An excellent article by Kyaw San Wai in the eurasiareview.
It’s very much an insider’s analysis, as he states:
‘The root causes for the violence by Burmese Buddhists against Muslims in Myanmar are complex. Contrary to the simplified narratives carried by the international media, a nuanced understanding of the situation is needed to attain a viable solution.’
Though these could be considered harsh sentiments about non-Burmese media, his points are well made. He suggests that the standard narratives describing the violence and discrimination are valid he goes onto suggest that there is a ‘long standing siege mentality of the Burmese populace drawing on Buddhist millenarianism and a sense of demographic besiegement.’
He goes on to describe this proposed Buddhist millenarianism:
‘Among Burmese Buddhists, there is a widespread belief that Buddhism will disappear in the future. While international coverage points to Myanmar’s religious demographics to discredit fears of Islamic encroachment, Burmese Buddhists have a starkly different world view where their faith is besieged by larger, well-endowed and better-organised faiths. This millenarianism can be traced to a scripturally unsupported but widely believed ‘prophecy’ that Buddhism will disappear 5000 years after the Buddha’s passing. As 1956 is considered the halfway point, the belief is that Buddhism is now declining irreversibly.’
He highlights the role of colonialism in creating the juncture between State and Sangha culminating in the 1930s Saya San rebellion. Added to this is what he describes as ‘demographic besiegement’ in which ‘most Burmese are well aware of the fact that Myanmar borders the populous countries of China, India and Bangladesh, with a combined population of over 2.7 billion.’ This gives rise to what he describes as ‘a new siege mentality’:
‘As coverage of Myanmar’s religious violence proliferated, there is a growing perception within Myanmar that the international community and media only concern themselves with the Rohingyas’ version of events while neglecting the Burmese Buddhist perspective, save perhaps the spotlight given to Wirathu and the 969 Movement which he represents. Even then, it is done primarily to discredit Burmese views.’
His suggestions are well taken and simply implores for a more subtle and intricate understanding of the religious and Nationalistic factors at play in Burma:
‘Although many aspects of this siege mentality stem from sensationalism and paranoia stoked by nationalists and radical monks, the situation warrants a more nuanced understanding rather than being summarily dismissed. Factors including historical sentiments, lack of journalistic access, activist journalism and a hyper-active rumour mill, also need to be considered to better comprehend and address the siege mentality.
However, some commentators are quick to dismiss the Buddhist siege mentality as based solely on overhyped paranoia or as the Burmese military’s creation to cement its praetorian role in politics. A flippantly dismissive view of the Burmese siege mentality and the simplified portrayals of the sectarian violence only serve to misdiagnose the root causes and make a viable solution more elusive.
This does not mean legitimising the nationalists’ fear-mongering, justifying violence against anybody or leaving widespread institutionalised racial and religious prejudice unattended. Rather, it means that a more nuanced understanding and approach to the situation is needed, and that the issue is more complicated than what is portrayed by the over-simplified narratives regurgitated incessantly within and outside Myanmar.’
A reworking of the article appears in The Nation on 2 March 2014.