Burma’s Rohingya crisis – what you need to know


Officially, Myanmar’s government does not recognize the Rohingya as lawful citizens, National Geographic reports:

The government claims they were brought to Rakhine from Bangladesh during the time when Myanmar was a British colony, and the government says they are living in Myanmar illegally. Ask the Rohingya and they’ll tell you they have been in the region for over a century, and some claim to have been in the region from as early as the eighth century.

“The answer to that question is highly contested, particularly by those who want to politicize the issue,” said John Knaus, the associate director of the Asia division at the National Endowment for Democracy.

For her entire life, Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been faithful to the memory of a [military] father she never knew and to a country that she’d seen little of between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five, The New Yorker’s Hannah Beech notes:

The intransigence and the certitude that may now cause her to be remembered as an enemy of freedom are the same qualities that served her well in captivity. In the years alone in her house, her distance from active politics made her a perfect vessel for the hopes of her countrymen and for the idealistic projections of the wider world.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has the benefit of having become an icon without saying a whole lot,” Kenneth Roth, of Human Rights Watch, told me. “Havel came to his position by saying a lot, by being a moral voice. Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t say much at all. She was a moral symbol, and we read into that symbol certain virtues, which turned out to be wrong when she actually began speaking.” Suu Kyi was not an intellectual, like Havel, or a freedom fighter, like Mandela, or an organizer, like Walesa. And, unlike her father, she did not die before her legend could be tarnished.

“There’s a fear, especially among Burma’s Buddhist nationalists, of Burma losing its unique Burmese culture,” said the NED’s Knaus. “Whether that’s from Muslims coming into the country or influences from places like China, and the rest of the outside world, there’s a real fear that Burma is going to be changed by all of these influences. The Rohinyga are the most obvious examples of this. They’re Muslim and perceived to be from Bangladesh so to many they are the prime example of this foreign cultural and social invasion.”


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