Silence on Rohingya


Asia Times Online has come out with a piece "Suu Kyi's Muslim moral dilemma" drawing attention to the Buddhist-Muslim conflict in Myanmar. The effect of ethnic conflict on Suu Kyi, particularly her deafening silence (or at least passive posture) toward the issue, has been thoroughly discussed among academics and foreign policy experts. Popular media, on the other hand, have focused more on the democratic reforms underway.

Akbar Ahmed and and Harrison Akins write,

At a critical political and social juncture, Myanmar is on a slippery slope of ethnic and religious violence. The March 2013 riots against the Muslim population in which reports indicate at least 43 deaths and more than 1,300 burnt homes is evidence that the violence against minorities is only worsening and expanding with the government and international community doing little to stop it.

This conflict is quite comprehensive, including economic considerations.

A movement led by monks has encouraged local people to shop only in Buddhist-owned stores that display the number 969, a symbol of Buddhist teachings, and to boycott trade with Muslims, whom they have bizarrely blamed for dominating the local economy.

"Muslim" has, in essence, become a cultural label, not a religious identity that can co-exist with a national one.

President Thein Sein said in July 2012 that he would not recognize the Rohingya as Myanmar nationals and stated his desire to turn over the entire ethnic group to the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement in other countries.

Is it worth overlooking these human rights violations for the pragmatic sake of keeping the reform movement rolling forward and preserving political unity? Or has democracy reform failed already if this critical issue is not addressed? Can Myanmar have both?

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick has kept the conversation going in foreign policy circles through Asia Unbound and his new book Democracy in Retreat. His expert brief Myanmar's Alarming Civil Unrest is as good as any on Rohingya, and I commend it to you.