Academic journal article Social Justice

Myanmar: Promoting Reconciliation between the Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists of Rakhine State

Academic journal article Social Justice

Myanmar: Promoting Reconciliation between the Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists of Rakhine State

Article excerpt


One of the most pressing challenges Myanmar confronts is the mistreatment of the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Although Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy's landslide victory in November 2015 has given reason for cautious optimism, a multistage process of reconciliation between the Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists is critically needed to build sustainable peace and promote justice. Tracing Buddhist/Muslim relations and drawing on scholarship examining reconciliation events, we propose a three-stage reconciliation process for Rakhine State and scrutinize steps to be taken to promote reconciliation.


GIVEN THAT BURMA/MYANMAR REMAINS ONE OF THE POOREST COUNTRIES in the world (Economist 2015,1), many have seen the November 8, 2015 landslide victory by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) as a real opportunity to promote peace and prosperity in a country that has experienced civil war for decades and still is plagued by a host of non-traditional security challenges. Having been freed from many years of brutal rule by a military junta, the Burmese people are yearning for a better life. Even though the government of President U Thein Sein, formed in March 2011, has introduced significant political and economic reforms to move the country toward liberal democracy, many Burmese and representatives of the international community are looking to Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and champion of Myanmar's struggle for democracy, to lead the country toward a more peaceful future.

Among the numerous challenges Aung San Suu Kyi faces is national reconciliation between the government and armed ethnic groups. Particularly pressing are the human security challenges in Rakhine State, which, as the International Crisis Group (2008,1) explains, "are rooted in decades of armed violence, authoritarian rule and state-society conflict." Composed of a Buddhist majority (the Rakhine) and a sizeable Muslim minority (including the Kaman and the Rohingya), (1) Rakhine State, impoverished and underdeveloped, has seen for some time outbreaks of serious violence. Whereas, prior to the most recent elections, Aung San Suu Kyi had largely remained silent on the turmoil in Rakhine State--most likely not to alienate her many supporters from the Buddhist majority--her electoral victory has fueled hopes that she would speak out against glaring human rights violations, promote justice for all persecuted people in Myanmar, and help stabilize the country. The road to peace, however, will be long and difficult--as has become abundantly clear during the most recent tragic events in Rakhine State, when in August 2017 the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked 30 police outposts and the Burmese military responded with a massive security operation that caused over 900,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. Not only can the military be counted on being a veto player at least some of the time, a point we will return to later, but these recent developments--which the UN has labeled "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing"--have also raised considerable doubt as to whether Aung San Suu Kyi will, in fact, stick out her neck to promote peace. Her renewed failure to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Rohingya has frustrated, even infuriated, many of her supporters, and some critics have gone as far as to suggest that her Nobel Peace Prize be rescinded. At this point, her prolonged silence is difficult to read, and it seems impossible to know whether it indicates indifference, cowardice, or a carefully calculated long-term strategy to promote peace.

What is clear at this point, we argue, is that to build sustainable peace and promote justice in Rakhine State, there remains a critical need for reconciliation between the Muslims and the Buddhists who make up the majority of Burmese society. Although we specifically focus on the tensions between the Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists because the former see most of the persecution, we recognize the suffering of other Muslim groups in the country, such as the Kaman and Mandalay Muslims, who also have been affected by the rise in anti-Muslim sentiments. …

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