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, non secular, and nationalistic causes, none of that are mutually unique. Amid a number of armed skirmishes of excessive depth, a few of 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’s much less scholarly work exploring the substance behind these quick phenomena; counting on present explanations that don’t handle 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 subject should entail a theoretical elucidation of 1) how political scapegoating could give delivery to a militaristic type of nationalism that advocates violence towards the ‘othered’ inhabitants and a couple of) how these collection of occasions would possibly result in the enactment of a citizenship legislation which gives 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 inspecting the historic developments to contextualize the prevailing instability of Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Historic Background

Numerous armed clashes in Rakhine State have obtained in depth consideration from the worldwide neighborhood. The Rohingya displacement is undoubtedly probably the most well-known downside because it was extensively televised and reported throughout the globe. Indubitably, 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 latest compelled migration of Rohingya Muslims to neighboring international locations 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 subject has just lately gained world consideration after the Gambia filed a lawsuit towards 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). For the reason that 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 because the starting of 2019, when it mounted a number of assaults on the Tatmadaw and Myanmar police forces. The AA’s aim is to revive the previous glory of the Kingdom of Arakan, an historical kingdom within the Arakan area conquered by the Burman kings. Nonetheless, below the banner of non secular nationalism, the Buddhist armed group’s true motive is to hunt higher autonomy throughout the area. In actual fact, 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 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 aim to ‘the thoughts of a child daydreaming.’

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

Protecting in thoughts that these advanced historic incidents have resulted within the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya, Émile Durkheim’s concept of scapegoating could also be probably the most related contributions to constructing a sound theoretical framework for deciphering the development of the ‘othered’ identification of Rohingyas. In The Elementary Types of the Non secular Life (1995), Durkheim aptly describes the essence of the scapegoat as an outsider who’s much less in a position to 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. Curiously, Durkheim’s concept of scapegoating resembles Myanmar’s trendy historical past by means 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 basic rights has grow to be frequent among the many political elites and most of the 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 sometimes boils all the way down to attacking variations which can be readily obvious to exterior observers, together with faith and ethnicity.

Between these two notable identification markers, many speculate that faith holds extra significance since almost all Rohingyas are Muslims dwelling in a predominantly Buddhist nation. For Durkheim as effectively, faith constitutes a necessary side of the human situation. It is very important word 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 referred to as a Church, all those that adhere to them’ (1995: xxxiv). In keeping with this definition, faith consists of two parts: 1) the beliefs and practices relative to sacred issues, and a couple of) an ethical neighborhood. The important key phrases are ‘sacred’ and ‘neighborhood,’ because the 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 concept, 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 value 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 folks, 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 towards 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 means of such marginalizing discourses, Myanmar society fashioned a ‘ethical neighborhood,’ which Durkheim mentions in his definition of faith. As morality entails a regular of proper and improper, 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 means of 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 purposeful mannequin of formality punishment. In keeping with Durkheim, ritual punishment causes social integration, which ends up in the formation of solidarity. Within the context of the Rakhine State, the concept of formality punishment will be in comparison with the Myanmar authorities’ historic persecution of the Rohingya inhabitants. Alternatively, nevertheless, ‘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 risk. 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 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 identification disaster of the Rohingya Muslims dwelling 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 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 a whole bunch of years; nevertheless, it’s the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Regulation that completely stripped the Rohingya Muslims of the chance to grow to be residents of Myanmar. Beneath this legislation, 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 checklist of nationwide races. The 1982 Citizenship Regulation is based totally 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. For the reason that 1982 Citizenship Regulation locations an important 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 assumption of social actors in frequent descent primarily based on racial and cultural variations, amongst different elements” (Jackson, 1982: 5). In different phrases, it isn’t the actual fact of, however the perception in a standard descent that’s the core concept in Weber’s definition of ethnicity (2013). In any case, tracing the frequent ancestor of varied ethnic teams is an not possible activity. 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 would possibly adhere to the favored false impression that the Rohingya subject is a spiritual battle (i.e., Buddhism versus Islam). Nonetheless, this interpretation of the enactment of the 1982 Regulation is simply partially appropriate because the Rohingya subject is extra political than non secular. The existence of different Rakhine ethnic teams, such because the Kaman, attests to the political, slightly than non secular, nature of the Rohingya battle. The Kaman are an ethnic group primarily residing in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. A lot of the Kaman are Muslims. Therefore, they share the identical identification markers—each when it comes to 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 value discussing the facility of legal guidelines as a causal power slightly than merely descriptive data. Not like Durkheim, who noticed the aim of analysis to be discovering legal guidelines, Weber seen 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 would possibly view the enactment of the 1982 Citizenship Regulation because of the dynamics of social capital, together with faith and neighborhood growth. 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 legislation. For Weber, the systematization of the legislation is a necessary 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 probably the most vital circumstances for the existence of capitalist enterprise, which can not 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 towards the Rohingya Muslims.

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

The fast emergence of the Arakan Military lies in its efficient use of non secular and nationalistic discourse throughout the Rakhine State’s explicit historic context. The AA’s Commander-in-Chief just lately reiterated the armed group’s aim 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 grasp the rise of the AA by means of the lens of their historic political discourse, which is confirmed to be efficient because the AA has quickly elevated in dimension, claiming that they at present have 7,000 lively troopers at their disposal.

The AA has acquired the picture of being a noble trigger, permitting them to hawk their affect throughout the area. How did the AA come to amass substantial in style help within the Rakhine State? This query will be greatest answered by contemplating Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. Gramsci defines hegemony as being greater than merely dominance by means 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 line with Gramsci, dominant teams keep their place by means of a mixture of coercive power and consent from subordinate teams. Curiously, the AA’s governance mechanism completely aligns with Gramsci’s definition of hegemony: the Buddhist armed group possesses ample army energy to have interaction in head-on battles with the Myanmar army and enjoys widespread help 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 will be strengthened by way of the practices of establishments and intellectuals who promulgate for the pursuits of the ruling energy. In keeping with Oliverio, ‘establishments equivalent to schooling, 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 features 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 economic 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.

In actual fact, the monks have at all times been an lively power selling Rakhinese political aspirations. In keeping 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 totally different Rakhine associations to affix collectively because the Arakan Nationwide Congress…Such united fronts have since grow to be 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 battle of maneuver, which entails a method of a direct and violent confrontation, and “the battle of place as a gradual, protracted battle that entails a various means, together with ‘non-violent’ features of civil society” (Lauderdale, 1998: 148). The Rakhine monks are significantly important in finishing up the latter battle 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 superb instance of this. On 19 Might 2019, a group of Rakhinese monks took to the streets and referred to as for an finish to the preventing 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 yr. An attention-grabbing truth about this demonstration is that the monks despatched their letter to the President, the State Counsellor, and the Senior Normal; nevertheless, 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 imagine 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 lively 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 communicate 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 means of 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 identification politics, it requires additional examine with higher consideration paid to the long run route of Myanmar within the aftermath of the Myanmar army’s takeover of the federal government in 2021, and the developments that may observe the ICJ’s ultimate ruling on the Rohingya genocide.


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