Reworking the Colonial-Era Indian Peril: Myanmar’s State-Directed Persecution of Rohingyas and Other Muslims

Introduction


Myanmar’s widely hailed transition from military dictatorship to a Chinese
model of great commercial opening and calibrated political liberalization—
“discipline flourishing democracy,” as the generals call it—has had one
unintended consequence for the country’s military-controlled government: ugly
things have been exposed.4 Suddenly, the dark secrets of this predominantly
Buddhist nation of 51 million people with diverse ethnic and religious
backgrounds have been laid bare. The world now has access to hitherto-closed-off
sites of religious and ethnic persecution via international media such as CNN,
BBC, wire news agencies, and so on. First, the world witnessed the eruption of
two large bouts of violence in 2012 between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist
Rakhine communities in the Western coastal region of the country.

Within a year, there were incidents of organized violence against Muslims in about one
dozen towns and neighborhoods across the country.

 

Burmese social media sites were littered with various hues of genocidal comments, articles, analyses,
and updates, and remain so to date. Many openly call for the slaughter of all
Muslims (or Kular, in Burmese), while others are more specific about the type
of Muslims that should be killed: the phrase “kill all illegal Bengalis,” a popular
racist reference to Rohingyas, indicates that they belong in former East Bengal
(Bangladesh) and not in Buddhist Myanmar.7


Led by Buddhist monks, protests sprang up in the Rakhine state and in
other major urban centers such as Mandalay and Yangon; they called on the
quasi-civilian, military-backed government of ex-general Thein Sein to crack
down on Muslims and expel all Bengalis to any country, Muslim or Western
liberal, that would take them. In fact, in President Thein Sein’s meeting with
António Guterres—the then visiting head of the UN High Commission for
Refugees (UNHCR)—in Naypyidaw in August 2012, Thein Sein stated that “the
only solution” to the troubles in Rakhine was either to send unwanted Rohingyas
to countries that may be prepared to accept them as refugees or to contain them
in UNHCR-administered camps.8

Burmese media outlets, including those run
by former Burmese political exiles, echoed the official and popular view that
Rohingyas were illegal Bengali migrants with no organic ties to the country.
In the eyes of experts on democratic transitions, these voices from the

mushrooming private media outlets are a sign of Myanmar’s civil society relish-
ing its newfound press freedoms in a liberalizing political system. Freedom to

protest, freedom of speech, and freedom of press have finally arrived, or so it is
felt. Oblivious to background histories, or simply uninterested in the relevant

past, many Burma-watchers and journalists view the organized violence against
Rohingyas as simply an inevitable, if painful, byproduct of multiethnic societies
in political transition, à la the Balkans.9
In this piece, we argue that the two unfolding parallel phenomena—namely
a sharp rise in fear, loathing, and organized violence against Muslims across

Myanmar and the official persecution of and mass violence against Rohing-
yas—are in fact part of a continuum of racist strategic choices made by both the

country’s most powerful military leaders and the democratically elected govern-
ment controlled by Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for

Democracy. This conclusion is based on five consecutive years of our research,
including archival works in Burmese and English, bilingual discourse analyses,
and hundreds of interviews and in-depth conversations with the members of the
Muslim and Rohingya communities, as well as interfaith activists from inside
Myanmar, such as Buddhist monks and Christian leaders.


Those who frame several large-scale bouts of violence in Rakhine since 2012
and the violence against Muslim communities across the country as sectarian
disputes between the country’s Buddhists and Muslims overlook the crucial
history of the region and the peoples concerned. Both phenomena predate, by
several decades, the country’s military-led democratic transition, which began
in 2011. We argue, however, that it is not the process of opening up that has
catalyzed simmering and latent religious and communal tensions to boil over.
Rather, the violence is a direct outcome of the central, military-controlled state
playing the race and faith card for its own evolving strategic ends in a country
rich in religious and ethnic diversity.
The Revival of the Popular Notion of “the Indian Peril” and Its
“Transference”


The issue of the identity and presence of Rohingyas in the Rakhine region of
Myanmar has been much debated. Aung San Suu Kyi herself weighed in on
the debate, citing their historical presence as a “non-factual” but “emotive”
proposition.10 The presence and identity of Rohingyas as an ethnic community
of Islamic faith belonging to Arakan, or Rakhine, were irrefutably established in
the primary historical sources published soon after the Burmese annexation of
Rakhine, a fact that effectively undermines today’s official and popular narrative
that Rohingyas were colonial-era seasonal farm “coolies” who settled in Northern
Rakhine only after the British conquest of the Western region of the Burmese
kingdom in 1825.11

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Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham

 

To better understand how the well-documented, popular anti-Muslim
fear among the majority non-Muslim public has been mobilized and how the

systematic persecution of Rohingyas in Western Myanmar is enabled, it is help-
ful to take a glance at the past. Myanmar’s pre-colonial expansionist kingdom

of Buddhist Burmese from the Dry Zone plains centered around Pagan, Ava,
Amarapura, Mingun, Saggaing, and Mandalay. The Upcountry Myanmar Court

took the Western coastal kingdom of Buddhist Rakhine as its final colonial pos-
session through a bloody military campaign in 1785.

 

As the result of Upcountry Myanmar Court’s successful, if bloody, annexa-
tion of this multiethnic Rakhine Kingdom in 1785, hundreds of thousands of

Rakhine war refugees—both Muslim and Buddhist subjects of the fallen Rakhine
Buddhist kingdom—fled into the British protectorate of East Bengal (called East
Pakistan after the Indian-Pakistan partition in 1947 and renamed Bangladesh
in 1971, after the war of independence). It was this new interface between the
recently Burmese-controlled territories—Rakhine—and East Bengal westward
of Rakhine that finally led to the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1824. After two
more successive wars between the two empire-building powers, the Burmese
met the same eventual fate as their previously conquered people to the West: the
Burmese Empire collapsed and was swallowed up into British India by 1886.
Through Burmese eyes, the threat and introduction of colonial British rule
was not simply seen as an economically-defined imperialist attempt to conquer
new territory and its constitutive population and natural resources (for instance,
teak, minerals, and precious stones). In his Royal Declaration of War against
Britain, the last King, Thibaw, openly framed the British as anti-Dhamma Kala
(or alien heretics) whose victory would be a menace to Buddhism.12 As the king,
he was the chief patron-protector of Buddhism.

 

Several decades later, in the 1870s and 1880s, the British colonial adminis-
tration began the large-scale importation of Indians, both Muslims and Hindus

in roughly equal numbers, into British Burma.13 The colonial administration
subsidized the inflow of Indian laborers and other agriculturalists, including

Indian Chettiar moneylenders, to fill labor and financing needs of the fast-
growing rice industry in sparsely populated, British-controlled Lower Burma

following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. This sharp increase in Indians

and the resultant interface between the local communities and the newer ar-
rivals caused major unease among the local Burmese population, especially the

British-educated Burmese elite with their awakened nationalist consciousness.
The general sentiment of the threat of “Indian penetration” and its impact on the
future of Burma as a predominantly Buddhist society spread among the Burmese

political elites, including those who ran the Burmese press and participated in
the limited parliamentary politics of the 1920s.14


This nationalist concern became more acute as the result of the worldwide
Great Depression, which caused widespread economic hardships. Popular
Burmese sentiments of fear and resentment toward other colonized peoples of
Indo-Aryan features, be they Muslim, Hindu, or any other religious affiliation,
sharply rose in this period.

 

The nationalist Burmese newspapers and their allies in the colonial parlia-
ment seized on this rising anti-Indian racism and dusted up a 10-year-old, little-
known Burmese language publication entitled Mawli and Yogi, which contained

anti-Buddhist views—thus inflaming the already tense racial atmosphere. Race
riots between Muslims and Buddhists subsequently broke out in Rangoon, where

the Indians made up 60 percent of the city’s population.15 The British Colonial

Government’s Riot Inquiry Committee, set up in 1938 to investigate both the im-
mediate trigger and the underlying causes, published in its Interim Report:

“We think it would be altogether misleading for us to suggest that the jealousy
or suspicion or fear (whatever is the right expression) of the Burman towards
the Indian in Burma as it exists today is a mere passing phase. There will always
be found people who will exploit it for their own purposes.”16


This popular anti-Indian migration sentiment was based on economic and

cultural grievances and fears on the part of the local majority Buddhist popula-
tion. Popular economic grievances were rooted in the progressively dispropor-
tionate share of farm and landownership in the hands of the Indian settlers,

including moneylenders. Additionally, interracial marriages, particularly those
between Buddhist women and Indian Muslim men, were seen as a threat to the
predominantly Buddhist national way of life. However, the situation only boiled
over into violence when mobilized by the Burmese press, the radical nationalist
Thakhins, and colonial era Burmese politicians working for their own agendas.
The committee report picked up on this when it wrote:


In June 1938, the “Thiha,” a Burmese owned weekly newspaper, warned
Indians that by monopolizing all kinds of commercial enterprise they
would incur the displeasure of the Burmese. The example of the Jews
This sharp increase in Indians and the resultant interface between the

local communities and the newer arrivals caused major unease among

the local Burmese population. the brown journal of world affairs Maung

Zarni and Natalie Brinham in Germany was mentioned, and it was suggested

that such a state of affairs might occur in Burma.17


Since the publication of this report, both the alien rulers and the large
number of people of Indian origin had long since gone home. The Union Jack
came down in January 1948, and the country saw two large exoduses—the first
on the eve of Japanese invasion in 1942 and the second after crippling economic
nationalization by the Burmese military in 1964. The majority of these Indians
had indeed made Buddhist Burma their sole home and had come to love their
adopted country. Myanmar’s population from the Indian subcontinent with an
Islamic background today is only 2.3 percent, compared to an overwhelming
Buddhist majority.18 The country’s politics and economy are under the tight
control of Burmese Buddhists, civilian and military—not Indians of any faith.
After the last sectarian riots of the 1930s, the popular fear of the “Indian
Peril” was replaced by the pressing need to focus on gaining independence
from the British colonial administration, which returned to Rangoon after the
three-year interregnum of the Japanese Occupation during World War II. The
Burmese political class—now led by the Marxist-inspired nationalists, most
prominently Aung San, with their strictly secularist, non-racialist, inclusive

view of “Burmeseness”—steered public discourse away from the pre-war racial-
ist sentiment.19 Within a year of independence, as the country plunged into a

three-way civil war between Burmese communists, non-Burmese ethnic minori-
ties, and the first ethnically Burmese-controlled government in Rangoon, the

old fear and loathing of Indians faded into the background for the time being.
Still, collective memories of “the Indian penetration” or the Indian—both
Hindu and Muslim—domination of the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar

endured, though latently. Apparent in recent anti-Muslim violence are the fin-
gerprints of the military-controlled state and state-backed societal actors, such

as prominent Buddhist monks, in the opening up of this can of racial worms.20
Interestingly, the visibly heavy presence of Yunnan Chinese—and their hold
on the informal sector of the economy in the upper half of the country—has
not given rise to organized violence despite pervasive anti-Chinese sentiments
within all segments of Burmese society, including the leadership and the rank
and file of the military.21 Organized violence has exclusively been directed at
the Muslim communities, rather than at Chinese businesses or their wealthy
residential quarters. The question, then, is who is directing public frustrations
and discontent toward one community but not the other, even while they are
both conceived of as “guests” or “non-indigenous.”22 One must confront the
elephant in the room, namely the military-controlled state and the societal actors

that enjoy blanket impunity for any acts of harm or words of bigotry against
Muslims and Rohingyas, but not the Chinese.23

 

Crucially, the Myanmar military regime chooses to make sure that anti-
Chinese sentiments do not boil over because the giant next door, China, is too

powerful to anger and because Beijing served as the external protector of the
Myanmar regime when it was treated as an international pariah, particularly
during the period when Myanmar was under international sanctions from the
1990s until their gradual lifting from 2011 onwards.24 State and non-state actors
have instead reworked—in their official and popular discourses—the old fear of

the Indian Peril to make it applicable in the contemporary context. Two signifi-
cant developments came about during the two eras of military rule (1962–88

and 1988–2011), namely Islamophobia resulting from global perceptions of
the rise of Muslim power and the state-manufactured perspective of Rohingyas
as illegal and/or unwelcome “Bengali” immigrants who do not belong in the
Buddhist Rakhine lands of western coastal Myanmar.


The Rekindling of Anti-Muslim Racism in Society for Political Use
The military coup of 1962, launched under the leadership of Ne Win as Chair
of the newly formed Revolutionary Council, was met with protests from
political monks and campus activists who had become political allies in their
opposition against military authoritarianism. Military leaders and strategists

identified political monks, students, and other segments of society as “above-
ground threats to building a new socialist order,” with the generals as the order’s

revolutionary managers.25 Indeed, the traditional alliance of monk-student-
opposition-dissidents, with Aung San Suu Kyi as the rallying figure, remained a

threat that the military sought to neutralize until very recently. Military leaders
concluded that Western liberal democracy was ill-suited to their country and

that civilian politicians were not strong and patriotic enough to bind the multi-
ethnic society in which ethnic minority populations made up an estimated

30–40 percent of the total population. The generals were acutely aware of the
need for an umbrella ideology to justify their grip on power.26 They have tried
hoisting different ideological banners over the years, including “the Burmese
Way to Socialism,” “restoration of law and order,” “peace and development,”
and more recently “discipline-flourishing democracy.”


Military leaders have kept pursuing their vision of uniting the country
under the aforementioned slogans and banners. Implementing the military’s
unchallengeable version of a unified Burma in a country that is ethnically and

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Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham


religiously diverse with differing class interests has typically been met with a
natural resistance from different national communities. Problematically and
increasingly, military leaders have looked to the old Buddhist kingdom of
warrior-kings as a model for Burma, where the generals and their power base,
namely the Armed Forces, serve as the guardians of the Buddhist nation, the
dominant race, and Buddhism. When the non-Buddhist communities and
minority ethnic groups have resisted the military’s nation-building processes,
the generals have opted to consolidate power through the tactic of divide and
rule. Simultaneously, the leadership perseveres with its official call for national
unity, national consolidation, and peace.27


The strategic and political uses of race and faith by those in power have
been well-documented—not least in the previously cited Interim Report of
the Riot Inquiry Commission of 1939. On the eve of Burma’s independence
in 1946, the slain national hero and former Thakhin nationalist leader, the late
U Aung San, publicly accused the last colonial administration of attempting to
destabilize the country’s political situation by playing the race card.28 Similarly,
Prime Minister U Nu, a close colleague of Aung San, was accused during his
election campaign of exploiting the Buddhist majority’s religious sentiment by
offering to make Buddhism “the state’s official religion” in 1960.29 By this time,
the Burmese military, through its public relations department (or “psychological
warfare division”), had also begun to mobilize Buddhist identities by framing
Burmese communist challengers as “the Enemy of Buddhism.”30
By the early 1990s, following the global advance of human rights, the
most senior Burmese military leadership—Senior General Saw Maung, head
of the ruling junta—had actively pursued the manufacturing and propagation

of anti-Muslim racism through the government’s Department of Religious Af-
fairs, as documented by Reuters’ journalists in their Pulitzer-winning series of

investigative articles.31 Before the advent of Facebook and other social media
sites, the fear-mongering narrative relating to Muslims—which portrays Muslim
men as rapists, abusers of Buddhist women, and economic exploiters of a poor
Burmese public—was disseminated through short monographs and carefully
planted moles among Buddhist monks, as well as through classic “whisper
campaigns.”32 Twenty years after the deaths (under house arrest) of the Muslim
cleanser of the armed forces and the initiator of this anti-Muslim propaganda
campaign, ex-general Ne Win and his hand-picked successor Senior General Saw
Maung, their legacy—a repackaging of the colonial-era Indian Peril as Muslim
Peril—has taken root in the popular consciousness.


Reverend Wirathu, a young, charismatic monk who hails from the Buddhist

heartland of Mandalay, openly made the call for the liquidation of Myanmar’s
Muslims. He declared, as early as 2001 and to rousing cheers of his fellow
Buddhist monks, his intention to “boycott, ostracize and eventually starve the
Muslims of Myanmar.”33 This was ten years before the country’s military-led
“transition.” In other words, the spread of anti-Muslim popular hate speech
was already in wide circulation long before the military’s media reforms and the
arrival of social media on Burmese soil.

 

After the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from her last house arrest in No-
vember 2010, military leaders witnessed the continuing popularity of their

nemesis, both at home and abroad. Meanwhile, the call for genuine democ-
ratization—which included changing the military’s constitution of 2008 that

puts the military above the law on all matters it deems to be of concern to
“national security”—remained strident and popular throughout the country.
At the same time, Rakhine nationalists had mobilized their communities into
pressuring the central government of ex-general and President Thein Sein for
a more equitable share of revenues from the sale of natural gas and for greater
political and administrative autonomy for Rakhine people. Then came the
collapse of the 17-year bilateral ceasefire—the only one in writing—between a
powerful Kachin Independence Organization/Army and the Burmese military.
Notably, the sharp rise in anti-Muslim racism—in the form of hate speech and
organized violence against Muslim communities—and the fear-mongering of
illegal Bengalis taking over the Western Burmese state of Rakhine took place
alongside these parallel developments. Many of Myanmar’s Western-educated
professionals, intellectuals, and technocrats proactively spread the perception of
Rohingyas as ignorant descendants of illegal Bengalis through both social media
sites and Burmese-language services of the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free
Asia, and the Democratic Voice of Burma.34


Using the rhetoric of freedom of speech and press, the military-backed,
semi-civilian government of Thein Sein in effect provided blanket impunity

against any form of hate speech, however severe and genocidal, against Myan-
mar Muslims and Rohingyas.35 Meanwhile, in direct violation of the country’s

existing law—which only allows one national Buddhist Order (or Sangha) to
prevent discord among different circles of monks and keep the order under
one national governing body of monks—Thein Sein’s government allowed the
establishment of a new parallel monk organization under the banner of “the
Association for the Protection of Race and Faith.”36 In its final months in power,
the military’s proxy government passed four “national race and faith protection”
laws and touted the passage of these laws as one of its major achievements as it

the brown journal of world affairs Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham went into the election of 2015.37
The great majority of Buddhists in the Burmese press, human rights circles,

intelligentsia, and creative communities were swayed by the revival of anti-Mus-
lim sentiment.38 Civil society circles bought into the official view of Rohingyas

as “illegal” Bengalis who pose an imminent threat to the Buddhist Nation of
indigenous peoples. These civil society groups spread the image of Muslims as a
menace and Rohingyas as illegals who could in due course morph into “jihadists,”
supposedly receiving funding and other forms of support from Saudi Arabia,
Pakistan, and even the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). A case in
point is the half-hour Burmese-language interview in July 2017 between Irrawaddy

News Group chief-editor Aung Zaw and former Information Minister ex-Colonel Ye

Htut where both amplified the official narrative of how Bengalis
who do not belong in the Western Myanmar state of Rakhine are fast-becoming potential jihadists.39


National-Securitization of Muslim Lives
Today, the everyday activities of Myanmar’s Muslims, from Rakhine State to
Mandalay, have been branded as threats to national security. This development
has resulted in state intrusion into many aspects of Muslims’ lives, causing
varying degrees of symbolic and physical harm. Food donations to Muslims—
both in humanitarian and religious/cultural contexts—now come under the
purview of Myanmar’s security forces. In the latter part of the Muslim holy
month of Ramadan this year, Myanmar authorities in the central administrative
office of the second-largest division—the Mandalay Division—issued a general
directive ordering its township and ward administrative branches, including
Myanmar Police Force units, to ensure that international philanthropic and
humanitarian groups do not distribute any in-kind or food donations intended
for consumption during the fasting month to Muslim communities under their
local jurisdictions without prior official permit. Even those with official permits
can only donate under close supervision by state authorities.40 The message
implied by the involvement of Myanmar security forces is that food stuff and
other consumer goods for household use donated by groups outside Myanmar

The everyday activites of Myanmar’s Muslims, from Rakhine State to Mandalay,

have been branded as threats to national security.are a national security concern.
Meanwhile, in the western Myanmar state of Northern Rakhine, the

World Food Program has reportedly discovered alarming levels of food depriva-
tion among Rohingya Muslims, severely affecting upwards of 80,500 children.

Human Rights Watch identifies the emergence of extreme malnutrition as the
intended outcome of Myanmar authorities, who have locked down large areas
where Rohingya reside in response to a few isolated incidents of armed attacks
on Myanmar border security posts since October 2016.41 The population has
long been forced to exist in abysmal conditions where malnutrition levels have

been compared to famine-like situations in sub-Saharan Africa.42 This situa-
tion amounts to what Amartya Sen, a leading scholar on famines, calls acts of

“institutionalized killings” of the Rohingya on the sole basis of their ethnic and
religious identity, as well as their physical presence on the Rakhine Buddhists’
land to which Myanmar officially and popularly claims Rohingya Muslims do
not belong.43 The deliberate policies and administrative orders that have blocked
humanitarian aid over sustained periods restrict “nutritional opportunities”— in
Amartya Sen’s words—for Myanmar Muslims and Rohingya.44

 

Between the two communities, Myanmar Muslims and Rohingya, the lat-
ter are incomparably worse off as the victims of what many believe to be ethnic

cleansing, crimes against humanity, and slow genocide. Because these commu-
nities are subjected to monitoring, control, and restrictions on life-sustaining

food, coupled with denial of access to adequate or even basic medical services,
Myanmar may be using food as “a weapon of persecution.” In his article entitled
“The Nazis Used It, We Use It: The Return of Famine as a Weapon of War,” Alex
de Waal discusses the use of (man-made) famines as a weapon of war to target

a specific population, illustrated by the Nazis as well as other Western pow-
ers.45 As Gregory Stanton, founding president of Genocide Watch and former

president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars notes, “Since
the beginning of genocide studies with Lemkin, Hilberg, Kuper, Charny, Fein,
Hovannissian and many others, ‘genocide by attrition,’ including starvation,
has been a major concern of genocide scholars.”46


Religiously Motivated Demographic Engineering
The Myanmar military has held a 50-year firm grip on what Louis Althusser called
“Ideological State Apparatuses” (e.g., education systems, religious institutions,
community groups, and information ministries). They have consistently and
falsely told the domestic public that there is no such ethnic group as the Rohingya

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Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham


and that they are Muslim interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh who only
came to Rakhine as colonial era farm laborers after the First Anglo-Burmese
War of 1824. Typically, when confronted with the irrefutable primary historical
evidence dating back to 1799 and official documentation from the Ministry
of Defense validating the Rohingyas’ claim of historical and official belonging
to both pre-colonial and post-colonial Myanmar, even the educated class of
Burmese—Buddhist clergy, technocrats, journalists, writers, human rights
activists, not to mention diplomats and pro-democracy ex-military officers—
refuse to accept the truth.47


In the public’s eyes, the growth and presumably continuing inflow of these
“illegal” Muslim migrants threatens to replace the dwindling Rakhine Buddhist
majority of this Western region of the country. Therefore, they need to be shipped
out of the country. Neither the public nor the political and military leaders
are keen to restore their full citizenship rights. This state-manufactured myth
about Rohingyas as unwanted Bengali migrants, both from the colonial era and
contemporaneously, has taken root in the popular Burmese mind. However, the
military leaders who have long maintained a tight military and administrative
grip on the predominantly Rohingya region of Northern Rakhine know for a fact
that there is no inflow of migrants, legal or illegal, from Bangladesh—as clearly
stated by the ex-Brigadier Khin Yi, who served as the Minister of Immigration
under President Thein Sein (2011–15).48


In his book Our Country’s ‘Western Gate Problem,’ ex-military intelligence
chief Khin Nyunt—considered Myanmar’s most powerful military leader while
in office—opened his introduction to the book with the patently false assertion
that “the pre-colonial Rakhine State of Myanmar had never had any Muslim
presence.” He then went on to explicitly link Islam with the wars, violence,
and terrorism in the Middle East, insinuating that the presence of Muslim
Rohingyas—Bengali in his racist reference—spells deep trouble for Myanmar.49
What is little known beyond the well-publicized periodic waves of
violence—both vertical (state-directed acts of violence) and horizontal (locally

organized communal violence)—against Rohingyas as members of an ethno-
religious group is the demographic engineering in which the military govern-
ments have been engaged over decades since Operation Crow (Kyi Gan Sit Hsin

Yay) in 1966.50 Since the country’s independence, the Burmese military has
viewed western Burma’s Muslim population through a national security lens, as
they were the borderlands Muslim community with bicultural ties to both the
adjacent East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the western Burmese region of
Arakan, or Rakhine. Further, Rohingyas also waged a short-lived armed secession-

ist movement, thereby accentuating the military’s security concerns. However,
this secessionist revolt was not unique to the Rohingyas. Virtually all ethnic
borderlands peoples, including Arakanese Buddhists (now popularly referred to
as Rakhine), saddling long and porous borders of Burma—with China, India,
Thailand, Laos, and East Pakistan—staged armed revolts against the majority
Burmese rule from the center at various points in the post-independence period.
But because Rohingyas are the only Muslim community in Burma with their
own geographic pocket next to Bangladesh, their record of secessionist attempts
continues to inform the military’s policies towards the Rohingya population.
According to ex-General Khin Nyunt, the former head of the Directorate
of Defense Intelligence Services (military intelligence), the military has two
major demographic objectives: first, to double the country’s total population
(up to 100 million) because of the country’s geographic position sandwiched
between India and China, and second, to radically (read: unnaturally) change
the Muslim (Rohingya, ethnic) character of the Northern Rakhine State.51 In
pursuit of this two-fold goal, the military has done three things. Firstly, they

have turned a blind eye to the fact that ethnic Han Chinese from the neigh-
boring Yunnan state of Southern China have entered and settled throughout

upper regions of Myanmar. Secondly, they have subjected the population to a
“campaign of terror” under the disguise of “immigration checks,” the direct result
of which is the drastic reduction of the number of Rohingyas from Rakhine as
hundreds of thousands periodically flee western Myanmar for Bangladesh and
other refugee-receiving countries amid the instant illegalization of the great
majority who choose to remain inside Myanmar. Thirdly, they have established
Buddhist settlements where the military and local authorities implement the
scheme of state-directed transmigration of Buddhists.

 

The government facilitates the transporting and resettling of different Bud-
dhist populations composed of retired Myanmar civil servant families, Myanmar

criminal convicts with Buddhist backgrounds, Bangladeshi-born Buddhist
Rakhines, and other non-Muslim groups who were settled in the region when
the two adjacent regions of East Bengal and Western Burma were joined under
the rule of a single monarch.52


Obviously, increasing Myanmar’s population (specifically of non-Muslims)
was a strategic goal of the military leaders as early as the 1990s. Several years ago,
ex-general Thein Sein’s government granted blanket citizenship status to about
80,000 Han Chinese living in the Eastern Shan state pocket near the Yunnan
Chinese border. The government even created a new ethnic category, “Mon
Yaung Myanmar,” and announced to the public that the newly minted citizens

the brown journal of world affairs Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinhamwere to be referred

to as such while the military—and now the administration of
Aung San Suu Kyi—continued to maintain the official stance that Rohingyas did
not belong in Myanmar. It is the religious identity of Rohingyas that ultimately
accounts for this sharp contrast in Myanmar’s official treatment of non-Muslim
migrants from China or of those from the Sino-Burmese borderlands, and of
Rohingyas from the Burmese-Bangladesh borderlands.

 

During the civil war of 1971 between West and East Pakistan (now Ban-
gladesh), Pakistani General Tikka Khan (known as the “Butcher of Bengal”)

ordered his troops: “I want the land, not the people.”53 What befell “the people,”

unwanted on that wanted land of East Pakistan, was left to the local command-
ers. In the midst of the two bouts of horizontally organized violence in June and

October 2012 during which Rohingya communities bore the overwhelming hu-
man costs, a decorated Burmese brigadier general who was stationed in Rakhine

told a Burmese author pointedly, “What can we do, brother, they [Rohingyas]
are too many? We can’t kill them all.”54 Indeed, Myanmar military leaders, the
architects and implementers of this religion-based demographic engineering,

know they cannot kill all Rohingyas. But they have resorted to various strate-
gies of destruction of Rohingya communities on an ethnoreligious level. The

most deplorable human conditions, where life essentials such as food and access
to basic medicine are deprived or restricted, are the direct outcome of central

policies regarding Rohingyas.55 Indeed, Myanmar’s exceptionally hostile treat-
ment of Rohingyas as a group oscillates between acts of ethnic cleansing and

slow genocide.56 How can it be otherwise when Rohingyas have been kept like
“chickens in a vast cage” awaiting their time of death and destruction, on land
or high sea, as a young Rohingya put it in a personal Facebook message to us,
after he and a group of Rohingya Internally Displaced People (IDPs) met with
the visiting UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee on 12 July? 57 Alas, a century

after the perceived Indian threat to colonial Burma’s future—the “Indian Penetra-
tion” or “Indian Peril”—stirred the Buddhists’ imagination, post-independence

Myanmar is engaged in the act of transference, this time targeting Rohingyas as
caged chickens, potential agents of foreign jihadists.


A New Muslim-Free Myanmar under the Military-NLD Partnership of
Islamophobes


The perceptions of threats—real or imagined—to a nation are the raison d’être
for military institutions the world over. Based on popular, historical, and official
discourses about people of Indian ancestry, Myanmar’s most powerful institution,

Reworking the Colonial-Era Indian Peril

Fall/Winter 2017 • volume xxiv, issue 1

the military, has framed Rohingyas as “a new threat to national security” since
1966.58 The colonial-era nationalist calls to pass laws protecting Buddhist women
from Indian men, who are presumed to be abusive and predatory, have also
come to fruition: ex-General Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government enacted
four “National Race” laws, strictly controlling proposals for interfaith marriages
between Buddhist women and Muslim men.


With Communist threats fading into a non-concern at home with the
collapse of the longest-existing political party, the Communist Party of Burma,

in 1989—the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall—and ethnic groups having jet-
tisoned their original aim of independence from the Union of Myanmar, the

military indeed needed a common enemy of the Buddhist nation. While the

first persecution of Rohingyas began as a state-organized project of national se-
curity, leading to a large-scale campaign—which drove out upwards of 270,000

Rohingyas into neighboring Bangladesh in February 1978—the military found
it in its strategic interest to involve both the nationalist Rakhines in the region
and the Buddhist public at large.


This has enabled the military to steer the growing popular discourses of,
and demand for, speedy and genuine democratization among the traditionally
religious and anti-Muslim electorate. It has forced the NLD party to move
away from its push for a constitutional amendment to make Aung San Suu Kyi
president and phase out the military’s hold on the parliaments at all levels. The
increasingly Islamophobic Buddhist electorate is more concerned about the
supposedly imminent threat from potential jihadists than about democracy
and human rights: none of which they have ever really tasted in their lives. It

has effectively nipped the Rakhine nationalist demand for greater revenue shar-
ing from the central government, the offshore lucrative gas and oil industry of

the Rakhine coast line, and other multi-billion dollar projects in the Rakhine
state. The Rakhine population has become consumed by fear and loathing of
Rohingyas, who in their view take Rakhine land and threaten the Rakhine
Buddhist way of life.

 

What we call the “double-persecution” of Myanmar’s Muslims and Ro-
hingyas has become a powerful unifying issue among the traditionally distrustful

social forces in Burmese society: the ruling military, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD,
the culturally revered Buddhist Order, and the Burmese intelligentsia and culture

industry of movie-makers, artists, and others. They share this “global percep-
tion of the rise of Muslim power”—as Aung San Suu Kyi put it in her BBC

interview in October 2013—and the attendant fear and loathing of Muslims
in and outside Myanmar.59

the brown journal of world affairs
Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham


Aung San Suu Kyi, From Global Icon of Liberal Freedoms to Genocide
Denier?


At the time of this writing, Aung San Suu Kyi’s spectacular fall from grace has
been repeatedly headlined in major news outlets around the world. As 500,000
Rohingyas fled Myanmar into the neighboring Bangladesh in a span of a mere five
weeks, her moral and intellectual leadership has crumbled in the eyes of the world

community. Following the removal of the Burmese Nobel


Laureate’s portrait in the main hall at her old college at Oxford (St. Hugh’s),
Oxford City Council and Glasgow City Council have stripped her of the honors
they had conferred on her. Though these moves by English and Scottish city
councils are symbolic, as BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson put it, “I think
it is perfectly natural to look around for ways of saying we disapprove utterly of
what you (the past honoree) are doing.”60 Simpson called “extraordinary” Aung
San Suu Kyi’s refusal to denounce or even acknowledge “the crimes against
humanity” and “ethnic cleansing” which her government and the military are
credibly accused of committing.61

 

Aung San Suu Kyi typically sprinkles her essays and speeches with canoni-
cal Buddhist concepts and passages—such as loving kindness—in her attempt

to both explain her political views to the outside world and communicate with
her domestic Buddhist electorate.


To the dismay of many of her supporters around the world, Aung San
Suu Kyi attempted to explain the violence against both Myanmar Muslims
and Rohingyas on Britain’s national flagship radio program by excusing her
“generally peaceful” fellow Buddhists. She said, “Fear is not just on the side of

the Muslims, but the fear is on the side of the Buddhists as well.”62 The Myan-
mar Armed Forces today, unlike in the past, can boast of being Muslim-free.

As a matter of fact, last year the serving Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the
commander-in-chief, added the protection of Buddhism and “Buddhist race” to
the existing list of the military’s bounden national duties, besides prevention of
the “disintegration of the Union of Myanmar,” the maintenance of “territorial
integrity,” and “peace and stability” at home.63
With different yet parallel reasons, both Aung San Suu Kyi’s National
Aung San Suu Kyi’s spectacular fall from
grace has been repeatedly headlined in
major news outlets around the world
 

League for Democracy party and the army-backed USDP, its rival, have effec-
tively emptied all political institutions of any Muslim citizens—regardless of

how many centuries of lineage they have in the country.
The Fiction of “ImmigrantRace” or “Guest” as aWeapon againstRohingya
Muslims


What makes the persecution of Rohingyas—as opposed to the persecution of
Myanmar Muslims—stand out as a case of potential state-sponsored genocide
is not simply the acts as defined in the Genocide Convention of 1948 (and
subsequently Article 6 of the Rome Statute), but also the original conception
of a genocide put forth persuasively by Raphael Lemkin. As the noted genocide
scholar Daniel Feierstein argues, genocide essentially involves both the
destruction of the group’s identity by the perpetrators and the imposition of a
new group identity on the victims. In the words of Feierstein, “They [victims]
don’t exist. They never existed. They will never exist as who they say they are.”64
Elsewhere we have detailed how the initial concerns of cross-boundary fluid

migration of Rohingyas have evolved regressively into a case where the Myan-
mar government can be credibly accused of “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic

cleansing,” and even a “slow genocide.”65 Against this long post-independence
history of the state’s direct involvement with Rohingya affairs, it is misleading
to frame the plight of Rohingyas as primarily the outcome of sectarian conflict
between them and local Buddhist Rakhines. Rohingyas exist—not live—under
human (or inhuman) conditions in the western coastal region, which is ripe with
chronic violence; “intentional deprivation” of food and basic medical services; all
forms of freedom, including physical movements; forced labor; sexual violence
with state impunity; execution; extortions; and false blanket accusations of
“terrorism”—and all this is induced by policies made centrally by the successive
Burmese military regimes in Rangoon and, since 2006, in Naypyidaw.66 These
deplorable conditions on land, coupled with chronic and large scale violence—
mostly military-organized and at times communal—have forced hundreds of
thousands of Rohingyas to flee their birthplace and homeland, both on foot
across the land border into Bangladesh and by boats to not only Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Thailand, but also to places as far-flung as Canada and Australia.
Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingyas have long been economically

interdependent in eking out a living in one of the poorest states among Myan-
mar’s administrative regions. Cross-border trade, retail businesses, transport of

goods, fishing, and other trades necessitate the cooperation between these two

the brown journal of world affairscommunities—with Rakhine Buddhists controlling state bureaucracies and
Rohingya Muslims engaging in primary production, financing, and more.67
Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingyas in the state of Rakhine and the sharp

rise, again with the state’s blanket impunity, of hate speech and bouts of orga-
nized violence against the general Muslim population throughout Myanmar

need to be seen on a continuum of strategic choices pursued by the military
leaders out of their own institutional agendas and informed by their personal
fear and loathing of Muslims. Aung San Suu Kyi—who was, until recently,
seen worldwide as an icon of freedom and human rights in the same league as
Gandhi, Mandela, and King—proved capable of cleansing her parliament and
government of her fellow country people whose only sin is being Muslim. Since
then, Myanmar’s most powerful institution, the Tatmadaw, and Aung San Suu
Kyi’s elected government have both been arguably playing the race-and-faith
card at the expense of the country’s Muslims and committing systematic and
sustained persecution against Rohingyas.


Heavily swayed by the military’s manufactured propaganda regarding
both scapegoated Muslim communities, the public has come to view the latter
as two integral components of a single common threat to the nation. If indeed
Buddhist Myanmar is united in this two-fold crime against these populations
because of their religious and ethnic identity, then the prospects of Myanmar
seeking or finding homegrown solutions—without external interventions—are
nonexistent. Given that there is little political will, coherence, or even capacity
within the global governing institutions to protect these communities, the future
of these two religious and minority groups looks incredibly bleak.


Nearly 30 years since the Great Uprisings of 8 August 1988, the majority
Buddhist population of Myanmar has not enjoyed genuine freedoms, democracy,
or human rights, despite Aung San Suu Kyi playing the respectable façade of
the current transition. When the oppressed majority falls prey to the military’s
systematic mobilization and partakes in everyday acts of injustice and systemic

repression of their fellow countrymen and women such as Muslims and Ro-
hingya, they end up undermining their own ultimate struggle for freedom and

their collective humanity. This may well prove to be the greatest act of self-harm
that the patriotic Burmese are committing against the future of their beloved
country.


Conclusion
As we were completing the final draft of this essay, Myanmar’s Rakhine

Reworking the Colonial-Era Indian Peril

Fall/Winter 2017 • volume xxiv, issue 1

Commission, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, delivered
its Final Report entitled “Towards a Peaceful, Fair and Prosperous Future for the
People of Rakhine State” to Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who
established the commission.68 Even before the report’s ink dried, the Myanmar
military launched a scorched-earth campaign against a large segment of the
Rohingya population of Northern Rakhine—those who have not been displaced
and caged in the IDP camps.69 The Burmese military has justified this violence
by citing the emergence of a group of young Rohingyas who began to fight
back against the Burmese military. The military has launched periodic waves of
direct killings and destruction of entire village tracts and neighborhoods while
portraying the target community of Rohingyas as infested with jihadist ideals
and agendas along the lines of the Islamic State.70 In its new public relations
campaign, the hybrid Myanmar government—that is, Aung San Suu Kyi’s
civilian party in partnership with the powerful military—publicly accused the
World Food Programme (WFP) and other humanitarian NGOs of supporting
Rohingya “terrorists.”71 As proof of their claim, Myanmar offered two pictures
of a box of high energy biscuits with WFP packaging, which the military said it
found in an abandoned camp reportedly used by young Rohingya militants.72
In fact, the WFP and NGOs have been the ones that have long kept alive a
large population of Rohingya, particularly thousands of children, who would
otherwise have died of extreme malnutrition. For a government with provable
genocidal intent toward Rohingyas, any entity, foreign or local, that attempts to
keep the target population alive stands in the way—hence the labels of supporter
of terrorism and extremism. All major media networks are reporting that, over
a six-day period, the Burmese military slaughtered hundreds of Rohingyas—
by Myanmar’s official count 400, although the death toll is expected to be at
least four or five times higher than that figure. 73 Meanwhile, the Myanmar
government has recently announced its national plan to develop the Northern
Rakhine border town of Maung Daw as a multi-billion dollar Special Economic
Zone.74 In the Maung Daw township, the military is currently engaged in the
genocidal killings of Rohingyas, including the infants, with navy gunboats,
ground troops, and gunship helicopters. There have also been reports of titanium
and other mineral exploration concessions that Myanmar has made to Chinese
companies.75 Alas, today’s killing fields will be turned not into national museums
of the slow genocide but into ethnically cleansed sites where only Buddhist
generals and local Rakhines will enjoy peace and prosperity as envisaged by
Kofi Annan’s Commission.

the brown journal of world affairs


Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham

 


Notes
1. This essay draws on our five consecutive years of research (June 2012–June 2017), including archival
works in Burmese and English language discourse analyses; daily-monitoring of hate speech in Burmese

language social media sites including Facebook and Twitter; hundreds of interviews and in-depth conver-
sations conducted with members of the Muslim and Rohingya communities from within Myanmar and

diaspora in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, the United States, the United Kingdom,
Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden; and numerous in-depth conversations with
inter-faith activists from within Myanmar, including Buddhist monks, Christian leaders, Hindu leaders,
Muslim elders, and community organizers concerned about the rise of mass violence and hatred towards
Muslims in general and Rohingyas in particular.

2. Riot Inquiry Committee, Interim Report of the Riot Inquiry Committee (Rangoon, Burma: Govern-
ment Printing and Stationery, 1939).

3. Personal communications with a young Muslim resident via Facebook Messenger.
4. “US President Obama hails Myanmar’s ‘remarkable journey,’” BBC, November 19, 2012, http://
www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20386066. For the official military’s view of democracy, see: Tommy
Pauk, “Democracy vs. Discipline,” The Global New Light of Myanmar, January 31, 2016, http://www.
globalnewlightofmyanmar.com/discipline-vs-democracy/.
5. See: “Burma: End ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims,” Human Rights Watch, April 22, 2013,

https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/04/22/burma-end-ethnic-cleansing-rohingya-muslims; “Burma authori-
ties accused of ‘ethnic cleansing,’” Channel 4 News, April 22, 2013, https://www.channel4.com/news/

burma-ethnic-cleansing-myanmar-rohingya.
6. For a detailed case study of one of the incidents, see: “Hidden Hands Behind Communal Violence
in Myanmar: Case Study of the Mandalay Riots,” Justice Trust, Policy Report, March 2015, http://www.
burmalibrary.org/docs21/Justice_Trust-2015-03-Hidden_Hands-en-to-rev1-red.pdf.
7. In the old Burmese, Kular was a highly respectable reference to people of the Indian sub-continent
from which the old feudal Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Burma got the model of kingship and legitimation
rites. It has, however, come to be used as a racist slur with a connotation similar to that of the n-word in
the United States. See: “Facebook in Myanmar: Amplifying Hate Speech?,” Al Jazeera English, June 14,

2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/06/facebook-myanmar-rohingya-amplifying-hate-
speech-2014612112834290144.html.

8. See: Natalie Brinham, “The conveniently forgotten human rights of the Rohingya,” Forced Migration
Review 1, no. 41 (2012): 40–41.
9. The International Crisis Group’s experts typically advances the view that “it is not unusual for countries
emerging from authoritarianism to experience inter-communal strife” while dismissing the instrumental
role of the Burmese military behind these “communal” conflicts in Myanmar’s case. See: “A Dangerous
Resurgence of Communal Violence in Myanmar,” ICG, March 28, 2013, http://blog.crisisgroup.org/
asia/2013/03/28/a-dangerous-resurgence-of-communal-violence-in-myanmar/.
10. “Aung San Suu Kyi tells UN that the term ‘Rohingya’ will be avoided,” Guardian, June 21, 2016,

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/21/aung-san-suu-kyi-tells-un-that-the-term-rohingya-will-
be-avoided. Also see: Richard C. Paddock, “Aung San Suu Kyi asks U.S. not to use the term ‘Rohingya,’

New York Times, May 6, 2016.
11. See: Gregory Poling, “Separating Fact from Fiction about Myanmar’s Rohingya,” Center for

Strategic and International Studies, 2014, https://www.csis.org/analysis/separating-fact-fiction-about-
myanmar%E2%80%99s-rohingya.

12. Royal Declaration of War signed by King Thibaw and His Ministers (original in Burmese), Man-
dalay, November 7, 1885; English translation in Yebaw Hla Myo, Pyidaungsu Myanmar Naing Ngan

Thamai Wun Sar Choke Sar Tan Mya (Yangon: Official Historical Records of Myanmar State, 1968), 74.

13. For a concise discussion of the Indian migration to the colonial Burma, see: Riot Inquiry Commit-
tee, Interim Report of the Riot Inquiry Committee, 14–20.

14. Ibid. In particular, see: Chapter VI, “The Press and Other Political Influences,” 33–48.
15. Maung Shwe Hphi, Malwi and Yogi, (Mandalay: Tha Tun Aung Press, 1931).

Reworking the Colonial-Era Indian Peril

Fall/Winter 2017 • volume xxiv, issue 1
21

16. Ibid., 22.
17. Ibid., 36.
18. This census data does not include over one million Muslim Rohingyas. See: “Myanmar census data
on Muslim population raises doubts,” AA News Agency, July 23, 2016, http://aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/
myanmar-census-data-on-muslim-population-raises-doubts/614078.
19. For the most comprehensive, secularist, and inclusive national vision ever articulated by a Burmese
political leader—in Burmese—see: “Aung San’s address (20 January 1946) to Shwedagon Middle Terrace
Conference, Rangoon,” in The Collected Speeches of Bogyoke Aung San (Rangoon: Literary House, The
Union of Burma Government Press, 1971), 50–51.
20. See: Maung Zarni, “Myanmar’s neo-Nazi Buddhists get free rein,” Asia Times, April 9, 2013, http://
www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/SEA-01-090413.html; “Military Roots of Racism,” Asia Times,
September 3, 2013, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/SEA-01-030913.html. Also see:
“Hidden Hands Behind Communal Violence.”
21. Beth Walker, “Anti-Chinese sentiment on rise in Myanmar,” China Dialogue, May 13, 2014, https://
www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/6969-Anti-Chinese-sentiment-on-rise-in-Myanmar.
22. In his remarks to the 1982 Citizenship Act Drafting Committee held at his Presidential Residence
in Rangoon on October 8, 1982, Chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party and ex-general Ne
Win spelled out the three categories of citizenship. Here he introduced to the country who is a “guest”
and who is a “host” in terms of the country’s inhabitants. See: “Translation of the speech by General Ne
Win provided in The Working People’s Daily (the official English language newspaper of Burma),” October
9, 1982, http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs6/Ne_Win%27s_speech_Oct-1982-Citizenship_Law.pdf.
Echoing the old racist sentiment propagated by the late despot General Ne Win, Myanmar’s best known
racist hate-preachers, such as Sitagu Abbot and Wirathu, continue to promote this ‘guest-host’ view of
citizens, portraying all non-Buddhists as “guests.”
23. Andrew R.C. Marshall, “Special Report: Myanmar gives official blessing to anti-Muslim

monks,” Reuters, June 27, 2013, http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-969-specialreport-idUS-
BRE95Q04720130627.

24. Edith M. Lederer, “China, Russia Veto Myanmar Resolution.” Washington Post, January 14, 2007.
25. Report of the General Secretary, Brig-Gen. San Yu, to the Burma Socialist Program Party, Rangoon,
November 1968 (Burmese language).
26. The articulation of this view dominated the state-controlled media outlets following the bloody
crackdown of 1988 popular uprisings nationwide. Personal communications and interviews with serving
and ex-military personnel from Myanmar Armed Forces conducted in Thailand, Philippines, and in the
United States between 2004 and 2009.
27. For an in-depth discussion on the Burmese Armed Forces in terms of their ideological orientation,
mode of operations, self-perception, class position in society, etc., see: Maung Zarni, “Myanmar’s Black
Hole: Evolution of a Mafia State in Myanmar,” Asia Times, October 16, 2013, http://www.atimes.com/
atimes/Southeast_Asia/SEA-03-161013.html.
28. “Aung San’s address (20 January 1946) to Shwedagon Middle Terrace Conference, Rangoon,” in
The Collected Speeches of Bogyoke Aung San.
29. Donald Eugene Smith, Religion and Politics in Burma (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1965), 237.
30. The Burmese author grew up and lived under the military rule for 25 years. This “communist as
anti-Buddhist, Dhamma-less heretics” was part of our everyday vocabulary.
31. Andrew R.C. Marshall, “Special Report: Myanmar gives official blessing to anti-Muslim

monks,” Reuters, June 27, 2013, http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-969-specialreport-idUS-
BRE95Q04720130627; Andrew Marshall, “Myanmar’s gives official blessing to anti-Muslim monks,”

Reuters, June 26, 2013, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-969-specialreport/special-report-
myanmar-gives-official-blessing-to-anti-muslim-monks-idUSBRE95Q04720130627.

32. “Whisper campaigns” is the term that the late Colonel San Tha, a former Central Executive
Committee member with General Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party regime in 1970s, used to
describe how the military intelligence (MI) disseminated misinformation among the Burmese public. The

the brown journal of world affairs
Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham

22
MI continued to rely on the same misinformation campaign in the 1990s before there was any Internet
and social media penetration in Myanmar. See Kyaw Yin Hlaing, “Challenging the Authoritarian State
Buddhist Monks and Peaceful Protests In Burma,” The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 32, no. 1 (2008):
125–44, specifically 138.
33. Kate Hodal, “Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma,“ Guardian, April
18, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/18/buddhist-monk-spreads-hatred-burma. Also
on file with the authors is Reverend Wirathu’s full audiotaped sermon during which he publicly called for
“starving all Muslims” in Mandalay in 2001.

34. For a typical Burmese language interview on “Rohingyas as illegal Bengali descendants,” see: “In-
terview with Dr Yin Yin Nwe of Myanmar Presidential Rakhine Commission,” Voice of American Burmese

Service, May 12, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6tIdlb1YmI. [Dr Yin Yin New is the former
Head of UNICEF China and a Cambridge-educated geologist. She is also the former daughter-in-law
of the late General Ne Win.]
35. Marshall, “Myanmar’s gives official blessing to anti-Muslim monks.” Also see: “Hidden Hands
Behind Communal Violence.”
36. Tin Maung Maung Than, “Sangha Reforms and Renewal of Sasana in Myanmar: Historical Trends
and Contemporary Practice,” in Buddhist Trends in Southeast Asia (Social Issues in Southeast Asia), ed.
Trevor Ling (Singapore: ISEAS, 1993), 6–63.
37. “Hyper-nationalists celebrate four ‘race and religion’ laws,” Myanmar Times, September 15, 2015,

http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/16477-hyper-nationalists-celebrate-four-race-
and-religion-laws.html. Thein Sein’s Government released a three-minute Burmese language YouTube clip

as part of its election campaigning against Aung San Suu Kyi’s then flagship opposition party of NLD as
the 2015 general election approached.
38. The renowned former student leaders caused deep dismay among their international supporters,
including human rights organizations, when they began talking about the primacy of “national security”
over basic human rights of Rohingyas. Even Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government was defending the
anti-Muslim national race and faith laws at the UN. See “New govt to defend ‘race and religion’ laws at
UN meeting,” Myanmar Times, July 6, 2016, http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/21218-
new-govt-to-defend-race-and-religion-laws-at-un-meeting.html.
39. See: “Interview with Ye Htut,” Irrawaddy Burmese Edition, July 12, 2017, https://www.facebook.
com/theirrawaddyburmese/videos/1683383938372418/.

40. Maung Zarni, “Myanmar to Humanitarian Groups: THOU SHALL NOT FEED THE MUS-
LIMS—without Gov. Knowledge & Monitor,” Transcend, July 4, 2017, https://www.transcend.org/

tms/2017/07/myanmar-to-humanitarian-groups-thou-shall-not-feed-the-muslims-without-gov-knowl-
edge-monitor/.

41. “Starvation hits Burma’s Rakhine state as food supplies dwindle,” Asia Correspondent, July 9,

2017, https://asiancorrespondent.com/2017/07/starvation-hits-burmas-rakhine-state-food-supplies-
dwindle/#Y3sfb6ZHRjG36uH6.99.

42. Personal communications with a former UN senior official previously based in Yangon, 2005.
43. “The Slow Genocide of the Rohingya by Amartya Sen,” YouTube, Harvard University, November
4, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugHhAwARb98.
44. Ibid.
45. Alex de Waal, “The Nazis Used It, We Use It: The Return of Famine as a Weapon of War,” The London
Review of Books, June 26, 2017, https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n12/alex-de-waal/the-nazis-used-it-we-use-it.
46. Email communications with the authors, July 13, 2017.
47. For the most learned discussion on the issue of respective claims for “indigeneity” made by both
Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists, see: Michael Charney, “Arakan or Rakhine in Myanmar since the 14th
Century: From Inclusion to Polarisation and Exclusion,” remarks delivered at the Conference on Myanmar’s
Democratic Transition and the Persecuted Rohingyas, Oxford University, May 11, 2016, https://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=1ZNe8WysEqM. Also see: Gregory B. Polling, “Separating Fact from Fiction about
Myanmar’s Rohingya,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 13, 2014, https://www.
csis.org/analysis/separating-fact-fiction-about-myanmar%E2%80%99s-rohingya.

Reworking the Colonial-Era Indian Peril

Fall/Winter 2017 • volume xxiv, issue 1
23
48. Interview with ex-Immigration Minister U Khin Yi, Part I, “The Problem of Myanmar’s Western
Gate,” Voice of America Burmese Language Service, August 31, 2017, https://burmese.voanews.com/a/
weekly-news-analysis-rakhine-arakan-affairs/4006422.html.
49. Khin Nyunt, Our Country’s Western Gate Problem (Yangon: One Hundred Flowers Literary House,
2016), Introduction.
50. Ibid., 15–19.
51. General Khin Nyunt’s Burmese Language Lecture (marked Top Secret) delivered at the National

Defense University Management Course In-take 3/93, on 30 November 1993, in Myat Khaing, Inter-
view with ex-General Khin Nyunt (Yangon: Quality Publishing House, 2013), 158. Nyunt, Western Gate

Problem, Introduction.
52. Ibid., 38–40.
53. Sonu Patel, “The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971,” Prezi Presentation, March 5, 2012, https://prezi.
com/gwtaxlpkhfda/the-indo-pakistani-war-of-1971/.
54. See: Maung Zarni & Alice Cowley, “The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya,” Pacific
Rim Law and Policy Journal, 23, no. 3 (2014): 684.
55. Ibid.

56. For a brief legal analysis on the subject presented by former staffer with the U.S. State Depart-
ment’s Office of the Legal Adviser who also clerked in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International

Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), see: Katherine Southwich, “Confronting Genocide
in Myanmar,” Policy Forum (of the Asia and Pacific Policy Society), December 2, 2016, https://www.
policyforum.net/confronting-genocide-myanmar.
57. Personal communications, July 12, 2017.
58. General Khin Nyunt’s National Defense Lecture, 1993; Nyunt, Our Country’s Western Gate Problem,
Introduction.
59. “AUNG SAN SUU KYI ‘ATTACKS ON MUSLIMS NOT ETHNIC CLEANSING,’” BBC,
October 24, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNVE_Ch_Q18.
60. “Aung San Suu Kyi stripped off Freedom of Oxford,” BBC, October 3, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/
news/uk-england-oxfordshire-41481521; Alan Simpson, “Glasgow moves to strip Aung San Suu Kyi of
honours,” Herald, October 5, 2017, http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15579765.Glasgow_moves_
to_strip_Aung_San_Suu_Kyi_of_honours/.
61. For the detailed analysis of why Aung San Suu Kyi has come to be widely viewed as a genocide denier,
see: Mehdi Hasan, “Burmese Nobel Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi Has Turned Into an Apologist for

Genocide Against Muslims,” The Intercept, April 13, 2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/04/13/burmese-
nobel-prize-winner-aung-san-suu-kyi-has-turned-into-an-apologist-for-genocide-against-muslims/.

62. Ibid.
63. “Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing pledges to help safeguard Buddhism,” Myanmar Times, June 24,

2016 http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/21035-snr-gen-min-aung-hlaing-pledges-to-
help-safeguard-buddhism.html.

64. See “Genocide Roundtable,” Conference on the Rohingya, University of Oxford, May 24, 2016,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-Ww8GLpVUo.
65. Alice Cowley and Maung Zarni, “An Evolution of Rohingya Persecution in Myanmar: From Strategic
Embrace to Genocide,” Middle East Institute, American University, April 20, 2017, http://www.mei.edu/
content/evolution-rohingya-persecution-myanmar-strategic-embrace-genocide.
66. “Starvation hits Burma’s Rakhine state as food supplies dwindle,” Asia Correspondent, July 9,

2017, https://asiancorrespondent.com/2017/07/starvation-hits-burmas-rakhine-state-food-supplies-
dwindle/#Y3sfb6ZHRjG36uH6.99. Myanmar’s attempts at turning its persecution of Rohingyas into

an issue of terrorism have gotten some traction within the ASEAN region since 2016. See, for instance:
Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani, “The Rohingya Crisis: Regional Security Implications,”
Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore, December 2016, https://www.rsis.edu.
sg/rsis-publication/icpvtr/co16293-the-rohingya-crisis-regional-security-implications/#.WWkgg4jysSU.
67. Face-to-face interview with a Rakhine-Rohingya researcher and civil society activist, Bangkok,
Thailand, October 2016.

the brown journal of world affairs
Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham

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68. “Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State,” Rakhine Commission, August 2017,
http://www.rakhinecommission.org/.
69. “‘There is genocide going on there’: Rohingya huddle on Bangladesh border,” CNN, September 1,
2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2017/09/01/asia/rohingya-bangladesh-myanmar-crisis/index.html.
70. C. R. Abrar, “BANGLADESH AND THE ROHINGYA INFLUX: Misframed facts, prejudiced

responses,” Daily Star, September 1, 2017, http://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/human-rights/misframed-
facts-prejudiced-responses-1456924.

71. Oliver Holmes, “Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s office accuses aid workers of helping ‘terrorists’ in Myanmar,”

Guardian, August 28, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/28/aung-sang-suu-kyis-office-
accuses-aid-workers-of-helping-terrorists-in-myanmar.

72. “Gory Days: An army crackdown sends thousands fleeing in Myanmar,” Economist, August 31, 2017.
73. “Nearly 400 die as Myanmar army steps up crackdown on Rohingya militants,” Reuters, September

1, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya/nearly-400-die-as-myanmar-army-steps-
up-crackdown-on-rohingya-militants-idUSKCN1BC3T8. Also see “Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Special

Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, reacts to the reports coming out of the country,” Channel

4 News, September 1, 2017, https://www.channel4.com/news/yanghee-lee-aung-san-suu-kyi-needs-to-
show-leadership-over-rohingya.

74. Kyaw Min, “Maungdaw, Rakhine Slated for Special Economic Zone,” Myanmar Business Today,
August 30, 2017, https://www.mmbiztoday.com/articles/maungdaw-rakhine-slated-special-economic-zone.
75. Nyein Nyein and Khin Oo Tha, “Chinese Prospectors Stake a Claim in Arakan State,” Irrawaddy,

January 2, 2013, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/chinese-prospectors-stake-a-claim-in-arakan-
state.html.

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(c) 2017 Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham

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