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Al Jazeera English | Mar 22
A dispute over an ordinary transaction has exploded into days of rioting between Muslim and Buddhists in the central Burma city of Meiktila that ha...
Hi, welcome to LinkAsia. I'm Kara Tsuboi. Yul Kwon is on vacation. The western-most state of Myanmar, or Burma as it's also known, is under martial law. Days of ethnic and religious violence in Rakhine state have killed dozens of people and driven hundreds out of their villages. The violence pitted ethnic Burmese against migrants from Bangladesh and India. Added to the mix is that the Burmese are Buddhist and the migrants are Muslim.
The skyline near the state capital, Sittwe, was ablaze earlier this week. Mobs from both communities ransacked and burned homes. The violence was sparked by the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in late May, allegedly by three Muslim men. In retaliation, a Buddhist mob attacked a bus and killed ten Muslims.
Since then, gangs from both communities have attacked each other. Some reports say twenty-one have died, others claim there are more than a hundred. The government has reinforced the police and called in the army. Hundreds of Muslims have tried to escape to neighboring Bangladesh, but the coast guard there won't let them in.
To help us understand the root causes of the violence and whether it threatens the Burmese reform process, we have Professor Tun Myint from Carleton College in Minnesota. Professor Myint is a Burmese exile and teaches political science. Thank you so much for joining us, Professor. Why don't you start by telling us something about the tensions that already exist between the Buddhist and the Muslim communities in Rakhine?
At the communal relation level, yes, it has been a long history of, so to speak, struggle between different ethnic groups and also the religious groups inside Burma, especially the Burmese Muslim groups and the majority Burmese Buddhist people. So this is not really a new conflict. It is a conflict that is rooted in the history of Burma with the colonization by the British emperor and also since the independence. The communities, once they gain the freedom from British colonial power, they had to sort out differences among themselves. But the sorting of these differences were halted by the emergence of authoritarian regime in Burma. So the authoritarian regime basically somewhat controlled these potential conflicts under their authoritarian rules. Now with the transition to democracy with the opening of news media and the opening of freedom of expression to some extent, these conflicts begin to surface in Burmese politics.
Some analysts are saying the military-backed government is inciting the violence. What's your take? Do you think so?
Within the military-controlled civilian government now, there are their own former generals and their relatives and elites who used to work with the military regime in the past and had accumulated certain wealth. Although at the same time, some of the Burmese Muslims, who were also in the Rakhine state, has accumulated some of the wealth as well. So I think local politics here is creating some of the friction between the business leaders who were part of the military regime to some extent in the past and business leaders who are part of the Burmese Muslim community in Rakhine state. So they may be creating some of the political conflicts to eliminate one another.
From what we've seen, Burmese media, including social media, seems to be stoking the violence by taking sides against the Muslims and even using the equivalent of the "N" word to describe the Muslims. Have you seen this, and would you agree?
I am not surprised if some of those individuals who have money, wealth, and also access to the internet and also access to some of the people who can write things in the media and internet might be supported by these people to really create these kind of conflicts. So I think the freedom of the media, the internet social media is being tested. How a country like Burma or Myanmar, which is transitioning to democracy, might utilize internet social media and how that utilization might hinder the progress to transition toward democracy or how might the social media internet induce democratization in Burma. These are all possible questions to be pondered upon in Burma now.
Great, thank you so much. Tun Myint is a Burmese exile and a professor of political science at Carleton College. You can learn more about him on our website.