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 current conspicuous disputes have been the displacement of the Rohingya inhabitants and the speedy emergence of a Buddhist armed group named the Arakan Military (AA). There may be much less scholarly work exploring the substance behind these quick phenomena; counting on present explanations that don’t deal with the potential historic root causes or complexity of the battle delays efficient political responses. What’s required on this regard is a complete theoretical strategy that makes use of a holistic framework to look at previous and current conflicts in Rakhine State.

Understanding the present standing of the Rohingya problem should entail a theoretical elucidation of 1) how political scapegoating might give start to a militaristic type of nationalism that advocates violence towards the ‘othered’ inhabitants and a pair of) how these collection of occasions may result in the enactment of a citizenship regulation which supplies authorized justification for such discrimination. Moreover, it is very important perceive the intention behind the AA’s use of non secular and nationalistic appeals in its increasing technique. Thus, this text goals to supply a theoretical grounding for inspecting the historic developments to contextualize the prevailing instability of Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Historic Background

Varied armed clashes in Rakhine State have obtained in depth consideration from the worldwide neighborhood. The Rohingya displacement is undoubtedly essentially the most well-known drawback because it was extensively televised and reported throughout the globe. Unquestionably, the fashionable historical past of Rakhine State left the Rohingya Muslims with a deep skepticism of the Myanmar authorities. It must be famous that the current compelled migration of Rohingya Muslims to neighboring nations is just not 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 problem has not too long ago gained international 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 the moment being heard by the Worldwide Courtroom of Justice (ICJ). Because the navy 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 speedy 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 purpose is to revive the previous glory of the Kingdom of Arakan, an historical kingdom within the Arakan area conquered by the Burman kings. Nevertheless, below 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 extensively recognized that the AA’s ambition is to achieve the extent of autonomy that the Myanmar authorities have granted to the United Wa State Military (UWSA), the most important 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 purpose 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 one of the crucial related contributions to constructing a sound theoretical framework for deciphering the development of the ‘othered’ id 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 target of public censure, a goal of criticism that may be accountable for its misfortunes. Curiously, Durkheim’s thought of scapegoating resembles Myanmar’s trendy historical past via which the Rohingya Muslims have been considered ‘others’ and stored from buying Myanmar citizenship. The Rohingyas have been a handy goal, and advocating for the denial of their basic rights has develop 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 primary argument of such hate speeches usually boils right down to attacking variations which are readily obvious to outdoors observers, together with faith and ethnicity.

Between these two notable id markers, many speculate that faith holds extra significance since practically all Rohingyas are Muslims residing in a predominantly Buddhist nation. For Durkheim as properly, faith constitutes a vital side of the human situation. It is very important word that Durkheim regards faith as a social establishment; in essence, the end 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 line with this definition, faith consists of two parts: 1) the beliefs and practices relative to sacred issues, and a pair 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 Buddies (1996) commented that, in Durkheim’s idea, 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 strategy to sacredness­ and profanity is price noting because it carefully resembles the historic circumstances surrounding the institution of the scapegoated id of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Borrowing the phrases of French thinker René Girard, ‘the persecutors all the time persuade themselves {that a} small variety of folks, or perhaps a single particular person, regardless of his relative weak spot, 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 considered the Rohingya Muslims as dangerous scapegoats in opposition to whom they may 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 such marginalizing discourses, Myanmar society fashioned a ‘ethical neighborhood,’ which Durkheim mentions in his definition of faith. As morality entails a normal of proper and fallacious, it as soon as once more brings the dichotomy bolstered within the sacred–profane framework again to the middle of dialogue. Myanmar’s historical and trendy historical past testifies to the notion that the persecution of the Rohingya was justified, as this apply was traditionally thought of regular and correct. By these socially accepted acts of exclusion, a way of solidarity turns into strengthened among the many neighborhood members. This course of will be greatest defined by Durkheim’s practical mannequin of formality punishment. In line with Durkheim, ritual punishment causes social integration, which results in the formation of solidarity. Within the context of the Rakhine State, the thought of formality punishment will be in comparison with the Myanmar authorities’ historic persecution of the Rohingya inhabitants. However, nonetheless, ‘solidarity is susceptible 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 considered an exterior risk. As Inverarity et al. cogently level out, these exterior threats disrupt solidarity and will 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 operate as a way 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 id disaster of the Rohingya Muslims residing in a Buddhist nation will be interpreted inside such a theoretical context.

The Relevance of Weber: Ethnicity and Citizenship

Citizenship is essential for the event of an id. Granting citizenship ensures a person’s authorized standing and political rights and impacts the formation of 1’s id. Therefore, the Rohingya Muslims’ incapability to accumulate Myanmar citizenship is a major issue contributing to their gradual marginalization from each social, financial, and political aspect of Myanmar society. As said beforehand, the Rohingya’s social exclusion has existed for a whole bunch of years; nonetheless, it’s the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Regulation that completely stripped the Rohingya Muslims of the chance to develop into residents of Myanmar. Beneath this regulation, one’s full citizenship can solely be acknowledged if the individual belongs to one of many 135 distinct ethnic teams acknowledged by the Myanmar authorities. Regardless of residing in Myanmar for generations, the Rohingya aren’t included within the record 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 a terrific 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 not possible process. That is considerably extra so within the context of Myanmar, a rustic with a whole bunch of distinct ethnic teams. Relating to the event of the 1982 Regulation, one may adhere to the favored false impression that the Rohingya problem is a spiritual battle (i.e., Buddhism versus Islam). Nevertheless, this interpretation of the enactment of the 1982 Regulation is simply partially appropriate for the reason that Rohingya problem is extra political than spiritual. The existence of different Rakhine ethnic teams, such because the Kaman, attests to the political, moderately 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 id markers—each by way of their historic residence and faith—because the Rohingya. Nonetheless, 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 facility of legal guidelines as a causal pressure moderately than merely descriptive information. In contrast to Durkheim, who noticed the aim of analysis to be discovering legal guidelines, Weber considered legal guidelines as a way for analysis, significantly 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 may 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 a vital precondition for materials adjustments. For instance, in Financial and Society: An Define of Interpretative Sociology, Weber argues that ‘the functioning of the authorized course of…constituted one of the crucial essential 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 via the Theories of Gramsci

The speedy 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 purpose 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 id 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 via 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 the moment 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 accumulate substantial widespread help within the Rakhine State? This query will be greatest answered by contemplating Antonio Gramsci’s idea of hegemony. Gramsci defines hegemony as being greater than merely dominance via coercion. Usually, the Gramscian hegemony is known as the flexibility of the ruling teams to impose their interpretation of actuality because the pure state of affairs upon the dominated. Thus, based on Gramsci, dominant teams keep their place via a mixture of coercive pressure and consent from subordinate teams. Curiously, the AA’s governance mechanism completely aligns with Gramsci’s definition of hegemony: the Buddhist armed group possesses enough navy energy to interact in head-on battles with the Myanmar navy and enjoys widespread help and consent among the many Rakhinese.

At this level, it is very important look at how the AA has gained hegemony in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. For Gramsci, hegemony will be strengthened by way of the practices of establishments and intellectuals who promulgate for the pursuits of the ruling energy. In line with Oliverio, ‘establishments reminiscent of schooling, media, and authorities organizations are concerned in a means of producing data 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 function 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’ help of the AA.

The truth is, the monks have all the time been an energetic pressure selling Rakhinese political aspirations. In line with 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 completely different Rakhine associations to hitch collectively because the Arakan Nationwide Congress…Such united fronts have since develop into a characteristic 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 struggle of maneuver, which includes a method of a direct and violent confrontation, and “the struggle of place as a sluggish, protracted battle that includes a various means, together with ‘non-violent’ elements of civil society” (Lauderdale, 1998: 148). The Rakhine monks are significantly important in finishing up the latter struggle as natural intellectuals.

For Gramsci, the function of natural intellectuals is much like that of latest 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 navy 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 yr. An fascinating reality about this demonstration is that the monks despatched their letter to the President, the State Counsellor, and the Senior Basic; 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 function of natural intellectuals, which Gramsci defines as intellectuals who ‘can now 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 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 id formation that establishes nationwide id, and the governance mechanism that seeks to align the pursuits of the ruling group via the dissemination of socially constructed realities to the on a regular basis lifetime of the folks of Rakhine. Because the Rakhine battle hinges on the assimilation of ethno-religious nationalism and id politics, it requires additional research with larger consideration paid to the longer term course of Myanmar within the aftermath of the Myanmar navy’s takeover of the federal government in 2021, and the developments that may comply with the ICJ’s ultimate ruling on the Rohingya genocide.


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