Myanmar Purges 400,000 Muslims as Buddhist Nationalism Rises

Myanmar’s nascent democracy struggles to reconcile centuries-old ethnic strife as the Islamic threat grows.

Myanmar Purges 400,000 Muslims as Buddhist Nationalism Rises

by Edmund Hart


Nestled between India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand, Myanmar is a country teeming with 135 official ethnicities. This diverse makeup and geographic placement has created a country rife with tribal ethnic conflict. The country’s Bamar Buddhist majority is approximately 68% percent of the population and occupies the central valley of the country, with dozens of ethnic minorities living in the mountainous borderlands surrounding them. Since British colonialism, Most of Myanmar’s independence has been spent under the rule of a military junta which aggressively suppresses political dissent from the Burmese people. However, lack of the rule of law throughout the country has allowed the proliferation of unregulated mining and timber exploitation, along with illicit trades such as opiate and methamphetamine production and human and wildlife trafficking. These gray and black markets in turn provided enrichment for military leaders in the government and funding for the ethnic armed groups engaged in civil conflict.

Myanmar’s political landscape has begun an evolution towards a more functional state in the 21st century. Economic, administrative, and political reforms started in 2011 have somewhat eased the autocratic grip held by the military dictatorship. A nationalist Buddhist movement has erupted since the repression of political dissent ended. The 969 movement, led by Ashin Wirathu, seeks to assert the traditional Buddhist identity of Myanmar. To this end, they fiercely oppose the spread of Islam within the country. For this, Wirathu has gained notoriety in the international press as the “The face of Buddhist Terror.” Despite these venomous pronouncements, Wirathu comes across as serene and soft-spoken in interviews, calmly stating blunt truths such as, “Even though [Muslims] are the minority, our entire race has been suffering a great deal under the burden of the minority.”

Myanmar has a total Muslim population of 2.5 million, an estimated 1.3 million of which are the ethnically Indian Rohingya, who reside in the state of Rakhine. Scattered Muslim populations throughout the country go back centuries to when Arab traders and merchants first came to Myanmar. During the age of British imperialism from the 1870s to 1948, Muslims immigrated from colonial India to Myanmar, leading to the perception that the Rohingya are simply Bengali Muslims from present-day Bangladesh. Rakhine’s Buddhists view the Muslims as an existential threat which seeks to outbreed them in the region and create a Muslim majority state within Myanmar. In order to prevent this outcome, Myanmar denies citizenship and voting to Rohingya Muslims and limits their movement in the region, similar to Israel’s management of Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Nevertheless, the concentrated Muslim population in Rakhine is at a critical mass wherein the Islamic community transitions from a peaceful but insular society to a group seeking organized political dominance in order to address their grievances and advance the spread of Islam in the region.

Islamic insurgents carried out attacks in October 2016 and August 2017, where gunmen stormed police stations and military outposts in multiple locations in the Rakhine state. The most recent coordinated attack included handmade bombs. Subsequent raids on arms caches linked these attacks to militant groups operating out of neighboring Bangladesh, a Muslim country with a population of 163 million. Unlike Western Europe’s laissez-faire approach to Muslim communities that cultivate and harbor terrorists, Myanamar’s military and Buddhist mobs responded with a swift retaliation that has uprooted more than 400,000 Rohingya from their villages in Rakhine since the attacks in August. The Muslims that have been displaced into Bangladesh are now considered victims in the latest refugee crisis which international aid groups demand First World countries act on.

The situation has put Nobel Peace Prize laureate and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in an awkward position. Suu Kyi is a political advocate for democracy in Myanmar who was under house arrest for 15 years until the aforementioned political reforms. Her party won a sweeping election in 2015, but she was barred from the presidency due to a constitutional clause, leading to the creation of her current position in the government, where she serves as the opposition leader to Myanmar’s powerful military. She was heralded as a vanguard for democracy, human rights, and a leader to end the ethnic conflict that has plagued Myanmar. However, the Rohingya Muslims are deeply despised by the Burmese majority, and the strong condemnation of the military’s response desired by her international admirers would be deeply unpopular with her constituency. Earlier comments by Suu Kyi referred to reports of atrocities on the Rohingya as “fake news,” much to the dismay of journalists in the international press. In her highly anticipated first public speech concerning the crisis on September 19th, 2017, Suu Kyi spoke empty platitudes about the progress Myanamar has made in recent years, while reminding people that violence exists on both sides in this conflict.

Myanmar is purging a dangerous Muslim population from its borders, and the contemporary ‘America Last’ policy supported by Mitch McConnell dictates that the United States pay humanitarian aid to international organizations which are helping the Muslims. As the global hegemony of the modern incarnation of liberalism wanes in power, such requests will fall on deaf ears. Westerners who are experiencing the emergence of domestic Islamic terrorism in their homelands are rapidly losing sympathy for the plight of problematic Muslim populations elsewhere in the world. While the establishment media portrays the concerns of the nationalist Buddhists as irrational and unfounded, one need look no further than the formerly Buddhist lands of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia to see that there is a real threat of an Islamic conquest. The ascendant right-wing movements in the United States and Europe will ignore the false narratives presented in the press. They will look upon the actions of Myanmar’s government with envy, as it wields state power to expediently solve Islamic terrorism, waiting for their own opportunity.

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