation would have gotten better because of the political and economic reforms of the last few years, and the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, but things have gotten much worse. Beginning in 2010, Myanmar underwent a supposed democratic transition. They had a new constitution in 2008, which had been written under the military orders and discussed by handpicked people intended to stand as representatives of the Burmese. And in this constitution, the transition was staggered. It guaranteed that the military could not be punished for past crimes. And the military would not lose control of what was deemed military matters-- certain areas of government, borders defense, home affairs, all the ministries that count, in terms of stirring the country's future-- remaining under an unelected parallel and [INAUDIBLE] military government in a power sharing arrangement akin to diarchy of the colonial period.
The myth of 2015 is essentially that the changes that had been pushed for in 1988, and the government platform that have been voted for in 1990 would finally be realized, with some accommodation of the military in 2015. According to this myth, the election of 2015 would see the more meaningful step in the transition. This would see the National League for Democracy, which was no longer boycotting participation since the by-elections, compete with the pro military and ethnic parties, and sweep a large portion of the Hluttaw seats.
Aung San Suu Kyi, though barred by the Constitution from becoming president, was not blocked from developing a new role as state counselor, which she would use, she made clear, to put herself at the helm of her party members who filled the formal government roles, making her de facto leader. The nation was overjoyed. The international community was generally very pleased, or at least satisfied. And the business community in Myanmar were relieved that years of sanctions would be pulled back, and the country's elite would benefit from the expected boom that would follow.
It has to be stressed that generally the myth of 2015 was powerful enough to encourage headlong investment in the country by all kinds of foreign companies that had, for years, abided by international boycotts, and had also waited patiently for an end of sanctions on the country.
In this new environment, all the things that Aung San Suu Kyi had pushed for, and the reasons for which international NGOs had fought so hard to secure her release from house arrest would be realized. Political prisoners would be released. Civil liberties would be restored. There would be a free press, and government policies would try to work for the benefit of everyone in the country, not just the slim military elite.
Myanmar would now be a democratic society, was going ahead with reforms that would make it such, that there was now going to be an end of civil abuse, and Burmese would be able to engage in political discourse without fear of government intervention.
Another important interrelated aspect of this myth of 2015 is that it represented a transition in the Treaty of Ethnic Minorities, among whom Aung San Suu Kyi was also popular, and among whom there was, and in some quarters, still is, a lot of support and hope. The conditions that drove the Civil War, which had subsided under different arrangements, would finally be alleviated. There would no longer be the no-go zones that used to populate the highland ethnic areas. Military abuses of ethnic minorities would not just be curtailed, they would stop altogether.
Different regional Hluttaws were in the hands now of freely elected ethnics. Times were changing. In fact, this was not the case. After a period over two years, these things have not happened. The democratic transition has not occurred as expected, and the military has not been pulled back. Ethnic minority areas in the Kachin and Shan areas also remain no-go areas, as in the case of the Rohingya areas of Rakhine, the conflict zones. The military still maintains a tight grip and engages regularly in the old province of abuse of non-Burman ethnics-- rape of ethnic women and the destruction of local villages.
Internally displaced peoples remain a major problem in significant parts of the country. The NLD is half of government, one of two authorities. The military and the civil government in which the military can veto the civil authorities, but the civil authorities cannot veto the military. And at least some regional Hluttaws, certain population groups have not been allowed to compete for seats, such as in Rakhine where the Buddhist Rakhine hold all the seats.
After violence broke out in June 2012, after the claim of a rape by Rohingyas of a Buddhist girl, there were retaliatory killings, including a bus full of Rohingyas, and burnings of Rohingya villages in a max exodus of Rohingya. Arguments made against the Rohingya within the national Hluttaw from this time were made by Rakhine MPs, particularly from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. And their efforts, focusing mainly on undermining the legitimacy of the Rohingya ethonym, were considered too extreme or provocatively dangerous by other MPs
In July 2012, Thein Sein told the UN that his government would take back groups that were national races, but not the non-national race Rohingya. In September 2012 at mass rallies in Rakhine, the Rakhine Nationalties Development Party leaders called for the segregation of the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas, removing the Rohingyas away from the roads and towns, and effectively isolating them to Rakhine bantustans where they would have no means of economically supporting themselves.
Rakhine Buddhist militias in the villages would be armed by the government to make the region secure from the Rohingya threat. The following month, in October 2012, Rakhine Buddhist groups attacked and burned to the ground Rohingya villages and Rohingya quarters of the cities, and displaced another 100,000 people, raising the numbers of those who had fled to 250,000.
The Rakhine Nationalities Party used the opportunity to launch a political offensive. In June 2013, the leader of that party signed an agreement with the Rakhine League for Democracy to merge with his party and form the Rakhine National Party, although this would not take place formally until January. The parties then blitzed government procedures with very little resistance. In July 2013, speaker of the National Assembly raised concerns for the need for the military to protect the Rakhine Buddhists on national race from the surrounding Bengali population.
In August 2013, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party proposed to election authorities that the right of all white card holders, the temporary registration cards the government gave, former Rohingya citizens in 1990s should be denied the right to form political parties, or to even be members of political parties, which would mean they could also not be elected to office either. The following year, after a few debates in both houses of the National Hluttaw, this measure was enacted in September 2014. And now Rohingya, no matter how far they had gone to cooperate with government measures, became political outcasts, and their parties were removed from the political process.
The Union Election Commission now ordered all political parties to expel white card holders, and Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD kissed goodbye to 8,000 of its members, kicking them out of the party.
Now, the Rakhine National Party now initiated efforts to have white card holder rights removed completely. President Thein Sein objected, and recommended that since white card holders had voted in the 2008 constitution referendum, one could not seriously deny them voting rights now, and the legislature agreed. But after protests by Rakhine Buddhist extremists, Thein Sein reconsidered, and in February 2015 announced the Rohingya, those white card holders, who had already lost the ability to run for office or organize parties or engage in any other way, would now lose the right to vote as well.
The Rohingyan had now been made completely invisible to the political process altogether. And this came just before the general elections of 2015, which put the NLD in control. Moreover, in the same announcement, the white card holders were now declared invalid altogether, so Rohingya overnight became undocumented aliens in the country. Although there were new procedures by which Rohingya who remain might seek citizenship, they could only do so if they agreed to deny history and not refer to themselves as Rohingya, but as Bengali, and accepting that they were foreigners.
It is worth asking, then, why this kind of persecution did not ensue in 1997 after the outburst of anti-Rohingya violence at Mandalay after a similar incident, involving the rape of a Buddhist woman. Muslim neighborhoods in that case were burned in a flare-up, but were not falled by the sustained national persecution of the scale of today. As an aside, at the time, the military was in control. [INAUDIBLE] was thrown into prison and security was enforced. We have to keep this in mind when we think about who benefits from uncontrolled violence in Rakhine today.
And why, when there was resistance to persecution in 2012 and 2013, a recognition of Rakhine Buddhist extremism, and a conservative approach to dealing with communal violence with an eye on ensuring stability, rather than violence before. This has changed.
The phenomenon was sustained in part because a lot of interests benefit from the perception of crisis. The military benefits from its role in preserving order between warring communities that can't otherwise manage their hatred. Monastic groups, like [? Babatha, ?] who want to challenge monastic, economic, or political status quo, raise the specter of religion in decline or religion under threat. Wirathu had been released in 2012 after being in prison for years for inciting anti-Muslim hatred, first as part of 969, and then in 2013 as part of Ma Ba Tha, which he and other monks had just formed.
Businesses and the government benefit from the acquisition of unoccupied land, where the housing has been destroyed, giving them a legal right to confiscate the land. Ethnic community leaders, like those of the Rakhine National Party, raise their political stature just by trying to stoke up anti-Muslim violence. It indicates that democracy in Myanmar is not making deeper roots, a foundation of the myth of 2015, but instead, that its roots are getting ever shallower.
This will ultimately lead to the military having the opportunity to demonstrate, again, as it was permitted to do in 1958 and 1962, and as it unilaterally did-- decided to do in 1988-- that only it can manage the state. Ironically, what has been most at fault has been the widening of political space for the public that has invited this transition. The anti-Rohingya legislation did not get passed in legislature because the legislature had changed. The only real factor that had changed was mounting public pressure on the legislators to enact legislation that was overtly anti-Muslim everywhere. But within Rakhine, it was really anti-Rohingya.
What has made the myths I've discussed, the myth of 1824 and the myth of 2015 so difficult to counter, is that there has been so little time between two contexts for national debate. For half a century, there was lack of real public debate on important issues brought by tight military control. Then, in the last several years, the doors to a seemingly national forum to campaign on certain issues, swung wide open. One of the big things that changed since 2010, but slowly at first-- really in the last few years-- is a wider spread of the availability of cell phones and computers, or access to latter, and the much greater access to social media.
Facebook and other social media has become the major forum for the indigenous circulation of news, for public participation in such debates, and the promotion of certain discourses through YouTube. It became the main means by which the Burmese community abroad stayed in contact with the Burmese community at home, communicated what was happening in the country. And it was through Burmese abroad that stories about Islamic terror abroad became stories about Rohingya terror at home.
Monastics similarly found common cause with politicized monks in Sri Lanka, again, through social media and the internet. And this is crucially important to understanding the nationalization of the Rohingya hatred in Myanmar. Matthew Schissler and Matthew Walton interviewed Burmese in the Irrawaddy Valley a year or so ago, and found that the views of the Burmans and ethics alike on Muslims. And there were outbreaks of violence against Muslims in a number places, such as Meiktila, had been shaped by international news about the Muslims and focus on Jihadis and terror, and their treatment of women, not in Rakhine, but in Islamic State. There were also clear links between monastic railing against Muslims in Sri Lanka and the same in Myanmar And all of this is essentially a different creature than the hatred [INAUDIBLE] within Rakhine.
Now, in conclusion, I would like to highlight, then, how the regional Buddhist hatred of the Rohingya and the national hatred fear of the Muslims merged into a single nativist agenda to rid the country of Muslims is a clear lacuna in literature. But some answers are possible even with what we know now. This has partly been the work of Rakhine Buddhist activists and community leaders who have reached out to national groups. But is also the responsibility of national groups that immediately saw the Rohingya through the framework of terror and expanding Islamism that was being shaped by exposure to foreign media and communications with expatriate Burmese.
The impact has been, that whereas in the past, the intense dislike of the Rohingya was really only strongly held by some Rakhine Buddhists out of homespun anxieties. Now, with the freeing up of social media, and the availability of social networks became conjoined with a new national fear among parts of the Burmese population of Muslims. Unfortunately, the nature of the debate on the Rohingya has meant that some have tried to characterize any perspective as zero sum, and in polarized terms.
So that if you are against how the Rohingya are being treated, or if you give any recognition of Rohingya historical claims, you are against the Burmese, you're against Buddhism, and you're against Aung San Suu Kyi. When nowadays hears a lot about, I stand with our lady, or I'm with our lady whenever the Rohingya issue is voiced. It is also the case that Aung San Suu Kyi is not in clear control of the situation, but always at one level or another, negotiating policy rather than deciding it.
She is always constrained by certain risk placed on the NLD and her position by the structure post 2010 Myanmar governance and the maneuvering of the military behind the scenes. The Rohingya problem, and I might turn this around and say, Myanmar's problem. Myanmar's problem that is currently being faced by the Rohingya is that it has had an incomplete transition to democracy. That the problems of ethnic groups, generally, will not be resolved until the Constitution of 2008 is revisited, and either changed in a major way, or scrapped altogether, and the censorship laws along with it.
But more fundamentally, the Burmese will have to reconsider two aspects of how they think, and legislate about national identity. On the one hand, they will need to rethink the relationship between citizenship and national races ideology. On the other hand, before this can genuinely happen, they will need to come to grips with the artificiality and ahistoricity of the national race categories. And peer through the myths about their past, those that artificially sustain the hatred that is dominating so much of the political discourse in and about the country today, energy that could have otherwise been directed at making Myanmar a better society, rather than a worse one.
And this effort is being made by Burmese activists outside the country, because within the country, which is now only half a democracy, a generally free forum for discussing deep, meaningful, and positive change has not yet opened.
Well, thank you for letting me talk.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Thanks very much, Michael. It's always reassuring when a talk starts with the 14th century, I find it's very confeeling. You've taken us on a grand journey, and there's lots to think about. I want to now invite our second speaker, Ma Eaint Thiri Thu, to join us here, to offer her remarks. Eaint Thiri Thu is a film producer, and researcher, and activist who has worked for the last several years on issues related to human rights' conflicts, and the media in Burma. She has worked with Human Rights Watch, the New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and other organizations.
At this point in time, she joins us from the University of Minnesota where she's pursuing an MA degree in human rights at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. So we're very grateful to Ma Eaint Thiri Thu for joining us today, and invite you to please make your remarks.
EAINT THIRI THU: Good evening, everyone, and thank you very much to Cornell, and Gee, and all of students who invite me to join to this panel, and share my experience as a local perspective. And I'm really grateful to be here.
So I would like to share more about the local perspective, because this is my first time to the US, and I have been working a lot in the area. And I have lived in Burma throughout my life, so I have been to the area a lot.
So there are two things that I would like to say today, and one is about the local perception towards this issue, like what are they thinking about this, and why they are having this anti-Rohingya sentiments, and why are they having this anti-international community sentiments. I would like to talk about this first.
And in Myanmar, since I came here, when people ask me about Myanmar, so the only thing that there are two groups of people, like Rohingya Muslim, and the Burmese or the Buddhist community. Because the information that they have received is really limited, because we are being generalized, overgeneralized about this. But in Myanmar, it's not like that.
I, in my experience, I grew up with this newspaper, the government newspaper. At the back of it, we have a bold letter call like BBC is lying. VOA is lying. And IFA lying. And a skein full of lines. These kind of narrative that the military government used over the past 20 years.
And now, after this Rohingya, the recent attack happened, the people, the general population, who used to fight against this military hunter, they repeat the same narrative of the military narrative, like BBC is lying, and VOA is lying, a skein full of lie, and they don't trust any international media and any international community.
So I really want to understand why this thing happened. Why are they repeating this? Why are they echoing the narrative of the military hunter that we used to hate 20 years ago? So for me, when I analyze, there are like three-- in my analysis, there are three kinds of people in Burma.
One group is like a nationalist, like pure nationalist. And they live with it, and also they share the idea of the Islamophobia that Islam is trying to take over the Buddhism, and Islam by mean of the population. And they have lots of myth, like Muslim are having so many wife, and Muslim are having so many childrens, and they are going to take over the world, take over Buddhism by mean of the population.
And also the fact that since 9/11, the global Islam attack, and the current Islamic attack happened in the West, we read a lot in the newspaper and on this thing. And it has an impact on this issue. This contributes this idea of that Islamophobia, like oh, is all the Islam are terrorists and all this thing. So they have this kind of view since before.
But then the ARSA attacked, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attack happened last year, and also this year, make this viewpoint stronger. So this is when they tend for the military, and they see military is trying to save the Buddhism from the terrorism, from the illegal immigrants, from Bangladesh, and that kind of thing.
I'm not here to justify anybody's view, because I don't have a right to do that, and I just want to share what people are talking about this. I don't believe that this is also right to oppress the people, or I don't really believe that Rohingya people should suffer that much, because of this mind and Islamophobias and all this thing. But I am just simply sharing what the local people think about this.
And that's one group. And also, this group, they want to enjoin the power of this lack of rule of law. Because the country has no rule of law. They can do what they want to do. I think this Buddhist group like ultra nationalist group, like Ma Ba Da and all those people, they want to lift people with this kind of phobia so that they can do. Nobody can take action against them, even the government, because they are enjoying the power. That's why they are automatically supporting the military.
And there's another group, which is like, they're not directly supporting the military, but they are defending Aung San Suu Kyi, Daw San Suu Kyi NLD government. I think it's because the information flow, where do we get the information for all this thing? This attack, the single source of information is from the military. But military itself is not sharing this information. It's Daw San Suu Kyi office sharing the information, and Daw San Suu Kyi office is the one doing this kind of press conferences and making a defend against the military.
So people are confused that who are they? People are not really supporting the military, but people are supporting the NLD people are defending the NLD. So because they believe NLD NLD and because they believe the information from the NLD just because it is led by Daw San Suu Kyi. So they don't like the international blame on this issue on NLD people. So they feel like they are defending Daw San Suu Kyi, which is indirectly supporting the military. This is why they are sharing this view of anti-Muslim and the anti-international points of view.
And the third group of people is a silent population. It includes like the moderate voices. There are moderate voices in the country, but their voices cannot be heard because we don't have any legal protection. And also, social harassments, like physical harassment that we can be faced if we speak out about this issue.
And in that silenced population, there are also other people, other ethnics who are non-Muslim, non-Buddhist, but the Christian population, like in [INAUDIBLE] and [INAUDIBLE], who also suffer the Civil War. For them, they are like, wait and see situation, because they don't want to speak out for Rohingya because they feel like international people don't pay much attention to their issue, as much as they do to the Rohingya's issue.
So I think we have this silenced population, and they are silent population who wants a solution, but their voices are not really heard in this kind of thing, in this issue. And also, we have a crisis, the freedom of expression. We have a shutdown of the freedom of expression since the NLD government came into power. Because many of the people in the country see Daw San Suu Kyi is democracy.
So if you criticize the policy, NLD policy, you are criticizing Daw Sang Suu Kyi. You are criticizing democracy. Then you are the traitor of democracy. So people don't want to be labeled at that thing, and there are lots of people who don't like to attack Daw Sang Suu Kyi. So whenever you speak out, whenever you criticize about the policy of NLD and on this Rohingya issue or any other issues, you will be seen as a national traitor. You will be seen as the traitor of democracy.
So people have this censorship. Like people like me, I was really afraid to speak out about this issue, even though I really wanted to, but I trying to avoid this conversation, if possible. So that kind of thing.
And another part that I want to say is the international media coverage, in my experience, and I work with international media a lot, and how international media cover about this issue, and how local media cover about this issue. So first, I would like to talk about the local media on this issue.
So generally, local media, they don't go to the area. They don't go to the area, because one, they don't have the access. They don't have the financial and the technical things to go to the area. And they also don't want to go because they have this-- most of the journalist friends that I talk with, they have this kind of Islamophobia and then trust issue. They cannot really go to the area, like Rohingya area and do the reporting. And Rohingya wouldn't talk to them, also.
So they don't really cover about the Rohingya issue, unless it is a conflict situation. When there is a conflict situation, they will make it, but they will use the word Bengali, instead of the word Rohingya. They would do that.
And also, I'm not really sure about the journalism in the country. Are they journalists or are they activists, or the nationalists? I think they fall into like-- they don't really see their profession as much of the journalist. And then another thing is there are some media who talks about this issue, but they would like to-- I've named them like a two faces media, because they have languages. When they say in English, they will use the word Rohingya. But when they use in Burmese the same article, they would use the word Bengali.
So this is not really healthy, that kind of journalism. So for the international community, if they really want to do, they should make the capacity buildings and this kind of exposure trip to the-- local journalist to have, to experience how to make a story about this kind of thing.
And another thing is about the international media. I also think that international media is oversimplifying too much about the situation. They trying to make like-- they make like-- bi-polarize, like, victims and the perpetrator. So in my experience, and when we go, we always, when we get the quote in media, we have that kind of quote. And when we pick up the quote for the Rohingya, we really want to pick up the quote which is suffering and all this thing.
And while we are interviewing the Rakhine people, we only want to pick up the aggressive voice of the Rakhine people, even though they said lots of other things. But in the end, we ended up picking up the aggressive voice of the Rakhine people. So it's make like a two-way, like victims and the perpetrator. So making like marginalizing the Rakhine people.
So Rakhine people, they feel like they're marginalized by the international community. And they feel like their issues, or their voices, are not listened carefully. So their anger put more towards the Rohingya people living in the country, like where they cannot go anywhere. And so I don't think the oversimplifying the information, it's not helpful. And singling out Rohingya over the other ethnic group is not also-- I also don't think that this is that helpful.
But by saying that, I am not justifying the suffering of everybody, because the level of the suffering by the Rohingya and other people are not the same. Rohingya needs urgent cares and really need pay attention to this. But we need to bring the voices of the silenced population, where the other suffering people. I think we also should address about the issues of the other people so that they can also voice out about the plight of the Rohingya.
So both side, both international media and the local media, they need to take out more to the information, and they really should listen to both sides, and they really should do it, rather than trying to make the oversimplify information. Local media also do the oversimplify information, and they also do this, like victims and the perpetrator. To them, Rohingyas are the bad people. Terrorists, Muslim, Jihadis, while the victims are Rakhine and the Hindus and all other population.
So these are just the local points of view, and why they are having this entire Rohingya things, and why they're having the anti-international community thing. But I'm happy to answer more about my experience later in the panel discussion. So let me conclude my thanks here. Thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: This is just a thanks for your presentations. This is just a factual question. I'm curious about the linguistic situation on the ground in Rakhine. It's very hard to find figures anywhere, but do you have a sense of what the needs of bilingualism is in Rakhine, basically, among the Rohingya?
ANNE BLACKBURN: Bilingualism in Rakhine. Either of you, bilingualism in Rakhine State? Or multi-lingualism perhaps.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: You want to start?
ANNE BLACKBURN: I'm sorry. I had said we would take two questions. Forgive me, it's been a very long day. [INAUDIBLE], if we may have your question as well, and then our panelists will respond to both questions. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: My question--
ANNE BLACKBURN: Wait for the microphone.
AUDIENCE: My question is for Professor Charney. I was thinking of your older work on-- oh. I was thinking of your older work on the [INAUDIBLE] image and the [INAUDIBLE] expansion during the 18th century. I was thinking there was a legitimate Rakhine Buddhist opposition to [INAUDIBLE] identity as well. So what happened to that opposition? When did that opposition turn into sort of a very homogeneous Buddhist identity?
My second question is I've been thinking of the [INAUDIBLE] history of the region. I was wondering, how would you respond to [INAUDIBLE] argument, whose [INAUDIBLE] reduces the complex geography to the political economy and argument?
ANNE BLACKBURN: So we had two questions. Eaint Thiri, would you like to respond to either of these or both of them? Michael?
MICHAEL CHARNEY: I don't get a sense that a lot of Rakhine actually know Rohingya. I get a sense a good number of Rohingya know Burmese. But it is a case that a lot of Rohingya don't know Burmese. And a specific example that comes out of that first is that when some of the Rohingya wind up in Bangladesh, and they don't have papers, and the Burmese say, we'll take them back, but they have to give the name of their village. It is a case that there are Rohingya and Burmese names to villages, and oftentimes, they don't know the Burmese name for their village, so therefore, they're not allowed back. So that's where this becomes political.
I'll let you answer, then maybe you can answer--
EAINT THIRI THU: So a lot of the language for the Rohingya, I think it depend on the area. If you are in more north, like in [? Mandall, ?] an area, especially in this conflict area, they don't have any communication with Rakhine or Buddhist or Burmese, so they don't speak the Rakhine or the Burmese. But in some area, at least they can speak two languages. They can speak Rohingya, and they can speak the Rakhine languages.
But in some area, like in situate, which is more city kind of places, so they can speak Burmese. They can speak Burmese, and Burmese, Rohingya, and Rakhine. But one interesting thing in my experience is that when I first came, it was like six months just after the violence in 2012. In that time, there were more people who can speak Burmese.
I didn't need a translator the first time I went there. But then later on, I have to rely on the translator, because less and less people speaking the language. I don't know why, but maybe they decided not to speak or something. But they don't speak that. But generally, they can speak Rakhine.
AUDIENCE: I wonder if I could follow up on that.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Sure, John. Happy to call on you.
AUDIENCE: Because I think there's a consequence of that. You drew, in your talk, Michael, a direct analogy between Rakhine and other border areas in Burma. But in borders areas in Burma, [INAUDIBLE], in fact, multilingualism is the norm. And in fact, internationally, in a situation where populations, heterogeneous-- linguistically heterogeneous populations have been present for five centuries, again, multilingualism is the norm. This is an aberration, and I look for an explanation for it.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Would either of you like to respond to the follow-up point made by John, by Professor Whitman? And then we have a question from [INAUDIBLE], or 1.5 questions from [INAUDIBLE] still pending.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: If I could start for this. I think it could just be because of the religious communalism that's emerged that people don't interact as a community, which is absent, like the Shan and Karen and so on. There are problems, but they still trade, and they interact, and people come to [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: But that was required in the separation of the communities to go back for many, many centuries if that's the case. In other words, it's an odd situation in Southeast Asia as a whole. It's definitely an anomaly.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: I can't explain beyond that. I'm not a linguist.
ANNE BLACKBURN: [INAUDIBLE] So in relation to [INAUDIBLE] point, which was directed to you, Michael.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: I think that that has gone on for quite some time. And if you read renditions of Arakanese chronicles published in the 1930s, they end a lot of these with this period-- this terrible period of Burman occupation, one of the famous stories and everything else. I think it's really this anti-Rohingya Muslim movement that's kind of supplanted that.
I think that there is still a great deal of-- in the past 20 years-- I think there was still, and there still is, if they get beyond this issue, there still is genuine separatist tendencies. There's still a desire to have autonomy and this kind of thing. And that they have their own history to separate any from the rest of the Burmans.
I remember when I was doing my PhD, that I knew a lot of Buddhist Rakhine, and they had their own journal they read in the US-- they had their journal and everything. And they were insistent that you use the right way to call their name. Not the way that the Burmans call them. But I don't see them doing that now.
So it's really been a change that's happened in the last 20 years, maybe in the last 10 years where this has occurred. The other question you're asking is economic in nature or the problem that's happening-- Yeah. That's certainly one of the things. Because a lot of the problems do naturally-- this is where we really have to investigate as to why this all changed.
Because a lot of the problems suddenly emerged when suddenly Arakan's becoming economically relevant. And they had to had pipelines being built, and this land the Rohingyas were on actually came-- now that there was investment, now you could exploit this land. Suddenly there's a reason to get the Rohingya off, and the laws have been put in place, but the government can suddenly own any land where the residents have been burnt. Well, suddenly, all the villages are being burnt.
So this is obviously, there's economic motivation somewhere deep down. But I wouldn't go so far as to say I could pinpoint every one. But it is interesting that some of the countries that were most vociferous, in terms of speaking out on behalf of the Rohingya, or generous in terms of hosting them in the [? disipassic ?] Saudi Arabia, don't really do anything now. Because they depend on that pipeline that's being put in. It's supposed take oil up to Yunnan. So economic motivations are a big thing that helps to influence how people react to this.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Did you want to jump in on the question of the [INAUDIBLE]?
EAINT THIRI THU: Me, I don't like that China and all those like-- pushing out those Rohingya area. It's just like I don't want to touch upon this economics thing, because I'm not maybe into it. But I just want to point out one thing. They are pushing the Rohingya out of the area at this time. I think military is also getting another benefit, which is about the territory issues. The current thing little people know about what is happening in Rakhine State in Northern Rakhine is there's a fighting between the military, government military, and the Arakan army.
So the area where the government will usually make the clearance operation, it is the Rohingyas area, but at the same time, we heard that the Arakan army also making a report that they are expanding towards the territory of the [INAUDIBLE]. So by shut down the area in the name of the clearance operation, give the military way to not only clear out the Rohingyas people, also clear out the territory for the [INAUDIBLE], and territory for fighting with the Arakan army in the Northern Rakhine State.
ANNE BLACKBURN: OK, so that's a helpful set of exchanges. Let's take a couple more questions from the floor. We have a question there, and then [INAUDIBLE] in the back. Walt, there's a question here towards the front. No, sorry. In the front of the room. It's confusing. Yeah, thank you.
AUDIENCE: Just from a point of view of a scholar. My point of view, an activist. And I look at Aung Suu Kyi, a previous speaker last week. I'm sure that had a lot to say about the [INAUDIBLE] or bubble that she lives in. And the sort of [INAUDIBLE] that she shows to the to her father, who was himself the founder of Burmese extreme nationalist organizations, but before he led the fight to independence.
So is there anybody that you think could possibly get through that bubble of [INAUDIBLE] Northern Rakhine and all this kind of stuff, as well as, of course, the general issue of treatment. Is there anybody? I noticed that one of the journalists that has asked her tough questions, also introduced a book about it [INAUDIBLE]. So I'm wondering if there's any chance something like that could actually get through to her.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Thanks for the question. The other question, Walt, was back toward the center section here on my right.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much, both of you for your remarks. Plus, Charney, towards the end of your talk, you mentioned that you would like to see a new understanding of the national races discourse. And so my question's actually for Thiri. If you have a perspective on the way that people use the term [INAUDIBLE] national races, and how that figures in the discourse around Rohingya issue, and other issues around ethnic groups. And if you see any kinds of changes taking place in the use of that term.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Would you like to respond to that, and also to the other question?
EAINT THIRI THU: I will respond to you first. We grew out of this kind of like 135 ethnics groups, and we don't know where that this come from. And I'm not even sure all these things really existed. But I think the things about the Rohingya thing, I think the more vulnerable things about the Rohingya is that they're not being ethics. Because people in Myanmar, they would like to speak out more for the suffering of the Kachin or the Shan and all other things, because there is some things like Rakhine's ethnics. And also they were eager to talk to about-- they were eager to talk about the Burmese movement, but they don't want to talk about the Rohingyas because they have this idea that, oh, they're not [INAUDIBLE], and they're not ethnic, so they're not from our country.
And lots of people in Myanmar, and my friends not only in Rakhine, also in other parts of the country, they share one view, like host and guest. Like we are the host of the country. So host should get more rights than the guest. And Rohingyas are the ethnic. They are the guest. They are the outsider. They will say that oh, we can give them some rights, but they cannot get same right as us because they are the guest. And they will not love this land as much as we do.
So I think that [INAUDIBLE] things, and [INAUDIBLE], and we are being [INAUDIBLE], a lot about being [INAUDIBLE] and all those things. So I think the vulnerability of the Rohingyas came from that, like of the [INAUDIBLE] as [INAUDIBLE] in the thing. Does that answer your question?
ANNE BLACKBURN: Do you want to comment on the question, also, about Daw San Suu Kyi, or no?
EAINT THIRI THU: Yeah. Can you repeat the question?
ANNE BLACKBURN: It was--
MICHAEL CHARNEY: [INAUDIBLE]
ANNE BLACKBURN: Roughly, any one who might be able to communicate with her more effectively.
EAINT THIRI THU: I am also thinking about this. I also ask the question, and I don't even know where she is getting the information from, like got her speech. It seems like really goodwill, but she has given the wrong information. She's getting the wrong information. Like in her previous speech, like speech to the public, and addressing the public [INAUDIBLE], and they are [INAUDIBLE]. [INAUDIBLE] she said that all the people in the in Rakhine State are having the higher education, which is not true. Not only the Rohingya [INAUDIBLE] people in the south, northern Rakhine State, they are not getting higher education.
But it's not that they will not-- it's not that they were to not go to the school, but It's like a structural limitation. And I don't think she is listening to anybody, and I don't know why. And she should also separate herself from the military. I don't know who is giving the information. You can reach out to her. I have been trying to find out.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Michael?
MICHAEL CHARNEY: Yeah, I agree with that. I don't know who's going to get through to her, and I don't think if somebody even could get through to her that it would actually make of a difference. I think there is a personality problem. I don't want to go too far about that, because you don't want to push somebody off in a thing.
We try to consider back and forth, is she being rational and just operating within constraints, and so playing the situation very cleverly. Or is it that she believes her own hype. And I think she's gotten to a certain position where when she's off camera or when she's caught off guard or something, the things that she says kind of suggest to me that she sees the world in the same way that those military generals do. And that she actually believes the stuff about her father and the military generals coming from the same group.
She comes from that same intellectual milieu and generation. So I think that there's that probability. And I don't want to be ungenerous to her, but I don't want to be overly generous and have wishful thinking either. I don't think much is going to change from her end.
EAINT THIRI THU: She just doesn't understand I think.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: Yeah.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Do we have other questions or comments from the floor? Some more? Was there a question in the back? Several questions. OK. Since you're back there, Walt, why don't you start-- the back, gentleman in the sweater to the back here. [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: I've got two questions. The first question both of you kind of answered already. So I'm not really sure where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stands or what she really thinks. I'm getting mixed messages here. Is she trying to avoid this topic? Is all situation because she is afraid that she might lose the vote. The huge Burmese [INAUDIBLE]. Most of them basically are deeply racist. Or is she just not generally, not apathetic towards the Rohingya people? So I'm not sure where she stands.
My second question is Dr. [? Achen. ?] I'm not sure if you know him. He is like a prominent Rakhine scholar. So I think he's the one who makes all the talking points for the Rakhine, I believe. [INAUDIBLE] Rohingya means people of the Rakhine land, Rakhine [INAUDIBLE]. So I think he's inferring that the Rohingya [INAUDIBLE], Chittagongs. They can't call themselves Rakhine or the Rohingyas. And actually should call the Rakhines, the Rohingyas because they are from Rakhine.
So how do you respond to that? And I know you had a big presentation, but if you want to give me a clear answer on that.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: I wasn't clear exactly what that point was is that [? Achen ?] says what? That the Rohingya aren't Rakhine or that they are Rakhine?
AUDIENCE: They are.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: They are or aren't? I'm sorry.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, no.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: They are not, yeah. Well, he's always said that. I'm not going to comment about him personally, but he takes a particular view of [INAUDIBLE] that I do not agree with at all. So if that's a comment.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Let's take our two additional questions. There's a gentleman here, just there, Walt. Yes, and then we had a question-- [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for your remarks. This gentleman back here sort of touched on it. Dr. Charney gave a lot of historical background and detail. I'm just wondering with the current situation-- I say current in the last 20 years or so with [INAUDIBLE] democracy or so-called democracy. Are most of the problems now related to the current government structure trying to maintain their position? Or do you think it was more related to historical conflicts and confusion of different opinion?
ANNE BLACKBURN: And let's collect the question from [INAUDIBLE], and then let our panelists respond.
AUDIENCE: Thanks. So my question actually brings these questions full circle, which is to say given the part that colonialism did play, although it's certainly not the only part of the story, and so that's really helpful to understand the ways in which it was mixed in with other dynamics going on in the region. I guess I would like to hear from both of you what you think the role of the international community can and should be, given the fact that intervention from outside was part of the problem in the first place.
And so I think for some activists outside the country, especially those who are engaged in academics setting of the region, and are really trying to grapple with and understand the complexity, and trying to understand the, I think, very valid nationalist desire for self-determination. How in that context, whether it's diplomatic or local branches of Amnesty International, how do you each see the most effective means of engaging with the problem, where the complexity's embraced? But also is very sensitive to this kind of external pressure as being potentially part of the problem?
ANNE BLACKBURN: Any part of these last couple of questions that you'd like to respond to?
EAINT THIRI THU: I will just answer this gentleman question about the Aung San Suu Kyi stand on this issue. I think currently, I think she is having the pressure, three kinds of pressure that she's having. Like one is from the military, and one is from the people, the general population who has the really height anti-- who has a really [? high ?] racism view. And then third one is the international pressure.
So I think one thing, because all these three pressures, she cannot really speak out, because when she speak out, [? those ?] people are like, people see this issue as a terrorist attack, and they see military is protecting the Buddhism. So if she speak out for the Rohingya thing, then the vast majority of the people, our populus would [INAUDIBLE] against her, and they will all [? legitimize ?] in the military. So then I think this is her consent that she doesn't want military to come back to the power, and that's why she is preventing to-- that's why she is not saying anything. But her silence make the problems worse, and this [INAUDIBLE].
And military is currently, I think, as a [? local ?] [INAUDIBLE] military's getting lots of legitimizing upon this issue. This the fourth time military is getting the legitimacy, compared to there were like three other incidents in the [INAUDIBLE], which is a Chinese ethnics group war between the military and that [INAUDIBLE] group. And the ethnics [INAUDIBLE] and the military. And also the recent, last year, attack by [INAUDIBLE] and this attack. But [? among ?] them, this is the time military is getting highest legitimacy.
So at this time, while the military is [INAUDIBLE] legitimacy, I think she cannot really speak up about this. That's one thing. And personally, I think she grew up more like a [INAUDIBLE]. Like she lived in other countries, and she doesn't really-- she's Burmese. So I'm not even sure that she can relate to the life of people with her personal life being grown up in the diplomatic communities, and this foreign community, as a Burmese Buddhist. So maybe that's part of the reason, political [? dynamer, ?] and then personal-- maybe she might be empathy towards it, but she might not be able to relate the things, I think.
ANNE BLACKBURN: While you are with the mic, Thiri, would you like to also respond to [INAUDIBLE] question about the role of the international community [INAUDIBLE], what would be helpful at this point in time?
EAINT THIRI THU: To be honest, I don't really have the answer for this. But what I can say, I think this is what international [? comment ?] should think [INAUDIBLE]. So I can only give the information. Like so far, in my last recent trip, research trip in 2016 about the information flow in Rakhine State, making three area, three ethnics group. and for the Rakhine people, they are [INAUDIBLE] words. They hates the word humanitarian. They hates the word human rights. They hates the word NGO.
So we need to think like why is [INAUDIBLE] going that far. And before international put so much pressure on it, because this issue, to me, is not just between the states and the international and [INAUDIBLE] because people are [INAUDIBLE] this like pushing, putting the pressure. International community has put pressure on Myanmar [INAUDIBLE], this issue for a long time. But is it really effective, and do they need to review about the policy, and maybe trying to make another approach and think about that, I think.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Yes, we can think of some comparative context which external pressure can make things considerably worse. Michael. [INAUDIBLE]
MICHAEL CHARNEY: First, I want to apologize to this gentleman up here. It was a good question, it's just that I have difficulty hearing, so that's why it came off a little bit negative. I didn't mean to sound so negative.
The other question about the current structure of government affecting the current problems and everything else. I think it's a lot like Thiri was talking about. One of the big problems is is that they accepted this constitution, and they went ahead with these elections. And by doing that, it puts a civilian face on anything, and legitimizes anything the military does.
Right now, the military's a lot better off than it was six or seven years ago, because everything that they have is validated by a civilian face. And when it goes bad, when it's problematic, it's Sang Sun Suu Kyi gets blamed, not the military. So that's been a lot of the reasons the military has been very free to act in any way that it wants, because it knows Aung Sun Suu Kyi will get the blame.
In terms of what the international community needs to do, I don't know. The thing is, they have to get involved somehow because you just can't have the Rohingya extinguished, which is what's going to happen. You were talking earlier about the different-- before this-- about the difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide. And I don't know which it is, but the fact is that at a minimum, it's going to wind up being constructive genocide, because the Bangladeshi government doesn't want them either. Somebody was already talking about sterilizing Rohingya women, and they're not allowed to marry Bangladeshi men, so they don't get citizenship and don't have a claim.
So effectively, unless they get involved and have some kind of safety zone, safe zone, these people are going to be extinguished. But that will only make the problems worse, so that's not a solution. These other problems have to be resolved by somebody within Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi is going to have to-- one of the problems, we pumped her up way more than we can expect anybody to do-- than somebody could possibly fulfill.
But if she's really going to catch the [INAUDIBLE] and save the country, she's gotta do more than just sitting in her office or going to Brunei and making nasty comments about the Rohingya. She's going to actually have to solve real national issues. That's the big problem. She's in the position. It's her time in the day right now. She's the one who has to grab the moment and fix it, no matter how much that is to expect of her. And she's not doing it yet.
EAINT THIRI THU: And I think she should also do her promise, [INAUDIBLE] promise, which is a rule of law. We really need the [INAUDIBLE] law at this moment in the country, because they are silenced voices, moderate voices, we cannot voice out because there are lots of law, like legally she make that [INAUDIBLE], which is the freedom of expression blocking that kind of thing. So she needs to make the [? law ?] floor before doing all those thing, because we cannot speak without the [? law ?] floor.
ANNE BLACKBURN: We have a question on the floor. Walt, there's a question just behind you. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for going through the [INAUDIBLE]. I really appreciate it. I was wondering [INAUDIBLE]. Well, I have two questions. First I was wondering, you didn't talk too much about [? pressure ?] journalism there. I was wondering, if there are legitimate sources of local media that are doing quality journalism. I realize it's [INAUDIBLE] very strong or [INAUDIBLE] to place.
And then also, I guess if there is any trust for local media, and how to nurture that trust, if it's not there. And then also, this is-- maybe [INAUDIBLE] just [INAUDIBLE]. I guess if I tried to [INAUDIBLE] Myanmar [INAUDIBLE], like [INAUDIBLE] maybe the less [INAUDIBLE] from Brookings. And the Francis Wade, and the John [INAUDIBLE] of the BBC. I was wondering if you thought they gave a nuanced approach, or if maybe they too were simple, and where it would be good to keep learning about.
EAINT THIRI THU: So about the legitimate media. For us, like for me, as a Burmese, but I I get to the area, because [INAUDIBLE] identity. Because in working in those area, I think really rather than being a profession, you first need the identity. They ask who you are. It matters who you are.
Like for me, I am. I can go to both community because of my share identity. I am [INAUDIBLE]. I am [INAUDIBLE], which is that they believe that they are related to Rakhine. So Rakhine people [INAUDIBLE] to go into the area, talk to them. And at the same time, Rohingya, I grew up in the Muslim neighborhood. I lived there for 20 years, and my grandfather is the head of that neighborhood, famous Muslim neighborhood. And I have a really good Rohingya friends and Rakhine friends who trust me on the personal level. That's why I could go to the area and I can do that kind of thing.
But in general, most of the journalists in the country, they don't have that kind of thing that I am having. But there are some [? fixer, ?] people like us, they call that [? fixer, ?] [INAUDIBLE]. There are some people working on the ground on this issue. But most of the [? fixer ?] journalists, they don't want to work on this issue, especially after this conflict. They don't want to be named as the traitor of the country and the [? nationalism. ?]
But so far, [INAUDIBLE] we have like five people working on this issue, a [? fixer ?] anything. But including me. And now I am in US studying, and one of them got a permanent job at one international media. And only two of them left, and another one also got a job. So like two of them are working on the ground now. One of them is arrested recently by flying the drone over the parliament. So literally, we only have one people working on this issue.
So we need to build that legitimacy, legitimate medias and all those thing. But I don't know why not many other people want to work on this issues, and even if they do, they are being threatened. Like my friend who is a first ever [INAUDIBLE] winner in [INAUDIBLE] from Myanmar, she was personally attacked on the social media for writing about the Rohingya's issue. And other friends also were attacked, like they got the message, just that threats and that kind of messages from the people, you are the traitors and you are the [INAUDIBLE]-- the word like [? colla, ?] which is the bad word. So using that kind of thing.
But people like [? Jonathan, ?] the friends [INAUDIBLE], his book is really good, and he was trying to talk about these issues. He put so much effort in. And I also helped him a little bit on this issue. But Jonah Fishers and all those people, they do it. They couldn't really get access to the area, [INAUDIBLE] and all this thing. I think these kind of journals are needed more. But before the journalist, I didn't mention about this. One challenge is about the access to the area, because once you get the access to the area, you need the permission.
Sometime we only have like four days to report, and we have to spend two days for the travelling. And then we have to spend one day to get the permission to the area. Then we don't really have much time to work on the reporting issue. So this is a-- maybe as an international community, maybe this is their advocacy point, to reduce the structural limitation, and the researching to get access to the area, to save time and energy, logistic things.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: There's some websites and that kind of thing, like New Mandela that they can access, too, right? New Mandela is a form for news, as well. They can access through the internet.
EAINT THIRI THU: Yes. Facebook?
MICHAEL CHARNEY: Facebook and New Mandela, which is a-- yeah.
EAINT THIRI THU: Everything is Facebook. People get the information on Facebook.
MICHAEL CHARNEY: The generals have Facebook, too.
ANNE BLACKBURN: Mike, would you like to jump in on these points?
MICHAEL CHARNEY: Not particularly, because I don't know which form they were talking about for this particular thing. I know the book has come out, but I haven't read it yet.
ANNE BLACKBURN: OK. All right. Fine. Well, this has been a really stimulating discussion. I'm under signals from afar to wrap up. But I know that you will want to catch our speakers informally now after their talks, and probably be in communication with them also after this event.
We're really grateful to Eaint Thiri Thu, and to Michael Charney for joining us today. And I would like to offer a special thanks to Heike Michelsen, Associate Director for Academic Programming at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, for her hard work on this event, and bringing yet another important event to a successful conclusion. Thank you.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Michael Charney and Eaint Thiri Thu participated in a roundtable discussion moderated by Anne Blackburn titled 'The Roots of the Rohingya Crisis: The Eradication of a Myanmar Ethnic Group,' on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 in Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium, Klarman Hall.
The Rohingya are a largely Muslim minority group living in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State. Denied citizenship by law, the Rohingya are often described as the most persecuted minority in the world. In August, Rohingya militants attacked police outposts in Rakhine. The Burmese military responded with a crackdown that UN officials have characterized as ethnic cleansing. Roughly half the 1.1 million Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Bangladesh.
Michael W. Charney is a military and imperial historian specializing in Southeast Asia in both the premodern and modern periods. He received his PhD at the University of Michigan in 1999. Eaint Thiri Thu was born and raised in Myanmar. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in human rights at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. She was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship, an Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change fellowship, and a Humphrey School of Public Affairs scholarship to pursue her studies in the United States.