The Myanmar Civil War, particularly where it pertains to the Rohingya conflict, is subject to many false and dangerously misleading narratives. Most stem from a misunderstanding not only of Myanmar’s internal situation but from a misunderstanding of the country’s position as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
By Adam Garrie Mint Press News September 11, 2017
It has been said that truth is the first casualty of war and while the Civil War in Myanmar (formerly Burma) has raged since 1948, recent flare ups of the conflict have given rise to the death of truths that pertain both to Myanmar specifically and to countries in Myanmar’s geopolitical position more broadly. This is especially true of the present phase of the so-called Rohingya conflict.
This is especially true of the present phase of the so-called Rohingya conflict.
In order to understand Myanmar’s present geopolitical position and how various disinformation campaigns were inevitable in this context, it is first necessary to understand the prevailing narratives, many of which are mutually exclusive to one another.
The Persecution of Muslims
Over the last four decades and since 9/11 in particular, many observers (irrespective of their faith or background) have come to feel that Muslims are being aggressively targeted the world over. According to this narrative, numerous acts of injustice against Muslims, often at the hands of the same actors, have led to an aggregate reality in which Muslims are brutally victimized throughout the world.
This theory, when applied to the world as a whole, is often true, although there are exceptions as there would be to any overly broad theory.
In Yugoslavia for example, extremist Sunni Muslims (among Bosnians and ethnic Albanians), as well as extremist Roman Catholics (primarily Croats), aggressively turned a political struggle to preserve secular Yugoslav statehood into a sectarian war of aggression against Orthodox Serbs.
In many ways, however, Yugoslavia is an exception that has proved the rule, both in terms of factual realities and in terms of perception.
Far from this being a ‘Zionist conspiracy’, this is a phenomenon that Israeli leaders have openly exploited by their own admission. In 2008, Benjamin Netanyahu was reported as saying,
We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq.
He went on to say that the aforementioned events helped sway public opinion in Israel’s direction. While Netanyahu’s thesis is certainly true in respect of the feelings of many in the West, the opposite is equally true. Many people in the west have inversely come to resent Israel for its callous exploitation of events, even while remaining unmoved by the Palestinian cause.
In this sense, it is easy to see why many feel that the Rohingya conflict is part of a wider neo-imperialist war against Muslims. This is a sentiment which for totally different reasons has been exploited both by those whose sympathies lie with Muslims and those whose sympathies lie with anyone but Muslims.
The US backed Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power and therefore she is a tyrant
Like the previous narrative, this theory, if one had to rely on precedent alone, would be a safe bet. The US has a history of backing objectively tyrannical leaders from Pinochet in 1973 to the present regimes in Saudi Arabia and Ukraine (post-2014 coup). These are but a few such examples of America backing tyrannical regimes.
However, America’s precedent for backing dangerous regimes does not automatically make this the case in respect of present day Myanmar, as shall be explained subsequently.
A pro-China/pro-Russia regime is fighting ‘backward Muslims’
This narrative is not only the most deceptive, but it is the most dangerous. By all accounts, China and Russia have better relations with Muslim countries than most western powers could hope for. Russia has a substantial Muslim minority who are generally patriotic members of society whose faith is respected and cherished by the Russian state.
China’s alliance with Pakistan, its growing ties with Turkey and its good relations with Iran and the Arab world are proof positive that China, like Russia, does not for a moment share the western vendetta against certain Muslim societies. By the same token, both countries have good relations with non-Muslim countries. This is just an obvious reality of the pragmatic and realistic approach of Russian diplomacy and the non-ideological nature of Chinese commercial and geostrategic interests.
Innocent Buddhists are defending themselves from ISIS style militant Muslims
This narrative is not only simplistic but is related to the view which is alternatively ‘alt-right’ or ‘Zionist’ which seeks to claim that in any conflict, Muslims, no matter who they are, are to blame. In the context of Myanmar, it is overly simplistic and if taken seriously, could only add fuel to a long burning fire.
In reality, the Rohingya conflict is part of a Civil War which began in 1948 as a legacy of the colonial map of what was then called Burma. This deeply flawed map was drawn by the British imperialists. Many Asian conflicts including the Jammu and Kashmir conflict, Sino-Indian border disputes, Afghan-Pakistan border disputes and the border disputes between Indonesia and Malaysia, can all trace their origin back to primarily British drawn colonial maps.
The conflicts in Myanmar are no different. It is also the case that in respect of the Rohingya conflict, there are armed factions on all sides and there are innocent civilians who have been dying for years over the course of the on and off conflicts, on all sides.
Geopolitical expert Andrew Korbyko has introduced the nature of the conflict in the following way,
The immediate post-independence period in Myanmar, called Burma until 1989, saw the many ethno-religious minorities of the country’s resource-rich periphery rebel against the central authorities in favor of federalization or, as the Rohingyas wanted, unification with the neighboring state that they more closely identified with (East Pakistan, but Bangladesh since 1971), thereby setting off the world’s longest-running and still-unresolved civil war.
Pertaining to Rakhine State, this conflict has ebbed and flowed throughout the decades, most recently climaxing in 2012, 2015 and just recently this summer, with the latest three escalations seeing reprisal violence by some of the hyper-nationalist Buddhist majority against the minority Muslim population. In response, the more impoverished Rohingya, who don’t have citizenship rights because most of them don’t qualify for such under the country’s pertinent laws, had little to leave behind in Rakhine State and would flee en mass to Bangladesh for safety.
It’s worthwhile here to point out that the Myanmarese military, known as the Tatmadaw, claims that its operations in their locales are triggered by the deadly attacks that Rohingya rebels — seen as terrorists by Naypyidaw and accused of having links to al-Qaeda and other such notorious groups — carried out against them and Buddhist villagers. The fog of war is such that civilians are obviously getting killed as a result, but it’s unclear whether this constitutes genocide, or who’s actually behind it all.