(Of course, how President Thein Sein et al are using the inquiry commissions - Aung San Suu Kyi-led Letpadaung Mountain Copper Mine Inquiry Commission, now the Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing Inquiry Commission, etc. ought to be studied for what they are: strategic decoys, distractions and public relations exercises in whitewashing dodgy regimes and their crimes against humanity. This is a story for later.)
Evidently, neither student of Anderson proved themselves able to entertain the possibility that 60-years is long enough for any ethnic group to forge a new identity.
The report that bear their approving signatures merely pointed out that the first ever use of the ethnic self-reference 'Rohingya' dated no earlier than 1951. They should know better.
Both the ethnic labels, the founding members of the modern nation-state, the Chin and the Kachin were externally imposed by the British colonial administrators and American Baptist missionaries on the 'natives'. These were disparate native groups who originally identified themselves tribally, as clans and along geographic lines, the new ethnic labels were less than 50 years old upon independence in 1948. Mal-informed by the prevailing pseudo-scientific knowledge about race and ethnicity in Europe, the British colonials and the American missionaries grouped these 'tribal peoples' in Burma's borderlands together out of administrative expediency.
As Amartya Sen correctly pointed out during a public seminar on Burma at Columbia University last September, the geographical areas, which now form Northern Arakan or Rakhine state of present-day Burma, changed hands among neighboring feudal rulers. And boundaries were always elastic and un-defined in the old pre-colonial days.
The Rohingya EthnicCleansing Inquiry report officially stressed how the Rakhine feudal lords expanded their reach over territories in what was then Bengal while making light of the fact that there were Bengali kings who ruled what was then the Kingdom of Arakan. Indeed, historians, especially Establishment ethno-nationalist historians, have long proven capable of recounting the past only from a victor's perspective. The two leading scholars on the Presidential Inquiry Commission are no exception.
Ethno-religiously, the commission is a good mix, that is, except that there was no Rohingya -- nay, "Bangali" -- representation on the commssion. Dr Myo Myint (Bama or Bama-identified), Khun Tun Oo (Shan), Jana Lahtaw (Kachin), Dr Salai Andrew (Chin), U Soe Thein (a Bama), Dr Yin Yin Nwe (Shan-Bama), Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing (Shan-Bama), Zarganar (Bama), Aung Naing Oo (Bama), Ko Ko Gyi (a national security race?), Tin Aung Moe (Bama), Daw Than Than Nu (Bama), (Vet) Dr Aye Maung (Rakhine with neo-Nazi views), Aye Thar Aung (ultra-nationalist Rakhine), Rev. Margay Gyi (Karen), U Tun Aung Chain (Karen), etc. There are also Myanmar Muslims (ethnically Indians) and Myanmar Hindu.
With the exception of the Muslim commissioners, none of these ethno-religious diverse commissioners fought against the State-sponsored ethnocide of the Rohingya in the form of the commission's vehement opposition to the word "Rohingya". The commission was certainly a key accomplice in the State-sponsored ethnocide.
The two Muslim leaders who challenged this ethnocide and stood up for the Rohingya's own 'imagined identity' were kicked out. Their crime? The frivolous charges of speaking to the press about the inquiry while other pliant ones who also spoke the media were left un-touched. As to expected, the report made no mention of how politics got in the way of establishing truths about the mass violence in the new Rakhine, or more accurately, glossing over ugly realities.
In fact, the commission sought to confirm the popular anti-Muslim racism without problematizing the recent growth of this increasingly virulent strain of Islamophobia and anti-Bengali sentiment across all 'indigenous national races' of Burma.
The Commission did raise concerns about the 969, a neo-Nazi movement ostensibly led by Buddhist monks from Burma's leading teaching monasteries, and its divisive impact on ethnic and social relations in society as well as a potential stain on Burma's national image; but, it fell far short of pointing out the need to take seriously the new neo-Fascist turn in the country's well-known anti-Muslim "Buddhist" racism. The report's authors chose to describe 'now world-infamous 969 rather mildly: 'a campaign among the Buddhist to defend their own faith and to encourage intra-Buddhist commerce and trade'.
All this is troubling, but not un-expected. For it was under the Religious Affairs Director-Generalship of Commission Chair Dr Myo Myint the proliferation of anti-Muslim quasi-religious publications, long before the previous crop of ruling Burmese generals allowed the 'greater freedom of press, assembly and speech'. The leading voice of 969, Wirathu recently told the Associated Press that his views were formed as early as 2001.
This is adding insult to injury for both parties in conflict, namely the Rakhines and the Rohingya.
they were described as 'elementary school children-like people who, having obtained commission members' hand phone numbers from their Muslim contacts in Rangoon, kept on calling the Commission members in Rangoon to blabber on about their sufferings and whine abuot their grievances'.
Perhaps one silver living in the dark episode in Burma's modern political history is the report accurately states that local authorities in Rakhine State have absolutely no power to order security forces including army, police, border-control interagency troops, etc. to do anything to quell the mass violence. This was, and still is, something only central government of Thein Sein can do.
It then begs the question: Why did the union level leadership of President Thein Sein and his deputies on the Council in Naypyidaw choose not to mobilize the troops while the security troops were called in to firebomb sleeping anti-Chinese mine Buddhist monks at 2 am in central Dry Zone, using canisters containing white phosphorous?
Alas, this is the question that fell outside the purview of the Presidential Commission.
The greatest number of deaths and destruction were borne by the Rohingyas. And yet a highly disproportionate number of the Rohingya vis-a-vis the Rakhine have been tried.
In the first wave of Rohingya-Rakhine violence June last year 4,188 Rohingya homes were destroyed while the Rakhine suffered the loss of 1,150 homes. In the second wave of violence in October, 2,371 Rohingya homes were destroyed as opposed to only 42 homes that belonged to the Rakhine.
And again, out of a total of 1.835 arrested in connection with the mass violence, 1,589 are Rohingya and only 246 are Rakhine.
Perhaps the scholarly presidential investigators on the Rakhine Sectarian Violence Inquiry Commission could advance and test a hypothesis that the economic productivity of Rakhine Buddhists - all Buddhists in Burma? - must be inversely correlated with the destructive capacity of the group. For the report orientalized the Rakhine as 'low productivity' group, or more crudely 'Lazy Natives'.
The commission's official statistic implies the awesome power of a small group of Rakhine - 246 to be exact, to destroy thousands of homes and dozens of mosques in about 12 different towns and cities and turn over 120,000 Rohingya refugees homeless, shelter-less internally displaced persons in a span of 5 months.
After all, the Rakhine ultra-nationalists are reportedly hell-bent on 'driving out the non-Rakhine, most particularly, the Rohingya Hoax, or those (Bengali) "Influx Viruses", as the leading Rakhine intellectual Dr Aye Chan of Kanda University in Japan put it.
Again according to Zarganar, his official request that the investigators be allowed to unfettered access to all the important officials alive, past and present, who have ever served in Western Burma over the past 25 years was never been granted. He told me that many of the officials were transferred to remote places after the Commission was formed on 17 August.
What was Naypyidaw trying to hide?.
That too, of course, lied outside the mandated scope of the Presidential Inquiry Commission.
Presidential inquiry commissions are not about seeking or finding incriminating evidence which will lead Presidents to gallows. Thein Sein may be a liar with a straight face, but he ain't dumb. Preemptively, the 8-mandates by President Thein Sein in fact did not include any study of the role of the State, its institutions, or the responsibilities of the national leadership (see the Appendix B).
Instead of shedding light on the utter inaction of the characteristically trigger-happy Burmese security forces - both the police, riot police and the army, the Commissioners focused on highlighting the need to modernize these already heavily and happily armed troops.
The fist one-dozen recommendations which opened the section of 'recommendations' in the 4-page English language Executive Summary are all about security sector modernization, not security reform as such while lip service is paid to the need to act in line with human rights and Burma's international treaty obligations.
The report recommends that the international community (Washington?) helps equip Burmese security forces with sorts of toys including CCTV, assault speedboats, new weapons, etc. to deal with the cardinal cross-border problem of Bangladesh's 'population explosion'. I am sure the Pentagon would love to help bring the Tatmadaw (the army) and other auxiliary units such as Lon-htein to the human rights standards of Abu Ghraib, and so would Canberra.
For a report that bore the signatures of 24-technocrats, Establishment historians and academics, wealthy local merchants and traders, socialites and religious leaders out of a total of 27 - two had already been expelled and one is hospitalized in Singapore - recommendations about security sector modernization are rather impressive, so much so that one wonders if the report were the Commission's gift to the Ministry of Defense and its next generation generals.
The detectable patriotic sentiment of the commissioners here was this: Shouldn't we the "indigenous", pure blooded Myanmar should be concerned about the fact that 80% of fertile agricultural acreage in certain locations are now in the hands of the hard-working and thrifty "Bengali" agricultural workers and land-owners while our 'lazy Rakhine brethen' have fallen deeper into destitution?
Allah bad, Buddha Gotama good!
The new policy of this soon-to-be clean government is going to approach the issue of 'communal violence' holistically, preventatively and through the use of 'weapons for conflict resolution' (white phosphorous as was fired on sleeping monks at 2 am by the Burmese security forces last year?).
There will be established an 'early warning system' - warning of new genocidal waves?. More empirical research and survey is advocated. A new inquiry commission that will look at even deeper causes of the 'communal violence' in Western Burma is recommended. A newer peace and conflict resolution research center is to be located in the region -- near the Rohingya mass graves which Human Rights Watch uncovered? - is also advisable.
Scholars in the field of genocide studies have already established that that extraordinary and rare mass violence, ethnic cleansings are not simply domestic or internal events in nation-states. They have an international dimension. These dark events generally take place in an international environment where external players are more concerned about their own strategic and commercial gains than large scale human sufferings, be they the Khmer, the Tutsi, the Bosnians, the Tamils, and now the Rohingya.
Burma's donor governments of the pro-human rights West, of all the countries on earth, are said to be hostile to the Human Rights Watch's characterization of their new found business and strategic partners in Burma as 'ethnic cleansers' and 'criminals against humanity'.
The Thein Sein's government's report sprinkled with the liberal discourses of conflict resolution, humanitarian management, reconciliation, and so on are more palatable than Human Rights Watch's 'ethnic cleansing' of the Rohingya.
The donors, I am sure, can't wait to fund the great new initiatives to do further research into the causes of, well, Burma's emerging neo-Nazi Buddhism.