Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim “Other”

In This Review

Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim “Other”
By Francis Wade
Zed Books, 2017
304 pp.

Wade’s probing reportage exposes the historical and cultural roots of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar (also known as Burma), in which an army crackdown has forced hundreds of thousands of members of the Muslim ethnic minority to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. He shows that the tragedy is only the latest phase of Myanmar’s long historical effort to cope with ethnic and religious diversity by defining Burmese identity as ethnically Bamar and religiously Buddhist while denying full citizenship to minorities. The Rohingya and the neighboring ethnic Rakhine group—also a minority, but Buddhist—have exchanged acts of violence for decades, leading to the isolation of the Rohingya population in virtual concentration camps. A partial transition to democracy that began in 2012 intensified anxieties about the power balance among ethnic groups and unleashed a Buddhist fundamentalist movement that sees Islam as a threat to the very survival of the Bamar and a danger to Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia. This is a deeply insightful work on the dynamics of ethnic violence.

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