Myanmar’s Enemy Within | Francis Wade

Summary of: Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim ‘Other’
By: Francis Wade


Dive into the complexities of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where Buddhist and Muslim communities once coexisted in harmony. Myanmar’s Enemy Within unveils how the transition from dictatorship to democracy led to anti-Muslim violence in the summer of 2012, targeting Rohingya Muslims who viewed themselves as citizens of Myanmar. Explore the origins of this hostility, the role of extremists, the influence of Myanmar’s history, and the difficult position faced by the pro-democracy movement to understand the roots and ramifications of the devastating conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in this region.

The Causes of Anti-Muslim Violence in Myanmar

Rakhine State in Myanmar witnessed a transition from dictatorship to democracy between 2011 and 2015, which led to anti-Muslim violence in 2012. The violence was directed at Rohingya Muslims, who are considered outsiders by the Rakhine Buddhist majority. Losing their land and fear of “Islamization” were the key factors that led to the violence. The shift towards democracy allowed minority groups in Myanmar to assert their rights, causing concern and fear among the Rakhine Buddhists.

The Roots of the Rohingya Crisis

The Rohingya crisis in Myanmar can be attributed to two main factors: the brutal attack on a Buddhist seamstress, which led to violent retaliation against innocent Muslim men, and the spread of a divisive narrative about the Rohingya people. The idea that the Rohingya were illegal immigrants who posed a threat to the Buddhist majority was popularized through Buddhist media and journals, giving extremists a newfound voice to spread their ideas. This escalation was fueled by Myanmar’s transition to democracy and open elections, which allowed for the free flow of information and gave extremists the freedom to incite violence against the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Anti-Muslim Violence

In 2012, clashes between Rohingya and Buddhists sparked anti-Muslim violence across Myanmar. Despite evidence of government complicity, Buddhists were portrayed as acting in self-defense while the Rohingya were called terrorists. Leading Rakhine monks called for boycotts of Muslims, and attacks targeted unrelated ethnic groups as well. The violence left thousands in refugee camps and exposed deep-seated prejudice against Muslims in Myanmar.

The Roots of Anti-Muslim Resentment in Myanmar

Muslims in Myanmar have a rich history dating back over a thousand years. However, the British empire’s policies in Myanmar fostered anti-Muslim resentment. In 1885, Britain annexed Myanmar, leading to Indian immigration and a change in the country’s demographics. By the 1920s and ’30s, Myanmar nationalists aimed to remove both the British authorities and the new arrivals, with a particular focus on Muslim populations. This resentment towards Muslims has since expanded to cover older Muslim populations like the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Military Dictatorship and National Unity

Myanmar’s military regime aimed to attain national unity at all costs as it believed it was the only way to protect the country from internal and external threats. They claimed that Myanmar had flourished mainly because it was unified behind one culture and faith, Buddhism. The British era witnessed the introduction of alien groups like Muslims, who refused to assimilate, which eroded the country’s unity. The military used force to achieve national unity, emphasizing their role was to restore an old nation, not build a new one.

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