There is a certain logic to reading Azeem Ibrahim's and Francis Wade's books together. Both seek to understand the history of the Rohingya and, in particular, why they experience such persecution and discrimination in modern day Myanmar (Burma). They do this by tracing their history back to the British in colonial Burma, not only to provide evidence that a population defined as Rohingya already lived in what was then the Arakan Kingdom, but also to show how British colonial ‘divide and rule’ policies underpin the current situation in the country. The authors, however, have differing goals in mind: Ibrahim makes the case that a genocide is potentially imminent and requires an international response; whereas Wade seeks to understand how the Rohingya have come to be ‘othered’ to such a degree and to explain the hostility towards the Rohingya from the majority Buddhist population of Myanmar. He also reflects on what could be done to address such entrenched levels of discrimination. Both books, in some respect, have been overtaken by real-world events, as the August 2017 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on border and security posts unleashed a disproportionate response from the Burmese Army, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. Nonetheless, both are important and necessary reads. In The Rohingyas more in-depth legal analysis would have added to the argument, especially when it comes to Ibrahim's discussion of genocide and international law. Taking into account relevant international laws, such as those related to crimes against humanity, would have given more support to the author's argument that it is important to recognize that what is happening in Myanmar is a genocide. Furthermore, one of the biggest challenges with identifying acts of violence as genocide is the difficulty in establishing intent. Therefore, Ibrahim could have provided more information showing that the authorities, whether at national or local levels, were deliberately and systematically establishing discriminatory structures through laws, regulations, policies and practices. Another way in which these discriminatory structures could have been highlighted would have been to compare the situation of the Rohingya to other ethnic or religiously fuelled conflicts in the country and to show why their situation is different— Kachin, Mon and Karen groups, for example, have been engaged in internal armed struggle since independence in 1948. Such an approach would have provided a useful comparative analysis of the diverse Muslim and minority groups in Myanmar and their varied experiences of discrimination and persecution. Wade, on the other hand, draws on considerable, first-hand testimony. The interviews that form the basis of his book were primarily conducted between 2011 and 2016, when the author was working as a journalist in Thailand and Myanmar. The evocative, and often moving, testimonies bring to life, in their own words, the poverty, violence and systemic discrimination faced by the Rohingya. But, importantly, the book also allows other groups from Rakhine to speak about their experiences and prejudices, which—while often objectionable—are important to understand; if we don't, then there is little hope of reversing this tide of cultural discrimination. In this respect, the book's stand-out sections are the detailed accounts of the 2013 violence in Meiktila and the controversial Na Ta La village programme in northern Rakhine state, where prisoners from other parts of Myanmar have been resettled, changing the area's demographic balance. The strength of Myanmar's enemy within lies in Wade's attempt to understand and explain the complex ways in which discrimination has been perpetuated and entrenched, by looking at the human experience—on all sides—of this ongoing situation. But as with Ibrahim, he could have explored more the comparative experiences of other minority or ethnic groups in his account—particularly other Muslim minorities. More importantly, perhaps, both books could have emphasized that, while an understanding of the origins of the current situation is critical, it is equally important to stress that in international law everyone has the right to a nationality, with only very few exceptions. In this respect, anyone born in Myanmar has the right to a nationality and it is highly unlikely they would meet the legal test of where this could be denied. In conclusion, both books provide a good introduction to Myanmar's complex history and current situation and are excellent starting-points for those wanting to understand more about the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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