The majority of the people of Myanmar, including myself, last year looked upon the government and president with constructive optimism. The authorities provided a ray of hope on much-needed economic and social reforms as well as politics. Lingering conflicts appeared to be subsiding, even though another emerged in the Rakhine State. But now there is much concern. Mistrust, suspicion and cynism have surfaced.
The future looks grim. Changes are becoming a distant dream, promises are just an illusion. There is a feeling of self-deception. Many people have shied away from thinking of reform. Back in 1990, the creation of a civilian government was not possible as U Ne Win kept his grip on power. But can't the country change now he has gone? Is dictatorship an infectious disease?
If its source can't be found, there is no medicine or effective cure!
There might have been opportunities that attracted both political and economic potential over the past two years but the majority of Myanmar's people are still trapped in poverty. Due to the loss of harvests and rising consumer prices, farmers are finding life particularly hard. The unemployed in the countryside move to the cities to find work. But they can't find places to live in the cities. Some look to go abroad, but the work situations in Malaysia or Thailand - considered paradises by rural people - are tough. Food prices are spiralling out of reach and there is no place to escape to. Rental prices in Yangon and Mandalay have doubled or tripled in the past two years. The land issue - including land allocation by the Investment Commission and privileges won by crony companies - has tipped to crisis point. It is not just foreign investors who are put off, but ordinary people too.
The middle class has suffered a setback. The rich become richer and the poor become poorer. Nice speeches from the president no longer ring positive to the ears of poor as they witness more hardship. They only see unequal economic activities leading to increased unfairness. Besides the lack of proper economic management, no efforts are made to end bribery and corruption among government officials.
Internationally the country is spotlighted by ongoing riots that emerge one after another. Buddhists, who usually live with peace of mind, are stirred by sectarian violence. Nationalism is part of a wave of anti-Muslim violence instigated by right-wing groups. It has never been the practice of Myanmar's people to burn the homes of people of other religions.
These issues are more than just self-cynicism. They are a U-turn in the national reconciliation effort. Many people think reconciliation has to do with Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy. This is only partially right. In reality, national reconciliation has been on hold since the 1962 military coup. Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD appeared in the 1988 uprising. The NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 general election. It won the people's approval again in the 2012 by-elections. So when will national reconciliation come about? The answer is that it will be secured only on the day when the army assumes its primary duty of defence; on the day when the army distances itself from political and administrative affairs; on the day the army truly hands over power to the people.
After the coup in 1962, the military did not draw up a new Constitution until 1974, for the so-called purpose of transferring power to the people after a system of one-party rule. General Ne Win, the leader of the military, took off his uniform and became president. The administration came to be dominated by military personnel. It came to an end with the 1988 uprising. Then, General Saw Maung and the military leaders, who staged a coup with the consent of U Ne Win, promised to hold a free and fair election and to give power to the winning party. Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD won, but the military backtracked and openly lied that the election was intended only for drawing up the constitution. In fact, only a few elected representatives were involved in drawing up the constitution, which was outlined by then Senior General Than Shwe and approved in 2008.
Actually, both the 2008 constitution and 2010 election were just preparatory steps for the military to transform the shape of the dictatorship. They were not meant to transfer power to the people. The authorities were just trying to shift their power to parliament, the government and the military. The opposition and the ethnic groups were given a chance to participate in a limited capacity legislatively and administratively. The NLD competed in the 2012 by-elections without claiming the success of the 1990 election. But the public wants to see the NLD's participation in parliament for amendments to laws including the 2008 constitution. Moreover, the public expects Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to be the opposition party that can work with as well as criticise the government's policies. For national reconciliation, the army remains an integral part of the solution, and the NLD will have to deal directly with military leaders.
If the authorities are sincere about a transition to democracy, and really care about the country, the three main elements - the government led by the president, parliament led by Union Assembly Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, and the army led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing - must pave way to forming the basic institutions necessary to creating a truly democracy system. The 2008 Constitution must be discussed for further amendment in the implementation of a democratic system. The authorities must agree to hold a free and fair election in 2015.
The people have become pessimistic with the ongoing difficulties, obstacles and lack of will. There are negativities in all political, economic and social spheres. The future seems like infinite struggle. To win trust from the people, all the negative aspects must be tackled and national reconciliation put back on track.
Burma’s military, both the despotic leadership and its institutional instrument of power, namely the Tatmadaw or the Royal Army, remains enigmatic, in spite of it being in power for half-a-century (since 2 March 1962). It is the black hole of understanding in knowledge produced about Burma
The world knows a lot about Aung San Suu Kyi – her political beliefs and stance, her inspiring personal tale, and her pedigree. Even her aesthetic tastes are well-publicized, and so are the abuses and acts of persecution towards her. And yet the world knows surprisingly little about the country’s dictatorship, despite its half-century of military rule and the exceedingly negative impact that has had on Burmese society, culture, economy, politics, and foreign relations. This is not surprising since dictatorships typically thrive on secrecy about their modus operandi, and the resultant confusion amongst the oppressed. The Burmese dictatorship is no exception in this respect. In contrast, iconic dissidents such as Aung San Suu Kyi and opposition movements can only sustain their relevance and popular support by making their views, stances and strategies accessible to their friends and supporters, as well as opponents and detractors. Systems of political repression strive to paralyze the domestic public and its international supporters, while liberation struggles seek to mobilize both.
ANTI-MUSLIM VIOLENCE BREWING IN SANDOWAY OR THANDWE
URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT
call for the official and enforced ban of the neo-Nazi "Buddhist" 969 Campaign and de-registration of the ultra-natioanlist Rakhine party - RNDP - which is behind all the anti-Muslim violent campaigns across Rakhine State
Plans are underway to burn Muslim neighborhoods in Sandoway or Than-dwe, with families inside after 9 pm local time - any day.
There has been a 9pm - 4 am curfew known as "Muslim Curfew" because non-Muslims are largely unaffected by the curew. Authorities only enforce the curfew against the Muslim, with 6-month prison sentence.
here is a sequence of events since yesterday:
28 Sept: a 969-follower and a member of the Rakhine Nationality Development Party chaired by Vet Aung Maung (MP from Ramree based in Naypyidaw) who works as a motorcycle taxi-driver parked his motorcycle in front of a shop owned by a Karman Muslim named Haji U Kyaw San Hla.
The shop-owner told off the taxi-driver as the cycle was blocking the shop's loading area for the disel engines for motorboats.
the 969 and RNDP member taxi-driver threatened to destroy the shop, mobilizing his network, and came around with 10+bikers and threw stones at the shop and repeated the threats of violence against the Karman muslim shopkepper U Kyaw San Hla.
The Sandwe police summoned the Muslim shopowner and asked him to sign a paper pledging not to behave 'rudely' again and was released him on the signed pledge.
Already about 200-strong mob came to to the police station, where Muslim shop owner was being questioned and lectured by the police.
Nothing happened yesterday.
29 Sept - Sunday:
at 2 pm, several thousand-strong 969 and RNDP crowd went to the 2-story wooden house/residence of Chairman of the local Karman Muslim Organization, named Haji U Khin Maung Latt. His house was located right across from Sandoway/Thandwe City Hall.
they threw petrol bombs and burned the house down completely.
Lon-htein, a hybrid of military and riot police came, and so did the Army troops to the city hall area where Haji U Khin Maung Latt's house was still on fire.
They fired warning shots into the air, but didn't stop the mob from their arson attacks.
The troops also blocked any road leading to the burning house and the City Hall so that no Muslim residents from other parts of the town could enter the area to offer any assistance or help put out the fire.
The family escaped the attack.
Sandoway's sole fire engine couldn't do anything to extinguish the fire, which burned the wooden house to the ground.
Here is demographic and political info:
Sandoway's population is made up of Burmanized Rakhine, mixed Rakhine-Bama familes, Karman muslims, etc. there have been no religious conflicts or communal conflicts among these residents. in terms of Muslim-Buddhist make-up, it's about half and half.
Karman Muslims are, even by 1982 Citizenship Act and other associated laws, recognized as 'Taiyin-thar' or ethnic natives of Burma. Many maintain close ties with the authorities.
However, at the time of this crisis, the authorities show no interest in or signs of protecting the Karman muslims from the 969 and the ultra-nationalists/neo-Nazi Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), the second largest party in Rakhine representing the Rakhines, after the ruling USDP.
the surrounding areas are small settlements and coastal villages where many Rakhine, Bama and other laborers work in the fishing industry.
Many of these laborers from places as far as GWA and other migrant labor settlements are said to be paid and bused into Sandoway by the 969 and RNDP.
Key anti-Muslim leaders (969 and RNDP are very close and there are overlapping personalities who are connected to both Nazi campaigns):
1) a key leader of the 969 - is a Karman convert to Buddhism named Mr Tun Thant Kyaw
2) several Bama or Burmese Buddhists who are very active leaders and funders of the anti-Muslim campaign
a) Mr Win Ko Lay - a diesel oil seller (for the fishing and other boats)
b) Mr Thein Win,the owner of a pharmacy named U Waziya
c) Mr Tu Tu, owner of Aung Myan Mar bus/taxi station
they are funding and managing the campaign.
They are very active in the ultra-nationalist campaign of the Rakhine party (RNDP Aye Maung's party).
there are 969 monk leaders:
1) Nyaung Bin Thar Monastery Abbot
2) Pearl Monastery abbot
The muslims, karmans and others, feel the State and its organizations are NOT going to protect them in the likely event of a 969/RNDP attacks, arson and loot.
They want the truths out to the world.
The least you can do is spread the word, in hopes that truth may wake the conscience of some in this world who might be in a position to pressurize the Burmese regime into banning both the RNDP and 969 and to pressure Thein Sein Government to protect the Muslims.
ACTION NEEDED -
ACTION NEEDED: ban 969 and the RNDP (Rakhine Nationality Development Party).
To stop anti-Muslim violence campaign, one immediate goal should be to pressurize Thein Sein Regime to de-register neo-Nazi Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) and strictly enforce the 969-ban issued by the Governing Body of the Buddhist Order.
1) Organization of Islamic Conferences/Cooperation is scheduled to visit Myanmar - Myanmar government is letting it to come in in order to placate it ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York next month.
2) Chairman of the ruling party and ex-3rd ranking general Shwe Mann met with 15 'civil society organizations' today.
3) Then the troubles against the Muslim communities in Sandoway or Thandwe started - with 2 houses being burned down and widely circulated info about the imminent after-9 pm, but during curfew hour arson attacks, loots and violence by bus-ed in hired thugs, armed ultra-nationalists, etc.
In Rakhine, the inter-communal violence in June and October 2012 resulted in at least 140,000 people displaced. In an effort to minimize an adverse effect of the rainy season, over 79,000 people have been relocated to temporary shelters. However, durable solutions that avoid community segregation need to be implemented urgently through trust building and reconciliation.
The conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States has displaced an estimated 100,000 people. As of August, the number of registered IDPs staying in camps has reached more than 91,000. Sustained access for provision of assistance for relief and eventually recovery operations is yet to be achieved. Since the beginning of the conflict in June 2011, a total of 11 cross-line missions were conducted to border areas, covering only 20 per cent (some 10,000 IDPs) of the total caseload in areas beyond Government control.
More than 6,800 people remain displaced in Meikhtila as of Aug 2013, of the over 12,000 affected people at the beginning of the unrest in March 2013.
There is a need to establish an open-source intelligence unit monitoring the process of privatization in Myanmar.t
Let's call this, provisionally, the Myanmar Economic Crime Watch or Documentation Unit which will document the large scale economic loot, theft and rape of the country and her wealth.
The battle for a new Myanmar now has a very clear economic and commercial front, not just political and human rights.
This is an extremely important work. For the country is being privaitized and the ex-generals who are now refashioning themselves as 'reformers' 'democrats' 'parliamentarians' 'nation-builders' are, with absolutely no exception, THIEVES - repeat THIEVES.
Here is a cursory list.
From the current regime:
1) Shwe Mann and sons; 2) Aung Thaung and sons; 3) Thein Sein and family (even ex-admiral and now super minister Soe Thein has said President is 'only relatively clean'. Thein Sein holds a huge stake in SKYNET, the largest private TV in Myanmar and all his overseas trips are covered by SKYNET - not even the official Myanmar TV); 4) Soe Thein; 5) Aung Min; 6) Htay Oo (former agri minister who was known to have 'eaten money wheel-barrowed to his office)
from the previous set up:
1) senior general Than Shwe
2) VSG Maung Aye
3) shit lone or Tin Aung Mying Oo
4) Tin Aye (Than Shwe's purse string holder)
5) Khin Nyunt (yes, former military intelligence chief)
6) Kyaw Win (former deputy intelligence chief)
And there are various cronies - some slick and stay below the radar and others who are superflashy and are on the known crony list - who have sought and obtained various patronages from the power holders.
On cronies, Aung San Suu Kyi is delusional and factually wrong. Within the system which is built on loot, lies and patronage no process of wealth generation can be considered 'clean'. If she wants to launder the cronies and whitewash their economic crimes/rape of the public and its assets it's her choice.
But the better informed Burmese and international supporters need to see wealth in Burma as ill-gotten gains, the outcome of state-sponsored and state-patronized theft. Nothing more. Nothing less.
All this wealth belongs to the people - all of us. They are stealing not just the people's wealth - but the country's future.
Some of this wealth is now reinvested in London's upscale real estate markets - in the million-pound properties.
Every penny/cent/kyat that they - the generals, ex-generals and their cronies steal is every penny/cent/kyat that the PEOPLE loose. Away from social and public welfare services, educational opportunities, professional upgrade, etc.
Their wealth has been largely created out of the system of rent-seeking monopolistic enterprises - and NOT out of any entrepreneurial talents or skills, as a matter of factly speaking.
Now for any Burmese and our international friends who want to see the emergence of transparency and accountability in a new Burma - whenever it is being seriously built - here are the things to do:
1) put in the public domain - like social media - the names of the accounts (not just these 5 accounts, but all verifiable accounts) under which Myanmar and its leaders at all levels hold their money. for instance, Kyaw Hsan, Shwe Mann, etc, all have their ACCOUNTS in Singaporean banks, under Chinese cover names. And Singapore banks are said to have raised their laundering fees from 8% to 12% - bring cash and ship them in crates and no questions as to how the money was acquired would be asked, and the money made legitimate instantly.
2) detail the amount, how the money is generated, who has done the deposit, under whose order, what the front names are, but to whom the money really belongs
3) take pictures and video clips of all IMMOVABLE assets - real estate properties (for instance, ministerial buildings, army headquarters, old hospital buildings), forests, mountains, islands, farms, formerly conflict zones, animal sanctuaries, lakes, ponds, historic monuments, heritage building, rivers, creeks, swamps, roads, bridges, etc - that are being privatized, rented, or otherwise commercialized
4) compile extensive data including the date of privatization, under whose order the privatization took place, the official amount of the sale, the market price, the difference, where the difference goes, who the current owner, what uses, what type of profits is being generated, evictions - if any, the use of violence, the pressure, blackmail, etc.
Chit Lwin, U (1991) National Human Rights and Democracy Party Chairman's Election Speech. Broadcast on the official Burma Broadcasting Service (both TV and Radio), 11 April 1990. In Ministry of Information (ed) (Election) Speeches by Political Parties. pp. 112-114. Rangoon: Ministry of Information The Guardian and The Mirror Publishing.
The actual mention of the Rohingya as a Taiyintha and citizen was made on p.114.
This is the party founded by a 'certain ethnic nationality group' within the Rakhine State, on the principle of ethnic equality - and non-secession - among all the residing citizens and Tainyinthar incluing the Rohingya, the Rakhine, Karman, Myanmar Gyi, Chin, etc.
Do you want to understand the underlying currents and forces behind ceasefire and peace processes in Myanmar?
The single most important factor in understanding peace-building and ceasefire negotiations in Myanmar is how the most powerful stakeholder, namely the Burmese generals view peace with the country's 2 dozen ethnic resistance movements.
For Naypyidaw's militarists, peace is neither a value nor a goal in and of itself. In fact, peace is the last resort. It is a means to their strategic end.
Recently, Naypyidaw's point man on 'peace', ex-military intelligence officer and now 'super-minister' Aung Min in President's Office and his deputy Immigration Minister ex-Brigadier Khin Yi were seen on YouTube trying to rush the ethnic resistance leaders who were openly skeptical of Naypyidaw's talk of peace and nationwide ceasefire during their most recently meeting at Holiday Inn, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Unlike Norwegian and other international 'donors' involved in peace and ceasefire processes, ethnic armed resistance leaders no longer take at face value Naypyidaw's words of peace, building a Union Army, changing the Constitution - in principle. The irrefutable fact is that no sooner had the bilateral ceasefire agreements signed had Myanmar Army goes on offensive while it typically busies itself with fast-bringing in reinforcement, stockpile munition and weapons and scoping out the ceasefire territories.
A senior Karen resistance leader General Baw Kyaw Heh put it pointedly: "... the [ceasefire] discussions have been stopped and business development and other issues have taken over the agenda. At the same time the government is expanding their administration areas – overlapping with our administration territory. And the government is taking advantage [of the ceasefire] by carrying out its military activities and by preparing its military. For over a year now the Burma Army has taken advantage [of the ceasefire], they continued to transported their military supplies, rotate their troops, modify and fortify all of their bases. They also built and repaired their helipads. In Mutraw district alone, since the cease-fire, the Burma Army has created 14 new military bases.”
The Shan resistance has a different kind of concern: the right of the Shans to do business in their ceasefire areas asSao Yawdserk, leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), had "lodged complaint (to a Minister for Myanmar President's Office Aung Min) that there had been no progress on business front".
The Kachin resistance, that had maintained written ceasefire with its estwhile enemy - Myanmar military regimes - for 17 years before the latter broke the ceasefire unilaterally, having underestimated the resolve and miscalculated the kachin's war preparations, now keeps it priorities straight.
Lieut. Col. Gawlu La Awng of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) remarked, "The military issue (or business concern) is not the prime issue. Our issue is for all those political issues to be solved."?
To counter these military, business and political concerns, Naypyidaw has pooled and deployed a group of 'Stalin's idiots', that is, quasi-intellectual and -technocratic spin-meisters who accuse the KIO of 'confusing' the Kachin people in 'very illiterate areas' and flat-out deny any wrong-doings in the Kachin war zones.
Myanmar Peace Center's Nyo Ohn Myint and Andrew Lain, former political exiles who were former Rangoon University history tutor and Indiana University-trained legal expert, share the view that"(Canada's) government, plus the American government, plus the United Nations - everyone is misinformed (by the Kachins about the alleged human rights abuses and war crimes by Myanmar troops."
But the misinformation and concealed agendas are typically sourced within President Thein Sein's Office which in turn is directed and manned by former military intelligence officials the likes of Ministers Soe Thein, Tin Naing Thein and Aung Min.
Of late Myanmar regime has made two strategic moves that are clearly designed as an integral part of its strategy to bring the Kachin resistance, one of the strongest and most determined anti-Bama imperialist forces, to its knees:
1) the recent push by "Peace Beggar" (or Nyein Chan Yay Thu Daung Zar in Burmese), ex-Brigadier Aung Min whose official title is Vice Chairman #2 of the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) plays good cop with the armed resistance organizations for the formal signing of nationwide ceasefire in October, which is 'to be graced by diplomats and international representatives'. The undeclared, but detectable logic behind this push is to isolate the Kachin Independence Organization (additionally, to put out the spin that peace is around the corner in order address business risk concerns commonly held among international business circles);
2) the talk of opening the Sino-Burmese borders (the Kachinland and Shanland border with China on the East) for tourists: the rationale is to attract Chinese tourists which will persuade Beijing to put serious pressure on the Kachin Independence Organization to accept 'peace on Naypyidaw's terms', a nearly total surrender. Although the town of Muse isn't exactly in Kachin State it is a wider strategic blanket as far as the 'pacification of the Kachin' - "the wild and illiterate Kachin", Myanmar Peace Mediators from the Orwellian-Myanmar Peace Center might say!
This strategic calculation and Myanmar military's institutionalized Orwellian view of peace - "(victorious) war against weaker parties is peace" - is coupled with the plan to build a commercial symbiosis between Myanmar military and cronies, as well as international 'donors', that is, EU countries and Japan.
Think of Burma's historical and contemporary armed conflict/war zones as lucrative resource deposits, exploitable and expendable agricultural land, expensive forests, trade routes, potential tourist destination, strategic commercial and military routes, the econ frontiers where 'peace makers' can slice off for their further accumulation of ill-gotten gains from the country.
Politics, negotiations, ceasefire, and all the media and official spins are of secondary importance to both Naypyidaw regime and international peace 'donors'.
The deeply flawed thinking that has empirically been proven wrong in other conflict scenarios is: bring investment, foster development, create jobs for the underdogs - and that will create a conducive environment for peace - expanding peace, lasting peace, blah blah blah.
In the case of Cambodia's internal conflicts, Japanese investors and political players threw hundreds of millions into the process, which simply resulted in the former Pol Pot regional commander Hun Sen to keep power for over 30 years. They even lobbied successfully to let him keep power despite his defeat in the UN-sponsored election.
One thing these greedy, commercially driven outside interests - donors included - do not understand is it is not the greed, jobs, and commercial motivations which triggered civil wars. Economic factors may be in play, but generally armed resistance movements are about their identity, a sense of justice and fairness, a desire to live free of internal colonialism post-White Man's Burden era of national independence.
Without addressing the fundamental and real political and ethnic grievances, Myanmar has no peaceful future.
Watch here the two totally contradictory conclusions of the same meeting (The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and Naypyidaw):
1) Union Minister and ex-military intelligence and Naypyidaw's pointman on 'peace' Aung Min (watch him speak to the Burmese press in the last 1-2 minutes of this 8 minute clip):
"The meeting was a resounding success. They had all signed separate ceasefire agreements with the government. When they sign it collectively this October (in the same book of ceasefire) it will reinforce the nationwide ceasefire. Absolutely successful."
(Then I heard the voice of my former activist colleague and Myanmar Peace Center staff trying to intervene unsuccessfully to shoo away the journalists - as soon as Aung Min put his 'a resounding success' spin by saying "we have a meeting to go to' - trying to whisk his ultimate boss Aung Min away from the journalists who were asking the latter questions).
2) Naing Han Thar, a Mon leader:
"We don't have an agreement to sign anything. We already signed ceasefire agreements in our respective areas. Despite these ceasefires on paper there have continued hundreds of armed clashes everywhere.
The purpose of ceasefires was to enable and engage in real substantive political dialogue/discussions.
We don't have any framework in which these discussions will be pursued.
At the meeting just completed all we did was exchange views (between Naypyidaw and us). Nothing more nothing less.
But we are really not at the stage where we are going to have political dialogue."
Khin Yi, former police chief who has now been included in Naypyidaw's 'union peace team' has repeated the need to speed up the peace process when he spoke officially to the UNFC leaders.
Indeed Naypyidaw has offered the ethnic minorities a peace deal which the latter may not refuse.
My own analysis:
1) judging from the tones and facial expression of the real leaders of the peace team - Aung Min, Khin Yi as well as Myanmar Peace Center staff and managers, the colonial and racist 'big brother' are hardly concealed .
(Something no foreign observers or experts can easily pick up on this extremely crucial undercurrent. (When guys like formerly Mae Sot-based Nyo Ohn Myint described the Kachins as gullible illiterate susceptible to the Kachin leaders' manipulation and pro-Kachin propaganda it speaks volume. NOM may be the only stupid man who speaks his mind to the foreign/Canadian press, while the rest of Myanmar Peace Center speaks little about what they really think of the minorities. But NOM's colonial views are reflective of the foundation attitude of the Bama or state-centered minority staff like Andrew Liam, a Chin legal expert, involved in the ceasefire talks).
2) desperate commercial interests are behind Naypyidaw's push for speeding up the formal nationwide ceasefire SIGNING in great haste. Any situation which can give Naypyidaw an opportunity to spin to the international investors that the simmering civil war in lucrative border regions is coming to an end, a key factor that is considered a major business risk.
Think of Burma's historical and contemporary armed conflict/war zones as lucrative resource deposits, exploitable and expendable agricultural land, expensive forests, trade routes, potential tourist destination, and frontiers where 'peace makers' can slice off for their further accumulation of ill-gotten gains from the country.
Over the past year, Myanmar has been plagued by neo-Nazi "Buddhist" racism and organized mob violence targeting the country's minority Muslims of diverse ethnic and historical backgrounds.
At the very heart of Myanmar's Islamophobic campaign lies the state and its successive senior leaderships, which continue to operate within a concrete set of political economic relations wherein they pursue their typically sinister Machiavellian politics in defense of corporate, clique and personal agendas.
Many country experts, watchers and journalists, as well as think tanks and international students of Buddhism, have offered various explanations for the violence. For some, the blame lies in new freedoms that the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein has bestowed on the country. Others have focused on the sectarian dimensions of the conflict.
Some have identified uneven development and attendant communal disparities in wealth and income as the root cause. Of late, Buddhist textual analysts and culturalists have added another layer to the discussion of Myanmar's Islamophobia: canonical explanations looking at historical "Buddhist warfare" and textual justifications (or lack thereof) for the mass violence.
To be sure, all of the above have enriched international understanding of the sudden and deeply troubling eruptions of mass violence against Myanmar's Muslims. However, they all fail to see the elephant in the room, namely the military-controlled state which has long institutionalized racism as its guiding philosophy.
In contrast to global punditry on "Buddhist" terror, as Time magazine's cover story on the subject put it without problematizing the term "Buddhist" or putting it in quotation marks, even the relatively more astute Burmese on the street, better informed and more analytical than average, have guessed right the main culprit.
That is, the various cliques of generals and ex-generals, and their instruments of power - the state and its security and propaganda apparatuses - have been directly and indirectly involved first in the "othering" of Muslim communities and then in the actual mob attacks against them, including the slaughter, destruction, looting and burning of Muslim communities and their sacred mosques.
In one well-documented incident, security forces in the central town of Meikhtila and "Buddhist" mobs negotiated amicably the amount of time that would be allowed to the mobs - 30 minutes, they agreed - to complete their destruction of the town's 200-year-old mosque. A YouTube video file shows a group of state security officials chit-chatting over cigarettes with some of the anti-Muslim participants in the mosque's destruction while the senseless act was in progress.
According to Burmese sources from Meikhtila and Mandalay whom this author interviewed during a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur, authorities in both Mandalay, the regional administrative capital with jurisdiction over Meikhtila, and the national capital of Naypyidaw chose not to rescue a group of 20-plus madrassa students who were eventually slaughtered in broad daylight. Both regional and national authorities were informed by panic-stricken Muslim leaders hours before about the whereabouts of the students, who at the time were hiding from a weapon-wielding "Buddhist" mob.
Empirically, the state and its military leaderships are at the very least guilty of negligence. But local and global pundits commenting on the unfolding racist "Buddhist" campaign against Myanmar's Muslims have often mischaracterized the violence and racism against Muslims as simply "sectarian". The portrayal reflects a tendency to overemphasize society's role and to seek essentially cultural explanations for "Buddhist" mass violence and racism.
To be sure, there are deep-seated prejudices among Myanmar's different communities. Yes, ethno-economic nationalism has long been a pillar of Burmese nationalism throughout both historical and post-independence eras. Yes, the primitive but popular understanding of "race" and "ethnicity" as immutable and blood-based - as opposed to fluid, imagined and manufactured - has played a role in the recent revival of nationalist fervor. Yes, Buddhism and violence have always been an empirical paradox and historical oxymoron.
But it is really the state and its leaderships that have modulated, mobilized and facilitated multiethnic and multi-faith communities' prejudices against Myanmar's peoples of Chinese, Indian and mixed ethnic origins, as well as religious minorities.
Over the past 50 years, successive military leaders - from General Ne Win to the recently retired despot Senior General Than Shwe - have not only played the race and faith cards as a matter of political and military strategy, but they have also enshrined "Buddhist" racism as a key foundational pillar of what is known to many as the Golden Land of Buddhists, reference to the country's many gilded temples and gold-colored, harvest-time paddy fields.
Triggered by Thein Sein's official defense of the neo-Nazi "monk" U Wirathu, a recent special report by Reuters traced the origin of the 969 "Buddhist" racist campaign against Myanmar Muslims to the State Law and Order Restoration Council regime, the once ruling military junta presided over by the late Senior General Saw Maung.
Specifically, the Reuters' report singled out the now retired director of religious affairs in the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs as the individual who incubated and disseminated Islamophobic ideas in society at large with the blessing of Saw Maung. Meanwhile, new Burmese language analyses note the now officially retired Than Shwe, Saw Maung's successor, published an anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya tract entitled "Myanmar's Broken Western Gate", a reference to the Rakhine State which borders on predominantly Muslim Bangladesh.
Racism as law
Yet it was the late dictator Ne Win, the founder of Myanmar's modern military rule, and his Western-educated advisers, including the British and Dutch-trained lawyer and president Dr Maung Maung and the Australian-trained Rakhine historian Dr Aye Kyaw, who developed the current strain of "Buddhist" ethno-nationalism. It was informed largely by their own personal xenophobia towards Muslims, Christians, and Burmese of Indian sub-continent and mainland China origins, groups they referred to as "mixed-blood persons" or "impure breeds''.
In his landmark October 8, 1982, speech to a group of his senior deputies and advisers tasked with drafting what later became known as the 1982 Citizenship Act, Ne Win spelled out his official justifications for enshrining racism in law and pursuing it as a matter of "national security''. His speech sheds light on the deeply racist nature of the Act, which in the wake of the pogroms against Rohingya Muslims last year has become a focus of international concern and controversy.
As Ne Win made clear in 1982, "tayoke" (Chinese) and "kalars" (the local racist term for dark-skinned people of Indian origin or Muslims) cannot be entrusted with any important position in Myanmar's officialdom, including the bureaucracy and armed forces. As Ne Win unequivocally put it, all immigrants with foreign roots, referred to by him as "guests" and "mixed bloods", were in Myanmar due to the legacy of British colonial rule.
In the case of those who came after the first Anglo-Burmese war of 1824, in which the Burmese were defeated and had to concede to the British the coastal regions of Tenessarim and Arakhine provinces, themselves Burmese colonies snatched through victorious military conquests over rival Siamese and Arakanese kingdoms, having settled in the country for over a century was not sufficient ground to be granted full-citizenship rights.
As for those who came later but were already resident in the country before World War II, decades of permanent residency was more cause for suspicion than grounds for receiving full-citizenship, according to Ne Win's speech. "Their penchant for making money by all means and knowing this how could we trust them in our organizations that decide the destiny of our country?" the former dictator rhetorically asked.
"We will therefore not give them full citizenship and full rights. Nevertheless, we will extend them rights to a certain extent. We will give them the right to earn according to their work and live a decent life. No more." In an Orwellian gloss, Ne Win exhorted his deputies to "have sympathy on those who had been here for such a long time and give them peace of mind''.
From that fateful day in 1982, successive military government leaderships have as a matter of policy purged their power base - the 400,000-strong armed forces - of officers of Chinese and Indian ancestry, notwithstanding a few exceptions.
Since Ne Win rose to power in a 1962 coup, the military-controlled state has pursued wave after wave of racist national initiatives for religious and cultural affairs, educational matters, and professional advancement, among other areas.
Yet one contradiction in Ne Win's policies favoring "pure bloods" and "true children of the land" is that Ne Win himself could be characterized as "non-pure" ethnic Bama, as were many of his racist deputies and ideological heirs. Many were and still are of tayoke origins. For instance, the current union minister and top government "peace negotiator" Aung Min is of ethnic Chinese descent.
The unfolding process of Myanmar's nightmarish slide towards "ethnic and religious purity" stands in sharp contrast with the multiculturalist perspective of martyred independence hero Aung San, the father of current opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and his multiethnic and inter-faith comrades.
On the eve of the country's independence from Britain in 1947, Aung San prophetically warned against mixing Buddhism, race/ethnicity and politics in the then soon-to-be independent Burma, as the country was then known. In opposing the idea of making Buddhism the official state religion of the country, Aung San articulated a secularist, multiculturalist vision for the country's future:
"We have had different faiths in our land since the founding days of the last Dynasty, Konbaung (1754-1885). We have spirit-worshippers. We have Catholics. We have proselytized Christians among the frontier ethnic peoples. Despite these religious and ethnic differences, they are all our people. It is not just the Buddhist Bama but these multi-faith and multi-ethnic communities contributed to the struggle against the British colonial rule ... If we pursue this bigoted path [of making Buddhism the state religion] that will surely lead to the disintegration of our tiny country."
Yet in Myanmar's current system of governance, only avowed racists are rewarded, promoted and appointed to top positions. Several years ago, the former consul general at the Myanmar Consulate General in Hong Kong, ex-Major Ye Myint Aung, officially informed in writing members of foreign diplomatic missions that the Rohingya, whom he described as "ogres", were never a part Myanmar's fair-skinned Mongoloid peoples.
The country's leaders later promoted him to the post of full ambassador and dispatched him to Geneva, where he now defends Myanmar's abysmal human-rights record at the UN Human Rights Council.
In light of Ne Win's inaugural racist speech on the 1982 Citizenship Act, U Ohn Gyaw, Myanmar's then minister of foreign affairs, reacted in 1994 to the international community's concern about an exodus of 230,000 Rohingya that his government was forcibly driving out of the country: "It is a rubbish thing that people have left Myanmar. These people who are in the refugee camps in Bangladesh are perhaps from Dhaka, but not one single person has left Burma."
That has remained Myanmar's official line, or lie, that has been repeated internationally by the country's leaders, including as recently as July 2013. Consistent with the racist 1982 Citizenship Act, president and Nobel Peace Prize short-list candidate ex-General Thein Sein reiterated Myanmar's official racist view of ethnic groups as "aliens" and "impure bloods" during a speech at Chatham House in the United Kingdom.
After delivering the beautifully written speech, designed to further push the liberal buttons on behalf of Naypyidaw's Western supporters in Whitehall and the White House, Thein Sein proceeded to commit yet another official act of Rohingya ethnocide, an act of erasure that the religious-ethnic community ever existed in spite of the mountains of official evidence to the contrary.
The present neo-Nazi campaign conducted with virtual state impunity has ignited the fires of violent racism towards the country's Muslim minorities - of all "ethnic bloods", to borrow the racist generals' lingo. Official racism and its supporting 1982 Citizenship Act have become the main sources of "Buddhist" terror - as opposed to the provider of "peace of mind" for those with "impure bloods" and foreign origins.
Societal racism and religious prejudice, of course, is not exclusive to the Burmese or Buddhists. However, what has become unique in Myanmar's ugly and violent racist attacks on Muslim minorities and the official ethnic cleansing of Rohingya is the extremely dangerous interface between religious-ethnic prejudices and the state's institutionalized racist policies.
In advanced liberal democracies such as the Netherlands, Germany, and United Kingdom, among others, there are also neo-Nazi parties that disseminate their racist rhetoric through freedoms of speech, press and association. But their racism is no longer popularly acceptable or a popular political platform on which to win state power or keep a ruling party in office. In fact, in liberal democracies, neo-Nazi and extremist racist parties and figures are a tiny minority often confronted by the anti-racist majority.
This is not the case in Myanmar. The majority ethnic Bama and Buddhists, including the entire pro-human rights opposition leadership of the National League for Democracy, specifically Aung San Suu Kyi, has been largely silent on the rising "Buddhist" racism. The silence of the majority has been devastating for the Muslims in general and the Rohingya in particular.
The racist military leadership and its state organs have found anti-Islam racism a convenient diversion from its key strategic pursuits, including regime survival, political and economic primacy, refusal to address legitimate ethnic grievances, and fear of popular reprisal under a genuinely representative government. Myanmar's Muslims including the Rohingya are sitting ducks in this power play, with no credible international protectors, near or far.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, is no China. That is, unlike Beijing, it has very little leverage with Myanmar's racist ruling generals and ex-generals. Iran is too preoccupied with its own problems at home and in the region. India, which intervened in and effectively ended the genocide of the Bangladeshi Hindu in the civil war of 1971 by West Pakistani military and militants, has a radically different policy priority in Myanmar, namely natural resource grabs for Indian commercial interests and curbing Chinese influence.
It is, in the final instance, not the down-trodden society which has long been accustomed to economic and political uncertainties which is the primary culprit behind the rise of neo-Nazi "Buddhist" mass violence. Rather it is Naypyidaw's play on widespread uncertainties and insecurities and the racist state which generals and ex-general are presiding over that best explains the regime's documented involvement in whipping up ultra-nationalism among the country's "Buddhist" masses.
For a regime that has opted to play the politics of liberalizing the economy while attempting to keep the political and institutional lid on its long-oppressed society, scapegoating Muslims and the Rohingya for the country's ills and the popular frustrations is far more strategically appealing and convenient than focusing on genuine democratization, ethnic reconciliation or the economic hardship of the bulk of the country's 50 to 60 million Buddhist and non-Buddhist citizens. No former military regime with mountains of skeletons in its closet and scattered on the streets will genuinely embrace democratic transition.
The romanticizing of Buddhists as naturally and philosophically peace-loving people has complicated the international community's understanding of neo-Nazi "Buddhist" violence and Rohingya ethnic cleansing. Historically and empirically, Buddhists all over the world are as capable of pursuing home-grown ''final solutions'' to annihilate human communities that they have demonized and de-humanized as ''viruses'', ''animals'' or ''sub-humans''.
No amount of debate or discussion about canonical Buddhism or historical examination of ''Buddhist'' violence or warfare will shed meaningful light on the recent mass violence committed against Myanmar's Muslims. Whatever the texts or claims of what the Buddha taught or said are of secondary importance. Rather, the political economy, history and social foundations of Myanmar's racist and violent contemporary society, influenced by Buddhist manifestations of temples, pagodas, monasteries, monks and rituals, is more relevant.
Likewise, no analysis of the recent violence can be credible or accurate unless it examines through the prism of the dialectical interface between Myanmar's underlying racist society and the officially bigoted state that has mid-wived the birth of neo-Nazism with a "Buddhist" face. Thus, any attempt to address this two-fold problem must factor in both the military leadership and its unashamedly racist military-state and an unconscious society that talks the talk of Buddhism but fails to walk the philosophical walk.
Maung Zarni (www.maungzarni.com) is Associate Fellow with the University of Malaya Centre of Democracy and Elections and concurrently a Visiting Fellow at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, London School of Economics. He tweets @drzarni.
Rohingya activist Wai Wai Nu has reportedly weighed in on the conversation, calling the cartoon “dangerous” and “insulting”. According to Coconuts Yangon, Nu said in an interview today: “It’s like boat people are coming into the place of the ethnic people. It’s a bad image and the depiction is wrong. Because boat people are just going out of the country, they are not coming in. It’s insulting and dangerous because it is giving the wrong message to people.”
Myanmar Hate Mongers use Facebook to create racist violence against Muslims.
Facebook should be notified of Wirathu's use of FB to cause preemptive violence by the racists in Burma. Wirathu attempts to mobilize hatred and fear of Muslims in Myanmar Wirathu is Myanmar's best-known Saffron-robed hate-monger with a shaven head - not a monk by any definition. Here is his vicious fear-mongering posting at his Facebook time-line (dated 12 May). "Maung Daw (a Rohingya town) is approaching a critical point (of terrorism)" On 13 May (today), illegal Muslim migrants are plotting to stir up disturbances in Maung Daw, Bu Thi Daung and Ra Thae Daung townships. Myanmar authorities have already issued the security/terrorist alert to that effect. Despite their efforts to organize and stage a protest rally by these Muslims, the permit has not been granted for their protest, it is learned. There has been a threat issued by them that the Muslims will wage a Jihad against anyone who enters the Muslim neighborhoods or villages. The Rakhine public is very concerned about another round of Jihadist violence in their state/province. There are 3 factors that appear to be coalescing: 1) the US Embassy in Myanmar is openly using the term Rohingya; 2) the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) - Zarni's note: viewed as 'a terrorist' group, although there is no real factual evidence for that view - is stepping up its propaganda efforts internationally; 3) and the same RSO is instigating the illegal Muslim migrants (from Bangladesh) (to create disturbances in Myanmar).
Listen to Dr Zarni's Reflection on Burmese Racism
Listen to Dr Zarni's Reflection on Burmese Racism, Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (GfbV), Geneva, Switzerland, 15 March 2016
Come to the upcoming one-day Research Conference
Come to the upcoming one-day RESEARCH CONFERENCE at the University of Oxford and hear Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's keynote lecture with the above title, on 11 May 2016 (8:30 am to 4:30 pm).
Dr Zarni will be speaking on the Rohingya genocide
Dr Zarni will be speaking on the Rohingya genocide at the largest gathering of Muslim communities in Scandinavia, Stockholm, Sweden - 5: 15 pm to 6:15 pm, Friday, 25 March 2016
On the edge of genocide
Human Rights situation in Myanmar
UN Special Rapporteur Professor Yanghee Lee on the human rights situation in Myanmar (10 minutes), UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, 15 March 2016
Will Suu Kyi lead Myanmar from behind the scenes?
BURMA: ”Rohingyas utsätts för ett långsamt folkmord”
Maung Zarni kommer från en militärsläkt och lämnade Burma för att göra karriär. Det var först i exilen han blev dissident och aktivist, och en förkämpe för landets mest utsatta minoritet – den muslimska folkgruppen rohingyas. Amnesty Press träffade Maung Zarni när han gästade Stockholm.
Myanmar regime's response to the Oslo Conference which indicts Myanmar leaders of crimes against humanity including genocide, against the Rohingya.
Rohingya Genocide Begins 37 Years Ago Today
"Myanmar/Burma's genocide of Rohingyas began 37 years ago this week. How many more decades will the governments and UN keep ignoring this slow-burning genocide?"
The Annual Owen Kupferschmid Memorial Lecture
Conference in Malaysia on 26th Feb 2015
A Seminar over Breakfast with Dr Maung Zarni
An Upcoming Event in Sweden on February 10, 2015
Amartya Sen: Burma's "slow genocide" of Rohingya
Watch Professor Amartya Sen speak on what he calls Burma's 'slow genocide' of Rohingya, Harvard, 4 Nov 2014
Myanmar – Rohingya And US Realpolitik
In this 9-minute radio interview with Malaysia's top Business FM station Dr Zarni dissects the state of Burma and Washington's real agenda in his native country.
BBC World Service commentary on Burma
Dr Maung Zarni's BBC World Service commentary on Burma's demonetization move which eventually led to the collapse of General Ne Win's one-party military dictatorship.
"Elements of Genocide" against Rohingya
"Elements of Genocide" against Myanmar Rohingya: UN Special Rapporteur says
Destruction of Myanmar's Rohingya
Nazi-inspired hate speech against Islam
"Nazi-inspired hate speech against Islam and all Muslims of Myanmar enjoys both tacit and official backing of the 'reformist' government at the highest level'. the banner reads (adaptive translation): "Oppose Islam, the Faith of Animals. Muslims Procreate Like Rabbits"