Home News Theoretical Explanations of the Prevailing Instability of Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Theoretical Explanations of the Prevailing Instability of Myanmar’s Rakhine State


Armed conflicts, whether or not nice or small, don’t seem to stop inside Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The Rakhine battle is multifaceted, with monetary, socio-political, spiritual, and nationalistic causes, none of that are mutually unique. Amid a number of armed skirmishes of excessive depth, among the current conspicuous disputes have been the displacement of the Rohingya inhabitants and the fast emergence of a Buddhist armed group named the Arakan Military (AA). There may be much less scholarly work exploring the substance behind these speedy phenomena; counting on present explanations that don’t deal with the potential historic root causes or complexity of the battle delays efficient political responses. What’s required on this regard is a complete theoretical method that makes use of a holistic framework to look at previous and current conflicts in Rakhine State.

Understanding the present standing of the Rohingya subject should entail a theoretical elucidation of 1) how political scapegoating could give delivery to a militaristic type of nationalism that advocates violence towards the ‘othered’ inhabitants and a pair of) how these collection of occasions would possibly result in the enactment of a citizenship legislation which offers authorized justification for such discrimination. Moreover, it is very important perceive the intention behind the AA’s use of non secular and nationalistic appeals in its increasing technique. Thus, this text goals to supply a theoretical grounding for inspecting the historic developments to contextualize the prevailing instability of Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Historic Background

Numerous armed clashes in Rakhine State have acquired in depth consideration from the worldwide group. The Rohingya displacement is undoubtedly probably the most well-known downside because it was extensively televised and reported throughout the globe. Indubitably, the trendy historical past of Rakhine State left the Rohingya Muslims with a deep skepticism of the Myanmar authorities. It ought to be famous that the current compelled migration of Rohingya Muslims to neighboring nations shouldn’t be a brand new phenomenon because the Rohingya conflicts date again to the Burman kings’ conquest of the Kingdom of Arakan (the modern-day Rakhine State) within the 1700s. The Rohingya subject has just lately gained world consideration after the Gambia filed a lawsuit towards Myanmar in November 2019, accusing it of the genocide of the Rohingya refugees. The case is at the moment being heard by the Worldwide Court docket of Justice (ICJ). For the reason that navy coup d’état staged in Myanmar on 1 February 2021, there have been voices calling for the popularity of the Rohingya Muslims’ rights (see here and here). It’s certainly important to proceed observing the event of those actions.

One other determinant that shakes the political panorama of Rakhine State is the fast emergence of the Arakan Military (AA). Based in 2009, the AA is a comparatively new Buddhist armed group working actively in Myanmar’s northwest areas, together with Rakhine and Chin States. The AA has been within the highlight for the reason that starting of 2019, when it mounted a number of assaults on the Tatmadaw and Myanmar police forces. The AA’s aim is to revive the previous glory of the Kingdom of Arakan, an historical kingdom within the Arakan area conquered by the Burman kings. Nonetheless, below the banner of non secular nationalism, the Buddhist armed group’s true motive is to hunt higher autonomy inside the area. In actual fact, it’s extensively recognized that the AA’s ambition is to achieve the extent of autonomy that the Myanmar authorities have granted to the United Wa State Military (UWSA), the biggest ethnic armed group in Myanmar. The UWSA enjoys the standing of the Self-Administered Division, as stipulated in Myanmar’s Structure. Within the interview with Frontier Myanmar, Twan Mrat Naing, the AA’s Commander-in-Chief, brazenly proclaimed that his group has ‘an expectation for no less than the UWSA.’ The Tatmadaw’s spokesperson likened the AA’s aim to ‘the thoughts of a child daydreaming.’

The Relevance of Durkheim: Scapegoating and the Sacred-Profane Dichotomy

Maintaining in thoughts that these advanced historic incidents have resulted within the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya, Émile Durkheim’s thought of scapegoating could also be one of the related contributions to constructing a sound theoretical framework for decoding the development of the ‘othered’ id of Rohingyas. In The Elementary Types of the Spiritual Life (1995), Durkheim aptly describes the essence of the scapegoat as an outsider who’s much less capable of evoke sympathy and solidarity. Put in a different way, when society encounters struggling, it seeks the main target of public censure, a goal of criticism that may be accountable for its misfortunes. Apparently, Durkheim’s thought of scapegoating resembles Myanmar’s fashionable historical past by which the Rohingya Muslims have been thought to be ‘others’ and stored from buying Myanmar citizenship. The Rohingyas have been a handy goal, and advocating for the denial of their elementary rights has change into frequent among the many political elites and most people. Quite a few hate speeches directed towards the Rohingya Muslims on social media have been one attestation of this discriminatory phenomenon. The primary argument of such hate speeches sometimes boils right down to attacking variations which might be readily obvious to outdoors observers, together with faith and ethnicity.

Between these two notable id markers, many speculate that faith holds extra significance since almost all Rohingyas are Muslims residing in a predominantly Buddhist nation. For Durkheim as nicely, faith constitutes a vital facet of the human situation. You will need to be aware that Durkheim regards faith as a social establishment; in essence, the result of human exercise. Durkheim defines faith as ‘a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred issues, that’s to say, issues set aside and forbidden beliefs and practices which unite into one single ethical group known as a Church, all those that adhere to them’ (1995: xxxiv). In keeping with this definition, faith consists of two parts: 1) the beliefs and practices relative to sacred issues, and a pair of) an ethical group. The important key phrases are ‘sacred’ and ‘group,’ for the reason that former represents a dichotomy that gives a theoretical foundation for scapegoating, and the latter helps outline faith as a social assemble. In Seven Theories of Faith, Daniel Friends (1996) commented that, in Durkheim’s concept, the sacred refers back to the pursuits of the group, and specifically, unity. The query then arises as to what constitutes the profane. It may be inferred that profanity, the other of the sacred, would naturally be deemed as violating social codes and disturbing social concord. This dichotomous method to sacredness­ and profanity is price noting because it carefully resembles the historic circumstances surrounding the institution of the scapegoated id of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Borrowing the phrases of French thinker René Girard, ‘the persecutors at all times persuade themselves {that a} small variety of folks, or perhaps a single particular person, regardless of his relative weak spot, is extraordinarily dangerous to the entire of society’ (1986: 15). Within the case of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, it’s justified to state that each the Myanmar authorities and the general public seen the Rohingya Muslims as dangerous scapegoats towards whom they might domesticate a way of unity. That’s, the Myanmar group satisfied itself that the Rohingyas deserve discrimination since recognizing their rights is prone to result in the disintegration of social concord.

Via such marginalizing discourses, Myanmar society fashioned a ‘ethical group,’ which Durkheim mentions in his definition of faith. As morality entails a normal of proper and improper, it as soon as once more brings the dichotomy strengthened within the sacred–profane framework again to the middle of debate. Myanmar’s historical and fashionable historical past testifies to the notion that the persecution of the Rohingya was justified, as this apply was traditionally thought of regular and correct. Via these socially accepted acts of exclusion, a way of solidarity turns into strengthened among the many group members. This course of will be greatest defined by Durkheim’s useful mannequin of formality punishment. In keeping with Durkheim, ritual punishment causes social integration, which ends up in the formation of solidarity. Within the context of the Rakhine State, the thought of formality punishment will be in comparison with the Myanmar authorities’ historic persecution of the Rohingya inhabitants. Then again, nonetheless, ‘solidarity is susceptible to disruption by the third variable within the schema, exterior threats’ (Inverarity, Lauderdale, and Feld, 1983: 131). Right here, the notion of Rohingya as outsiders can result in them being thought to be an exterior menace. As Inverarity et al. cogently level out, these exterior threats disrupt solidarity and should thereby lead the group to facilitate ‘the connection between repressive justice—of which scapegoating is one particular kind—and social solidarity’ (1983: 156). In different phrases, faith and its rituals, together with scapegoating, are part of the socially realized doctrines and discourses that successfully perform as a way of strengthening social bonds when confronted with existential threats. This level confirms Durkheim’s argument that faith is a social course of and that the continued id disaster of the Rohingya Muslims residing in a Buddhist nation will be interpreted inside such a theoretical context.

The Relevance of Weber: Ethnicity and Citizenship

Citizenship is essential for the event of an id. Granting citizenship ensures a person’s authorized standing and political rights and impacts the formation of 1’s id. Therefore, the Rohingya Muslims’ lack of ability to accumulate Myanmar citizenship is a major issue contributing to their gradual marginalization from each social, financial, and political aspect of Myanmar society. As acknowledged beforehand, the Rohingya’s social exclusion has existed for lots of of years; nonetheless, it’s the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Regulation that completely stripped the Rohingya Muslims of the chance to change into residents of Myanmar. Underneath this legislation, one’s full citizenship can solely be acknowledged if the particular person belongs to one of many 135 distinct ethnic teams acknowledged by the Myanmar authorities. Regardless of residing in Myanmar for generations, the Rohingya aren’t included within the checklist of nationwide races. The 1982 Citizenship Regulation is based on ethnicity and is thus severely discriminatory. Worldwide NGOs, together with Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly advised the Myanmar government to amend the 1982 Citizenship Law as per the suggestions of the UN Particular Rapporteur on the state of affairs of human rights in Myanmar, however to no avail. For the reason that 1982 Citizenship Regulation locations an excellent emphasis on ethnicity, it’s essential to look at the definition of ethnicity, and Weber has one thing to supply on the topic.

Weber defines ethnicity as “the assumption of social actors in frequent descent primarily based on racial and cultural variations, amongst different elements” (Jackson, 1982: 5). In different phrases, it’s not the very fact of, however the perception in a typical descent that’s the core thought in Weber’s definition of ethnicity (2013). In any case, tracing the frequent ancestor of varied ethnic teams is an not possible job. That is considerably extra so within the context of Myanmar, a rustic with lots of of distinct ethnic teams. Concerning the event of the 1982 Regulation, one would possibly adhere to the favored false impression that the Rohingya subject is a spiritual battle (i.e., Buddhism versus Islam). Nonetheless, this interpretation of the enactment of the 1982 Regulation is simply partially appropriate for the reason that Rohingya subject is extra political than spiritual. The existence of different Rakhine ethnic teams, such because the Kaman, attests to the political, slightly than spiritual, nature of the Rohingya battle. The Kaman are an ethnic group primarily residing in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Many of the Kaman are Muslims. Therefore, they share the identical id markers—each when it comes to their historic residence and faith—because the Rohingya. Nonetheless, the Kaman are broadly acknowledged as Myanmar residents as a result of the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Regulation classifies them as one of many seven ethnic teams of the Rakhine State and one of many 135 official nationwide races (Thant Myint-U, 2007).

Contemplating how the 1982 Regulation successfully perpetuated the denial of the Rohingya’s citizenship, it’s price discussing the ability of legal guidelines as a causal power slightly than merely descriptive data. Not like Durkheim, who noticed the aim of analysis to be discovering legal guidelines, Weber seen legal guidelines as a way for analysis, notably for locating causal explanations. To place it merely, Durkheim interpreted legal guidelines as an ends, whereas Weber thought of legal guidelines as means (Jensen, 2012: 76). Within the Rakhine context, Durkheim would possibly view the enactment of the 1982 Citizenship Regulation on account of the dynamics of social capital, together with faith and group growth. Quite the opposite, Weber is prone to argue that the 1982 Citizenship Regulation is certainly the flip the place the metaphysical hatred towards the Rohingyas started manifest bodily, concretizing the ever present animosity within the type of a written legislation. For Weber, the systematization of the legislation is a vital precondition for materials adjustments. For instance, in Financial and Society: An Define of Interpretative Sociology, Weber argues that ‘the functioning of the authorized course of…constituted one of the necessary circumstances for the existence of capitalist enterprise, which can not do with out authorized safety’ (1978: 853). Likewise, it may be inferred that the functioning of the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Regulation officialized the prevalent discrimination towards the Rohingya Muslims.

Understanding the Rise of the Arakan Military by the Theories of Gramsci

The fast emergence of the Arakan Military lies in its efficient use of non secular and nationalistic discourse inside the Rakhine State’s specific historic context. The AA’s Commander-in-Chief just lately reiterated the armed group’s aim of reviving the previous glory of the Kingdom of Arakan, a Buddhist kingdom conquered by the Konbaung Dynasty within the 1700s. The AA commander’s reference to rebuilding an historical Buddhist kingdom stems from the widespread sentiment among the many Rakhinese that the Burman ethnic majority has marginalized them traditionally. With this context in thoughts, the AA is efficiently establishing a way of solidarity, which reaffirms a shared value of ethnic separatism: the id of victimhood developed all through the historic conflicts between the kingdoms of Burma and Arakan. Certainly, it’s essential to grasp the rise of the AA by the lens of their historic political discourse, which is confirmed to be efficient because the AA has quickly elevated in measurement, claiming that they at the moment have 7,000 energetic troopers at their disposal.

The AA has acquired the picture of being a noble trigger, permitting them to hawk their affect inside the area. How did the AA come to accumulate substantial common help within the Rakhine State? This query will be greatest answered by contemplating Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. Gramsci defines hegemony as being greater than merely dominance by coercion. Typically, the Gramscian hegemony is known as the flexibility of the ruling teams to impose their interpretation of actuality because the pure state of affairs upon the dominated. Thus, in accordance with Gramsci, dominant teams keep their place by a mixture of coercive power and consent from subordinate teams. Apparently, the AA’s governance mechanism completely aligns with Gramsci’s definition of hegemony: the Buddhist armed group possesses ample navy energy to interact in head-on battles with the Myanmar navy and enjoys widespread help and consent among the many Rakhinese.

At this level, it is very important study how the AA has gained hegemony in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. For Gramsci, hegemony will be strengthened by way of the practices of establishments and intellectuals who promulgate for the pursuits of the ruling energy. In keeping with Oliverio, ‘establishments equivalent to training, media, and authorities organizations are concerned in a strategy of producing data that seems easy and devoid of any intrinsic political issues or philosophical critiques’ (1998: 6). Moreover, Gramsci himself notes in Jail Notebooks that “the intellectuals are the dominant group’s ‘deputies’ exercising the subaltern features of social hegemony and political authorities” (2018: 97). Within the Rakhine context, Buddhism and the monks play the function of these establishments and intellectuals. ‘I was a monk. Most of us used to be…When I heard about this army, I really wanted to join. You know, in Rakhine State, we need to defend Buddhism.’ Brenner, an knowledgeable within the political financial system of armed ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, launched this remark made by a former Rakhinese monk. This remark is a testomony to the Rakhine Buddhist monks’ help of the AA.

In actual fact, the monks have at all times been an energetic power selling Rakhinese political aspirations. In keeping with the Transnational Institute’s recent field report on Myanmar’s Rakhine State, following British Burma’s separation from India in 1937, ‘Buddhist monks inspired the completely different Rakhine associations to hitch collectively because the Arakan Nationwide Congress…Such united fronts have since change into a characteristic of Rakhine politics…It was from this latter formation that the armed nationalist motion later grew.’ Thus, the AA is efficiently capturing historic Rakhinese grievances and, in Gramscian terminology, implements two methods for social change: the warfare of maneuver, which entails a method of a direct and violent confrontation, and “the warfare of place as a sluggish, protracted battle that entails a various means, together with ‘non-violent’ features of civil society” (Lauderdale, 1998: 148). The Rakhine monks are notably important in finishing up the latter warfare as natural intellectuals.

For Gramsci, the function of natural intellectuals is much like that of latest scholar-activists. Rakhine monks’ demonstration in Might of 2019 is a wonderful instance of this. On 19 Might 2019, a group of Rakhinese monks took to the streets and known as for an finish to the preventing between the Myanmar navy and the AA. Their march was a response to the inaction of the Myanmar authorities to the letter despatched by senior monks on 9 Might of the identical yr. An fascinating reality about this demonstration is that the monks despatched their letter to the President, the State Counsellor, and the Senior Basic; nonetheless, no letter was despatched to the Arakan Military, the opposite axis of the present Rakhine battle. This very motion implies that the monks of the Rakhine State consider that the Myanmar authorities are extra accountable than the AA for the present state of affairs in Rakhine State. Thus, with their revered social place, the Rakhinese monks carry out the function of natural intellectuals, which Gramsci defines as intellectuals who ‘can now not consist in eloquence…however in energetic participation in sensible life, as constructor, organizer, ‘everlasting persuader’ and never only a easy orator’ (2018: 95). Via their teachings and actions, the Rakhinese monks, because the Gramscian natural intellectuals who communicate for the ruling powers of the Rakhine State within the time of every respective historic interval, have been on the forefront of Rakhinese nationalism and can proceed to wield their affect sooner or later.


This text has sought to discover the distinctive circumstances of the multifaceted Rakhine battle from the theoretical views of Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Antonio Gramsci. These three thinkers’ theories are relevant to discussing Rakhine State’s historical past, society, politics, and tradition in an integrative method, which reveal the next: the connection between people and establishments, the political id formation that establishes nationwide id, and the governance mechanism that seeks to align the pursuits of the ruling group by the dissemination of socially constructed realities to the on a regular basis lifetime of the folks of Rakhine. Because the Rakhine battle hinges on the assimilation of ethno-religious nationalism and id politics, it requires additional examine with higher consideration paid to the longer term course of Myanmar within the aftermath of the Myanmar navy’s takeover of the federal government in 2021, and the developments that can observe the ICJ’s closing ruling on the Rohingya genocide.


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Girard, R. (1986). The Scapegoat (First American ed.). The Johns Hopkins College Press.

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Jackson, M. (1982). An Evaluation of Max Weber’s Concept of Ethnicity. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 4–18. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/secure/23261855?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

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