Excerpt from Persuasion, Coercion, and Neglect: Understanding State Policy and the Mobilization of Muslim Minorities in Asia (82-85) [x]:
Of all cases studied, Burma’s Rohingya have faced the harshest levels of coercion and uniculturalism. The Rohingya primarily live in northern Rakhine State (see Arakan State, 1988) in northwest Burma, which shares a border with Bangladesh. Population estimates for Burma’s Muslim communities range from 2-8 million or 3-13 percent of the country’s population. About one-half of these identify as Rohingya, an ethnic name adopted me local Muslims in the 1950s and derived from an ancient local word for “Arakan”. According to M. Ali Kettani, Rohingya constituted a 56 percent majority in Arakan in 1982. Their ancesters are believed to be a mixture of Bangladeshi, Arab and Central Asian traders who first came to the region in the 9th century. Arakan Muslims were promised an autonomous state by the British during WWII, only to lose opportunity when the war ended. As Burma’s economy deteriorated over the past decades to become one of the poorest in the world, exclusionary policies such as the 1959 Frontier Areas Administration Law forced non-Buddhists out of government positions, and their properties were seizes, Rohingya have progressively relied on sustenance farming and day-labor jobs to survive.
Under successive Burman-Buddhist governments, the Rohingya have been denied official recognition at all times since the independence in 1948, except for a brief period from 1960-62. The government classifies them as noncitizens, justifying their expulsion from government and military positions as well as the country. Burman nationalism, formented during the 1930s, grew strong during WWII and Japan’s occupation from 1942-45. Burmese nationalism has been fervent since and based upon a constructed notion of “pure” Burmese race that speaks Burmese and adheres to Theravada Buddhism. Most of Burma’s policies have been coercive and unicultural, especially with respect to ethnic minorities, although brief periods of political opening have occurred as when political parties were temporarily allowed to form and elections held in 1989. The Burmese government has employed counterinsurgency-type compaigns against the Rohingya, when community leaders repeatedly sought government protection from rogue rebels, Rakanese-Buddhist militias and army officials during the 1940s and 1950s. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Rohingya have endured forced labor at unprecedented rates.
Facing high levels of assimilative, exclusionary and neglectful government policies, the Rohingya progressively relied on nonviolent resistance and opting-out strategies. These included joining multiethnic pro-democracy networks, appealing to international organizations for support, and fleeing in mass exoduses of 250,000 to 400,000 refugees in 1978-9, 1991-92 and 1996. They cooperatively engaged with the Burmese government when allowed, although such opportunities became increasingly rare over time. Rohingya insurgent groups have been weak, small, and ineffective, and unexpected finding given extreme grievances coupled with limited oppurtunities for engagement or nonviolent protest, the existence of other well-organized ethnic insurgencies within Burma, ethno-religions brethern located across the border with Bangladesh, and organizational opportunities in refugee camps and diaspora communities.