Myanmar (also known as Burma) recognizes 135 ethnic minorities and treats many of them badly. But the 1.3 million Rohingyas are treated worst of all: they are denied official minority status and the citizenship rights that go with it. In the last few years, violent mobs have forced them into camps where they cannot work, go to school, vote, access health care, or get passports. Many have fled, becoming stateless refugees; some work in virtual slavery on fishing boats elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Ibrahim effectively discredits the historical canard that serves as the pretext for this abuse: that the Rohingyas, as Muslims of South Asian stock, are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who don’t belong in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. He shows that their ancestors were already living in what is now Rakhine State long before the British conquest of the region in 1826. The real problem is the effort of successive governments to generate support by finding an internal enemy to demonize. During the recent democratic transition, the political party associated with the military courted a violent brand of Buddhist fundamentalism, while the pro-democracy camp, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, shied away from the issue as a political third rail. This analytic but passionate book makes a strong case that Myanmar stands “on the brink of genocide.”
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