Home News Theoretical Explanations of the Prevailing Instability of Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Theoretical Explanations of the Prevailing Instability of Myanmar’s Rakhine State


Armed conflicts, whether or not nice or small, don’t seem to stop inside Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The Rakhine battle is multifaceted, with monetary, socio-political, spiritual, and nationalistic causes, none of that are mutually unique. Amid a number of armed skirmishes of excessive depth, among the latest conspicuous disputes have been the displacement of the Rohingya inhabitants and the fast emergence of a Buddhist armed group named the Arakan Military (AA). There may be much less scholarly work exploring the substance behind these speedy phenomena; counting on present explanations that don’t tackle the potential historic root causes or complexity of the battle delays efficient political responses. What’s required on this regard is a complete theoretical method that makes use of a holistic framework to look at previous and current conflicts in Rakhine State.

Understanding the present standing of the Rohingya situation should entail a theoretical elucidation of 1) how political scapegoating might give delivery to a militaristic type of nationalism that advocates violence towards the ‘othered’ inhabitants and a couple of) how these sequence of occasions would possibly result in the enactment of a citizenship regulation which supplies authorized justification for such discrimination. Moreover, you will need to perceive the intention behind the AA’s use of non secular and nationalistic appeals in its increasing technique. Thus, this text goals to offer a theoretical grounding for analyzing the historic developments to contextualize the prevailing instability of Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Historic Background

Numerous armed clashes in Rakhine State have acquired in depth consideration from the worldwide neighborhood. The Rohingya displacement is undoubtedly probably the most well-known downside because it was broadly televised and reported throughout the globe. Surely, the fashionable historical past of Rakhine State left the Rohingya Muslims with a deep skepticism of the Myanmar authorities. It needs to be famous that the latest compelled migration of Rohingya Muslims to neighboring nations will not be a brand new phenomenon because the Rohingya conflicts date again to the Burman kings’ conquest of the Kingdom of Arakan (the modern-day Rakhine State) within the 1700s. The Rohingya situation has not too long ago gained world consideration after the Gambia filed a lawsuit in opposition to Myanmar in November 2019, accusing it of the genocide of the Rohingya refugees. The case is at present being heard by the Worldwide Courtroom of Justice (ICJ). Because the army coup d’état staged in Myanmar on 1 February 2021, there have been voices calling for the popularity of the Rohingya Muslims’ rights (see here and here). It’s certainly important to proceed observing the event of those actions.

One other determinant that shakes the political panorama of Rakhine State is the fast emergence of the Arakan Military (AA). Based in 2009, the AA is a comparatively new Buddhist armed group working actively in Myanmar’s northwest areas, together with Rakhine and Chin States. The AA has been within the highlight for the reason that starting of 2019, when it mounted a number of assaults on the Tatmadaw and Myanmar police forces. The AA’s objective is to revive the previous glory of the Kingdom of Arakan, an historical kingdom within the Arakan area conquered by the Burman kings. Nevertheless, beneath the banner of non secular nationalism, the Buddhist armed group’s true motive is to hunt larger autonomy inside the area. The truth is, it’s broadly identified that the AA’s ambition is to realize the extent of autonomy that the Myanmar authorities have granted to the United Wa State Military (UWSA), the biggest ethnic armed group in Myanmar. The UWSA enjoys the standing of the Self-Administered Division, as stipulated in Myanmar’s Structure. Within the interview with Frontier Myanmar, Twan Mrat Naing, the AA’s Commander-in-Chief, overtly proclaimed that his group has ‘an expectation for no less than the UWSA.’ The Tatmadaw’s spokesperson likened the AA’s objective to ‘the thoughts of a child daydreaming.’

The Relevance of Durkheim: Scapegoating and the Sacred-Profane Dichotomy

Conserving in thoughts that these advanced historic incidents have resulted within the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya, Émile Durkheim’s thought of scapegoating could also be probably the most related contributions to constructing a sound theoretical framework for decoding the development of the ‘othered’ identification of Rohingyas. In The Elementary Types of the Spiritual Life (1995), Durkheim aptly describes the essence of the scapegoat as an outsider who’s much less capable of evoke sympathy and solidarity. Put in another way, when society encounters struggling, it seeks the main focus of public censure, a goal of criticism that may be accountable for its misfortunes. Apparently, Durkheim’s thought of scapegoating resembles Myanmar’s fashionable historical past by way of which the Rohingya Muslims have been thought to be ‘others’ and saved from buying Myanmar citizenship. The Rohingyas have been a handy goal, and advocating for the denial of their elementary rights has change into widespread among the many political elites and most people. Quite a few hate speeches directed towards the Rohingya Muslims on social media have been one attestation of this discriminatory phenomenon. The principle argument of such hate speeches usually boils all the way down to attacking variations which might be readily obvious to outdoors observers, together with faith and ethnicity.

Between these two notable identification markers, many speculate that faith holds extra significance since practically all Rohingyas are Muslims residing in a predominantly Buddhist nation. For Durkheim as effectively, faith constitutes an important facet of the human situation. It is very important observe that Durkheim regards faith as a social establishment; in essence, the result of human exercise. Durkheim defines faith as ‘a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred issues, that’s to say, issues set aside and forbidden beliefs and practices which unite into one single ethical neighborhood known as a Church, all those that adhere to them’ (1995: xxxiv). In response to this definition, faith consists of two components: 1) the beliefs and practices relative to sacred issues, and a couple of) an ethical neighborhood. The important key phrases are ‘sacred’ and ‘neighborhood,’ for the reason that former represents a dichotomy that gives a theoretical foundation for scapegoating, and the latter helps outline faith as a social assemble. In Seven Theories of Faith, Daniel Friends (1996) commented that, in Durkheim’s principle, the sacred refers back to the pursuits of the group, and particularly, unity. The query then arises as to what constitutes the profane. It may be inferred that profanity, the alternative of the sacred, would naturally be deemed as violating social codes and disturbing social concord. This dichotomous method to sacredness­ and profanity is price noting because it carefully resembles the historic circumstances surrounding the institution of the scapegoated identification of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Borrowing the phrases of French thinker René Girard, ‘the persecutors at all times persuade themselves {that a} small variety of individuals, or perhaps a single particular person, regardless of his relative weak point, is extraordinarily dangerous to the entire of society’ (1986: 15). Within the case of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, it’s justified to state that each the Myanmar authorities and the general public seen the Rohingya Muslims as dangerous scapegoats in opposition to whom they might domesticate a way of unity. That’s, the Myanmar neighborhood satisfied itself that the Rohingyas deserve discrimination since recognizing their rights is prone to result in the disintegration of social concord.

By means of such marginalizing discourses, Myanmar society shaped a ‘ethical neighborhood,’ which Durkheim mentions in his definition of faith. As morality entails a typical of proper and improper, it as soon as once more brings the dichotomy bolstered within the sacred–profane framework again to the middle of debate. Myanmar’s historical and fashionable historical past testifies to the notion that the persecution of the Rohingya was justified, as this observe was traditionally thought of regular and correct. By means of these socially accepted acts of exclusion, a way of solidarity turns into strengthened among the many neighborhood members. This course of could be finest defined by Durkheim’s useful mannequin of formality punishment. In response to Durkheim, ritual punishment causes social integration, which ends up in the formation of solidarity. Within the context of the Rakhine State, the thought of formality punishment could be in comparison with the Myanmar authorities’ historic persecution of the Rohingya inhabitants. Alternatively, nonetheless, ‘solidarity is liable to disruption by the third variable within the schema, exterior threats’ (Inverarity, Lauderdale, and Feld, 1983: 131). Right here, the notion of Rohingya as outsiders can result in them being thought to be an exterior menace. As Inverarity et al. cogently level out, these exterior threats disrupt solidarity and should thereby lead the neighborhood to facilitate ‘the connection between repressive justice—of which scapegoating is one particular kind—and social solidarity’ (1983: 156). In different phrases, faith and its rituals, together with scapegoating, are part of the socially realized doctrines and discourses that successfully perform as a method of strengthening social bonds when confronted with existential threats. This level confirms Durkheim’s argument that faith is a social course of and that the continued identification disaster of the Rohingya Muslims residing in a Buddhist nation could be interpreted inside such a theoretical context.

The Relevance of Weber: Ethnicity and Citizenship

Citizenship is essential for the event of an identification. Granting citizenship ensures a person’s authorized standing and political rights and impacts the formation of 1’s identification. Therefore, the Rohingya Muslims’ incapacity to amass Myanmar citizenship is a major issue contributing to their gradual marginalization from each social, financial, and political aspect of Myanmar society. As acknowledged beforehand, the Rohingya’s social exclusion has existed for lots of of years; nonetheless, it’s the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Regulation that completely stripped the Rohingya Muslims of the chance to change into residents of Myanmar. Beneath this regulation, one’s full citizenship can solely be acknowledged if the particular person belongs to one of many 135 distinct ethnic teams acknowledged by the Myanmar authorities. Regardless of residing in Myanmar for generations, the Rohingya usually are not included within the checklist of nationwide races. The 1982 Citizenship Regulation is based on ethnicity and is thus severely discriminatory. Worldwide NGOs, together with Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly advised the Myanmar government to amend the 1982 Citizenship Law as per the suggestions of the UN Particular Rapporteur on the state of affairs of human rights in Myanmar, however to no avail. Because the 1982 Citizenship Regulation locations an awesome emphasis on ethnicity, it’s essential to look at the definition of ethnicity, and Weber has one thing to supply on the topic.

Weber defines ethnicity as “the idea of social actors in widespread descent primarily based on racial and cultural variations, amongst different components” (Jackson, 1982: 5). In different phrases, it’s not the actual fact of, however the perception in a typical descent that’s the core thought in Weber’s definition of ethnicity (2013). In spite of everything, tracing the widespread ancestor of varied ethnic teams is an unattainable process. That is considerably extra so within the context of Myanmar, a rustic with lots of of distinct ethnic teams. Concerning the event of the 1982 Regulation, one would possibly adhere to the favored false impression that the Rohingya situation is a non secular battle (i.e., Buddhism versus Islam). Nevertheless, this interpretation of the enactment of the 1982 Regulation is simply partially right for the reason that Rohingya situation is extra political than spiritual. The existence of different Rakhine ethnic teams, such because the Kaman, attests to the political, slightly than spiritual, nature of the Rohingya battle. The Kaman are an ethnic group primarily residing in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Many of the Kaman are Muslims. Therefore, they share the identical identification markers—each by way of their historic residence and faith—because the Rohingya. However, the Kaman are broadly acknowledged as Myanmar residents as a result of the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Regulation classifies them as one of many seven ethnic teams of the Rakhine State and one of many 135 official nationwide races (Thant Myint-U, 2007).

Contemplating how the 1982 Regulation successfully perpetuated the denial of the Rohingya’s citizenship, it’s price discussing the ability of legal guidelines as a causal pressure slightly than merely descriptive data. In contrast to Durkheim, who noticed the aim of analysis to be discovering legal guidelines, Weber seen legal guidelines as a method for analysis, notably for locating causal explanations. To place it merely, Durkheim interpreted legal guidelines as an ends, whereas Weber thought of legal guidelines as means (Jensen, 2012: 76). Within the Rakhine context, Durkheim would possibly view the enactment of the 1982 Citizenship Regulation on account of the dynamics of social capital, together with faith and neighborhood improvement. Quite the opposite, Weber is prone to argue that the 1982 Citizenship Regulation is certainly the flip the place the metaphysical hatred towards the Rohingyas started manifest bodily, concretizing the ever present animosity within the type of a written regulation. For Weber, the systematization of the regulation is an important precondition for materials modifications. For instance, in Financial and Society: An Define of Interpretative Sociology, Weber argues that ‘the functioning of the authorized course of…constituted probably the most necessary circumstances for the existence of capitalist enterprise, which can’t do with out authorized safety’ (1978: 853). Likewise, it may be inferred that the functioning of the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Regulation officialized the prevalent discrimination in opposition to the Rohingya Muslims.

Understanding the Rise of the Arakan Military by way of the Theories of Gramsci

The fast emergence of the Arakan Military lies in its efficient use of non secular and nationalistic discourse inside the Rakhine State’s explicit historic context. The AA’s Commander-in-Chief not too long ago reiterated the armed group’s objective of reviving the previous glory of the Kingdom of Arakan, a Buddhist kingdom conquered by the Konbaung Dynasty within the 1700s. The AA commander’s reference to rebuilding an historical Buddhist kingdom stems from the widespread sentiment among the many Rakhinese that the Burman ethnic majority has marginalized them traditionally. With this context in thoughts, the AA is efficiently establishing a way of solidarity, which reaffirms a shared value of ethnic separatism: the identification of victimhood developed all through the historic conflicts between the kingdoms of Burma and Arakan. Certainly, it’s essential to know the rise of the AA by way of the lens of their historic political discourse, which is confirmed to be efficient because the AA has quickly elevated in measurement, claiming that they at present have 7,000 energetic troopers at their disposal.

The AA has acquired the picture of being a noble trigger, permitting them to hawk their affect inside the area. How did the AA come to amass substantial widespread assist within the Rakhine State? This query could be finest answered by contemplating Antonio Gramsci’s principle of hegemony. Gramsci defines hegemony as being greater than merely dominance by way of coercion. Usually, the Gramscian hegemony is known as the power of the ruling teams to impose their interpretation of actuality because the pure state of affairs upon the dominated. Thus, in keeping with Gramsci, dominant teams preserve their place by way of a mixture of coercive pressure and consent from subordinate teams. Apparently, the AA’s governance mechanism completely aligns with Gramsci’s definition of hegemony: the Buddhist armed group possesses ample army energy to interact in head-on battles with the Myanmar army and enjoys widespread assist and consent among the many Rakhinese.

At this level, you will need to look at how the AA has gained hegemony in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. For Gramsci, hegemony could be strengthened by way of the practices of establishments and intellectuals who promulgate for the pursuits of the ruling energy. In response to Oliverio, ‘establishments comparable to training, media, and authorities organizations are concerned in a technique of producing info that seems easy and devoid of any intrinsic political issues or philosophical critiques’ (1998: 6). Moreover, Gramsci himself notes in Jail Notebooks that “the intellectuals are the dominant group’s ‘deputies’ exercising the subaltern capabilities of social hegemony and political authorities” (2018: 97). Within the Rakhine context, Buddhism and the monks play the position of these establishments and intellectuals. ‘I was a monk. Most of us used to be…When I heard about this army, I really wanted to join. You know, in Rakhine State, we need to defend Buddhism.’ Brenner, an professional within the political financial system of armed ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, launched this remark made by a former Rakhinese monk. This remark is a testomony to the Rakhine Buddhist monks’ assist of the AA.

The truth is, the monks have at all times been an energetic pressure selling Rakhinese political aspirations. In response to the Transnational Institute’s recent field report on Myanmar’s Rakhine State, following British Burma’s separation from India in 1937, ‘Buddhist monks inspired the totally different Rakhine associations to hitch collectively because the Arakan Nationwide Congress…Such united fronts have since change into a function of Rakhine politics…It was from this latter formation that the armed nationalist motion later grew.’ Thus, the AA is efficiently capturing historic Rakhinese grievances and, in Gramscian terminology, implements two methods for social change: the warfare of maneuver, which entails a method of a direct and violent confrontation, and “the warfare of place as a sluggish, protracted battle that entails a various means, together with ‘non-violent’ features of civil society” (Lauderdale, 1998: 148). The Rakhine monks are notably important in finishing up the latter warfare as natural intellectuals.

For Gramsci, the position of natural intellectuals is much like that of up to date scholar-activists. Rakhine monks’ demonstration in Might of 2019 is a wonderful instance of this. On 19 Might 2019, a group of Rakhinese monks took to the streets and known as for an finish to the combating between the Myanmar army and the AA. Their march was a response to the inaction of the Myanmar authorities to the letter despatched by senior monks on 9 Might of the identical 12 months. An attention-grabbing truth about this demonstration is that the monks despatched their letter to the President, the State Counsellor, and the Senior Common; nonetheless, no letter was despatched to the Arakan Military, the opposite axis of the present Rakhine battle. This very motion implies that the monks of the Rakhine State consider that the Myanmar authorities are extra accountable than the AA for the present state of affairs in Rakhine State. Thus, with their revered social place, the Rakhinese monks carry out the position of natural intellectuals, which Gramsci defines as intellectuals who ‘can not consist in eloquence…however in energetic participation in sensible life, as constructor, organizer, ‘everlasting persuader’ and never only a easy orator’ (2018: 95). By means of their teachings and actions, the Rakhinese monks, because the Gramscian natural intellectuals who converse for the ruling powers of the Rakhine State within the time of every respective historic interval, have been on the forefront of Rakhinese nationalism and can proceed to wield their affect sooner or later.


This text has sought to discover the distinctive circumstances of the multifaceted Rakhine battle from the theoretical views of Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Antonio Gramsci. These three thinkers’ theories are relevant to discussing Rakhine State’s historical past, society, politics, and tradition in an integrative method, which reveal the next: the connection between people and establishments, the political identification formation that establishes nationwide identification, and the governance mechanism that seeks to align the pursuits of the ruling group by way of the dissemination of socially constructed realities to the on a regular basis lifetime of the individuals of Rakhine. Because the Rakhine battle hinges on the assimilation of ethno-religious nationalism and identification politics, it requires additional examine with larger consideration paid to the longer term course of Myanmar within the aftermath of the Myanmar army’s takeover of the federal government in 2021, and the developments that may comply with the ICJ’s last ruling on the Rohingya genocide.


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