Sunday, 16 July 2017

Burmese Troops Gun 3 Rohingys Down, Torch a House in Northern Buthidaung

Source Rohingyavision, 11 JUly

Burmese Troops Gun 3 Rohingys Down, Torch a House in Northern Buthidaung

By RVision TV Correspondent

11th July, 2017

Buthidaung – Burmese troops surprisingly and abruptly attacked a house of Rohingya and fired the house-owner to death along with his two neighbors on July 9, 2017 in the upper site of Taung Bazar, northern Buthidaung Township under Arakan state of Burma, our correspondent reported.

Some military stationed at the hamlet of Khammwei– Buddhists who live in hillside- in Tin May village, of the upper site ofTaung Bazar on 8, July. The next day afternoon, some of them suddenly entered into the Rohingya village and started firing at the house of the son of Muhammad Yunus after besieging it.

As the bullets hit the owner, he died soon at the sport. And their bad blood didn't stop there until they burnt down the house too. Moreover, two neighboring Rohingya men died as the bullets that came out from the military's guns hit them.

Due to the military's cruel firing, the villagers did not come out of the houses. The military took away the corpses wrapping them with the pieces of black tarpaulin but none could identify the dead bodies.

On the returning way, the found a 70-year-old psychopath who was beaten inhumanely and detained later. When the old man was groaning due to torture, his grand-daughter came out to the road. But the military noticed the gold necklace in her neck which was snatched by them.

Being desperate, a local said, "The Burmese troops deployed for regional security have become killers and robbers. Some of them started robbing the Rohingyas wearing burka at night."

It has been reportedly known that military wear burka and enter into the houses of Rohingyas in the guise of female guests at night. When the male members of the families come to know that they are military, they run away to avoid the arbitrary arrests and then, the military start looting by molesting the females.

Edited by: Md. Shuaib

Mob in western Myanmar kills Rohingya despite police guards

Source washintonpost, 4 July

YANGON, Myanmar — A mob in Myanmar's western Rakhine State killed a member of the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority and injured six others who were on a police-guarded trip Tuesday from the displacement camp where they live to the city that many Rohingya were forced to flee five years ago.

The seven were given a ride by police to the dock area of Sittwe, the Rakhine capital, to purchase some boats. The Rohingya are normally confined to the camp, and police provide rides in a closed truck to both restrict and protect them.

A police officer and one of the men said the group was attacked by about 100 members of the Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group, whose violent assaults in 2012 drove most Rohingya residents from their Sittwe homes.

Communal tensions have not eased much since the 2012 violence, which killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — to camps for the internally displaced, where most remain. The Rohingya face severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh stealing Myanmar land, although many have been settled in the country for generations.

Violence in recent years has been more widespread in northern Rakhine, where there is a bigger Rohingya population but spread across unguarded villages. Last October, the army launched counterinsurgency operations there after the killing of nine border guards. U.N. human rights investigators and independent rights organizations charge that soldiers and police killed and raped civilians and burned down more than 1,000 homes during the operations.

The camps near Sittwe are generally safer from attack but with unhealthy conditions and little chance to make a living. The Dar Paing camp from which Tuesday's victims came houses about 8,000 people. A small group of Rohingya remain in Sittwe in a closed-off ghetto.

"As one of the Kalars got off from the truck and was talking to another guy, some of the Rakhine Buddhists started shouting 'the Kalars are entering the city' and attracted the mob," police officer Phyo Wai Kyaw told The Associated Press. "Kalar" is a widely used derogatory term referring to Rohingya.

"The Rakhine started beating the Muslims up. One of the Kalars died on the spot and six were taken right away to the hospital. The two police guarding the Muslim guys couldn't do anything as it was a big mob. The mob even followed the injured guys to the Sittwe hospital. The hospital gate needed to be shut because of the big mob."

Abdu Alam, 65, one of the injured men, was hit in the head by a brick. His account of the attack was similar to the police officer's.

He said that when one of the seven people in the police truck got out to talk with the boat seller, some Rakhine men saw him and started shouting, drawing others to attack them.

"They started stoning us. Some guys grabbed wooded sticks to beat us. Things happened so fast that we were stuck in the vehicle and the mob started attacking us," said Abdu Alam, who was able to return to his camp later from the hospital.

"The policemen tried to stop them but there were too many of them and it was impossible to stop them. Finally we all got injured and taken to the hospital by the police."

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Turkey educates 4,000 Rohingya children in Pakistan

Source AA, 7 June

Turkey's Diyanet Foundation is providing schooling to 4,000 Rohingya children in Pakistan's commercial capital Karachi, the project's coordinator has said.

Ahmet Kandemir told Anadolu Agency the scheme, which started in 2015 with 25 courses, now includes 100 courses.

Students enrolled in the program are taught Urdu, English, mathematics, religion, culture and the Quran. Books and logistic support for the schools are all provided by the foundation.

The project targets the coastal Korangi and Malir districts of the city, where the Rohingya population ekes out a living as cheap labor in the fishing industry.

A law passed in Myanmar in 1982 denied Rohingya -- many of whom have lived in Myanmar for generations -- citizenship, making them stateless, removing their freedom of movement, access to education and services, and allowing arbitrary confiscation of their property.

They have been fleeing Myanmar in droves since mid-2012, when communal violence broke out in Rakhine state between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

For years, members of the minority have been fleeing to nearby countries, including Pakistan.

"The Rohingya have settled on the eastern shores of Pakistan, escaping political pressure from their countries," Kandemir said. "These people have no right to citizenship in Pakistan so they are deprived of any kind of service provided by the government.

"With the support and donations we get from Turkish people we are looking forward to give these children hope for their future."

Zafer Iqbal, managing director of Diyanet's Pakistan partner The NGO World, said the schools are monitored by the education directorate.

"The families in these areas have never had the opportunity to send their children to schools," he said. "Now they have a goal, a hope."

Reporting by Mahmut Serdar Alakus;Writing by Meryem Goktas

Monday, 5 June 2017

Up to 150 children under five die each day in Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar

Source theguardian, 23 May

Government reforms do not reach children worst affected by conflict and poverty, says Unicef report, calling for an end to blocks on aid deliveries

As many as 150 children die every day in Myanmar before they reach their fifth birthday, the UN children's agency said on Tuesday, in a report calling for the government to end blocks on humanitarian access to conflict areas.

Despite reform and reconciliation efforts undertaken by the one-year-old government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, children affected by widespread fighting and poverty are not reaping the benefits, Unicef added.

There are disparities across the country, especially for families stuck in war zones and unable to reach health centres, said Bainvel, adding that untreated diseases among newborns, such as pneumonia, are among the big killers.

The child mortality rate is estimated at about 50 per 1,000 live births in Myanmar, Bainvel said. In the UK, the rate is four per 1,000.

The report calls for improved humanitarian access to the estimated 2.2 million children affected by violence, and an end to child rights violations, including the use of children as soldiers.

Myanmar has been lauded worldwide for political reforms spearheaded by a military-aligned government in 2010, which eventually led to the huge election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2015, ending decades of oppressive army rule.

In spite of this progress, life for many children in Myanmar remains a struggle, Unicef said. Nearly 30% of children under five suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition and more than half of all children live below the poverty line.

The report acknowledged that an "unprecedented period of change and opportunity" was under way in the country. But, it said, "the optimism of 2015 and early 2016 has been tempered by slower than expected progress on economic and policy reforms. Even more worrisome is the escalation of several key conflicts in the country's more remote border areas."

Although barred from the presidency by a military-drafted constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi is the de facto head of state, working as state counsellor and running several ministries.

Children at the Baudupha camp for displaced people in Rakhine state
Children at a camp for displaced people in Rakhine state. Photograph: Brown/Unicef

The former prisoner of conscience promised to first focus on national reconciliation, yet the country – one of south-east Asia's poorest – remains entangled in brutal conflicts along its borders, with the army blocking aid deliveries.

Remote Kachin, Shan and Kayin states continue to experience recurrent clashes between the Myanmar military and ethnic minorities. Civilians find themselves at risk from poverty, statelessness and trafficking, while having only limited access to essential health and education services, Unicef said.

In western Rakhine state, 120,000 internally displaced people live in camps as a result of inter-communal conflict that erupted in 2012. Violence against Rohingya Muslims, for whom the government does not provide full citizenship rights, has surged since October following attacks on border guard posts.

Unicef's representative said aid access to Rakhine had improved slightly but remained very problematic.

"But when it comes to Kachin and northern Shan, access has been denied to us for almost a year, in spite of our requests … it is denied by the government," Bainvel added.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1991, has been criticised by more than a dozen fellow laureates, who wrote an open letter to the UN security council in December warning of a tragedy "amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity" in Rakhine state.

Unicef said the laying of landmines by all parties to the conflicts must end, and mine clearance work should start wherever possible. One out of every three victims of landmines is a child, the report said.

Facebook Bans Racist Word ‘Kalar’ in Myanmar, Triggers Collateral Censorship

Source globalvoice, 2 June
Burmese word "Kalar pae" means chick pea or split pea. Photo by Sanjay Acharya, Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

According to Myanmar Facebook users, their posts are being taken down by the popular social media company for containing the word 'kalar'.

Although the etymology of the word is still debated, it is traditionally used to refer to people of east Indian origin or as an adjective meaning "Indian" in general. Facebook is censoring the word "kalar" or ကုလား (in Burmese script) as part of its initiative to tackle the problem of widespread hate speech on the Burmese language social network.

In recent years, the rise of radical nationalist movements has given the word an extremely derogatory connotation. In particular, it is a word most used by ultra-nationalist as a hate speech against Muslims who constitute a minority population in Myanmar.

But in this effort to combat hate speech in Myanmar, the company has censored a good deal of viable content from its platform.

'Kalar' may be commonly associated with racism today, but the word on its own does not necessarily constitute hate speech. Context matters — many people have reported that posts in which they discussed the use of the term, or expressed concern about its usage, were censored as well.

Moreover, there are several Burmese words with completely different meanings that contain the same string of characters as 'kalar'. For instance, chair in Burmese is also written 'kalar htaing', which contains the same characters, as well as other words such as 'kalar pae' (split pea), 'kalar oat' (camel) or 'kalarkaar' (curtain).

Facebook user Aung Kaung Myat explained the different meanings of words that sound like 'kalar':

A post made by one of my friends was deleted today because there was the word, kalar, in it. However, he was wittily asking his friends if they know where he can cure his lower back pain by using a pun. The phrase, ku la — 'cure' (ku) + question word (la) in Burmese language — bears striking resemblance verbatim with the racist term but they are wholly different in context.

There have been various reactions to this initiative of Facebook. Zin Win Htet thinks that it will reduce hate speech posts of radical nationalists, but also stressed that Facebook needs to be more analytical before it removes any post suspected of promoting racism:

Facebook team is not manually deleting the word "Kalar". It automatically filters the word. That's why it won't understand any status you write. What it should do is that they should carefully analyse post and validate using the words beside it. For instance, "Kalar Htine" (chair) and "Kalar pae" (split peas). The good thing is that these dirty nationalists who are spreading hate-speech will have a pretty good lesson. Now it's time to curtail their nationalism.

While the move may send a strong signal to those spouting hate speech, the efficacy of this strategy might not last long. The experiences of social media platforms in China, such as Sina Weibo and WeChat, have proven that keyword censorship often becomes a game of cat-and-mouse, wherein social media users will simply begin using a new word or alternate spelling of the censored word in order to keep expressing their views.

Writer Aung Kaung Myat described how Facebook started to remove his posts when he simply notified his friends that the word 'kalar' is already banned on the social network:

…when I discovered this new policy of Facebook, I made a post telling my Facebook friends the word is banned. Ironically, my post was removed by Facebook and I was banned from liking, posting, and sharing content on Facebook for 24 hours because the post "doesn't follow the Facebook Community Standards".

Facebook has removed numerous posts by people who do not have any negative intentions or who were simply trying to show their opinions against the hate speech used by radical nationalists.

Patrick Murphy wrote that his post not related to hate speech was taken down:

Non-hate speech post removed by Facebook. In the post, the author was sharing his opinion on why extreme nationalism and religious fundamentalism in the country are bad.

Chan Myae Khine believes Facebook should have done more before launching this initiative like consulting the Burmese Internet community:

Facebook might have good intention to minimise racism in Burma through their platform but that's not how it works. Censoring such words will just bring more hatred among different communities. Plus, they seemed to initiate that without proper local context nor tech support hence banning words like "chair" and "pea curry". Even when they found out that they made mistakes, they don't attempt to rectify wrongly deleted posts. If only they could respect a bit more to 15 million user base that's generating a great revenue for them, it'd be great.

Facebook's automated censorship has made users to mock its approach. Instead of taking it seriously, users are now making fun of Facebook by deliberately writing the word 'kalar' in non-hate speech context to see if their posts would be taken down.

Here are some screenshots of Facebook posts that have been removed despite containing nothing resembling hate speech:

Used with permission.

The Burmese text says "I want to sit on a chair and eat split peas curry and watch an Indian movie. Just testing if Facebook will remove the post that contains kalar." Screenshot, used with permission.

The post reads "So if you are a doctor, do you cure people?" Screenshot, used with permission.

Over the past five years, Myanmar has seen the rise of extreme nationalist ideology and religious fundamentalistswho have been using social media to amplify their voices and influence. Hate speech is blamed, among others, for stirring communal violence in Myanmar, especially in the Rakhine state where clashes between Muslims and Buddhists displaced thousands of residents.

Facebook was criticitized for its failure to tackle the rampant hate speech occurring on its Burmese pages. But instead of simply deciding to censor the word 'kalar', it should have reviewed and learned from ongoing initiativesthat aim to combat online hate speech in Myanmar that focus on context, rather than code.

Monday, 22 May 2017

11 trafficked Rohingya Muslims arrested in Yangon

Source aa, 18 May

Myanmar authorities have arrested 11 Rohingya Muslims who were smuggled from the troubled western Rakhine state to the country's biggest city Yangon, an official said Thursday.

Win Naing, an officer at the Yangon Police Force, told Anadolu Agency that they were arrested by a police patrol at the Aung Mingalar Highway bus station in Yangon's North Okalapa Township.

"These Bengalis are waiting for traffickers who will smuggle them first to the Myanmar-Thai border, then to Malaysia over land," he said by phone on Thursday, referring to the stateless minority group with a term that suggests that they are interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya -- described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide -- have fled their homes in Rakhine since October, when Myanmar's military launched a crackdown that has attracted severe international criticism of its brutality.

Security forces have been accused of gang-rape, killings, beatings, disappearances and burning villages in the Maungdaw area of northern Rakhine since October.

Win Naing added that the men were smuggled by traffickers who were ethnic Rakhines from the Rakhine state to Yangon over land, and that they are searching for the traffickers in cooperation with the Rakhine Police Force.

The 11 middle-age Rohingya men will be charged for "illegal intrusion" under the Residents of Burma Registration Act (1949) and Myanmar's Penal Code, he said.

Last October, after being arrested in Yangon, 18 trafficked Rohingya men were sentenced to two years in prison on the same charges, while four underage Rohingya were ordered to spend two years at a training school for boys.

Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar in droves since mid-2012 after communal violence broke out in Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya.

The violence left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps, and more than 2,500 houses razed -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.

For years, members of the minority have been using Thailand as a transit point to enter Muslim Malaysia and beyond.

A law passed in Myanmar in 1982 denied Rohingya -- many of whom have lived in Myanmar for generations -- citizenship, making them stateless, removing their freedom of movement, access to education and services, and allowing for arbitrary confiscation of their property.​

Aung San Suu Kyi: Nobel Peace Prize Winner-Turned Genocide Apologist

Source Carbonated, 
She is celebrated worldwide for her years of suffering at the hands of despots. So why is Aung San Suu Kyi allowing a genocide now that she is in charge?
Burma's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a celebrated human rights icon, but she is also an apologist for genocide ethnic cleansing and mass rape of Rohingya Muslims.

Suu Kyi is the de facto head of government, in Myanmar, where members of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the northern Rakhine state have been shot, stabbed, starved, robbed, raped and driven from their homes in the hundreds of thousands.

Some 1 million of these people live in apartheid-like conditions where they are denied access to employment, education and health care. They are thus forced to leave their homes and move to neighboring countries just to survive.

Suu Kyi, however, has adopted a cowardly stance on the issue where she is not only remaining silent but also is complicit in the atrocities taking place. She has clearly chosen the side of Buddhist nationalism and crude Islamophobia.

She has also clearly proved she's an islamophobe when in a 2013 interview with BBC's Mishal Husain, Aung San Suu Kyi complained, "No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.

The Intercept has rightly described Suu Kyi in a piece that reads: "'Saints should always be judged guilty,' wrote George Orwell, in his famous 1949 essay on Mahatma Gandhi, 'until they are proved innocent.' There is no evidence of innocence when it comes to Aung San Suu Kyi and her treatment of the Rohingya — only complicity and collusion in unspeakable crimes. This supposed saint is now an open sinner. The former political prisoner and democracy activist has turned into a genocide-denying, rape-excusing, Muslim-bashing Buddhist nationalist. Forget the house arrest and the Nobel Prize. This is how history will remember The Lady of Myanmar."

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Myanmar Military uses Buddhist monks against Muslims in Myanmar: A Strategic Symbiosis

Source Maungzarni, 10 May

​In Burma, everyone who is remotely informed about the ways the military works ​knows th
​at the Burmese military is the ​Hidden Hand behind 
​anti-Muslim hate campaign across the country 

In Germany of 1920's and 1930's, the Nazi party was the main mobilizer, scapegoating the German Jews for the economic hardships and social ills in society. 

In Burma today, the army uses the Sangha or Buddhist Order - conservative, typically racist, ill-educated in terms of intellectual outlooks and growth of its members, and rural (parochial) - as its proxy mobilizer. 

The military - at the senior most level of leadership - has patronized a tiny gang of influential monks to do the army's bidding - racist divide and rule within the society that is generally anti-military.

Here two monks, namely Sitagu and Wirathu, are seen travelling with their security details. 
Sitagu, the more senior of the two, is based in Rangoon​. 

Wirathu became the "face of Buddhist Terror" when TIME ran a cover story with that title 

Beyond patronizing individuals monks, the military also bent the country's laws governing Buddhist organizations. The previous military government of the late general Ne Win (1962-88) singled out the Burmese monks - the Buddhist Order - as one of the two biggest threats to the military: student activists and monks -traditional allies. After a series of periodic unrests which were led by monks and students the Ne Win administration enacted a law, registering all Buddhist monks with the Department of Religious Affairs under Home Affairs Ministry and allowing only one central national monks' association. After the 2010 electioons which were "won" by the military's political proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party, the ruling party under ex-general and then President Thein Sein allowed the openly racist, anti-Muslim wing of the Buddhist Order to form "Race and Faith Defence League" where both Sitagu and Wirathu are most famous leaders. 

This is a strategic symbiosis which has served the Burmese military's objectives of social control extremely well. It has enabled the military to keep the NLD - with absolutely no capacity for intelligence gathering or control of security forces - on its toes in terms of the socially destablizing impact of such racist mobilization by monks - with state impunity. 

Here Ma Ba Tha leader - TIME's Coverstory Wirathu - seen with Myanmar Commander in Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (in off-white traditional Burmese jacket) in Mandalay, 2016. The hate preacher travels with the military's protection.

The first several pictures are Wirathu, very recent travels in Rakhine state including Rohingya towns. 

The last picture is the most influential monk Sitagu with Karen Border Guard Force (ultimately the under Myanmar army's command) in Karen State where the army intelligence attempted to incite anti-Muslim violence, in collaboration with the border guard force and Karen monks). (Taken in March 2017)

Police fire warning shots as extremists speed up their anti-Muslim operations in capital city
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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Film Academy Awards, Myanmar Idol, and the Peace Process in Myanmar

Source teacircleOxford, 26 April
by Sai Latt challenges conventional wisdom on Myanmar's political divides.

This article makes two interrelated arguments. First, most politicians, activists and opinion makers in Myanmar see the political divide between the ruler and the ruled — or between authoritarian ruler and democratic forces — as the main problem sustaining violence, conflict, and oppression. However, a second set of divides— inter-ethnic and intra-Buddhist divides— have significantly widened recently, and racism, sexism, and intolerance have become widespread. Second, the planned "political" dialogue pursued as part of the peace process has yet to attend to these "societal" divides, and rising racism and sexism. This lack of attention is ironic in that the very purpose of the peace process is to address a 70-year-old conflict that is rooted in identity-based oppression.

These arguments will be demonstrated by looking at four specific cases: The Myanmar Film Academy Awards, Myanmar Idol Season 2, the "Aung San Bridge" in Mon state, and the case of Myanmar Now's chief correspondent Swe Win vis-à-vis U Wirathu. These four cases are selected because they are the most recent, but we could easily apply this lens to others.

Myanmar Film Academy Awards

The Myanmar Motion Picture Organization held its annual Academy Awards ceremony in Yangon on March 18, 2017. The film named "Oak Kyar Myat Pauk" won three awards for the Best Film, Best Actor, and Best Film Director categories. Oak Kyar Myat Pauk literally means the grass grown among bricks, therefore "rootless." The film is about four youth, three men and one woman. Their childhood troubles caused by financial issues, abandonment, and family separation turned them into troubled kids. The three men met each other in jail, and they met the woman, Pauk Pauk (played by Thet Mon Myint), at Paradise hotel, which serves adult entertainment to foreign clients. Pauk Pauk works at the hotel, where she is also an undercover agent against a human trafficking gang.

The film, which at first seems to be highlighting how family troubles negatively affect children, suddenly turns to explicitly-depicted xenophobia. It portrays foreigners (Chinese and Thai) as exploiting Burmese women with the collaboration of Myanmar nationals. The main story is articulated around protecting Burmese women against foreign sexual exploitation.

There are two scenes that indirectly support the main storyline. Both scenes stoke racism by using elements that Burmese spectators can more easily internalize, as they correspond with the racist nationalist attitude. One scene is when one of the troubled young men Tha Gyar (played by Tun Tun) comes home from jail and cannot find his mom. A Muslim family has bought his home and is now living there. The explicit message is that supposed foreigners have taken advantage of his misery and made him homeless. That scene reinforces the "house owner and guest" narrative that portrays Rohingyas (and Muslims in general) as not behaving themselves as guests, but instead insulting the owners. Tun Tun won the best male actor award for his role in the film.

Another scene shows the leading protagonist, Shwe Oak (played by Nay Toe), speaking angrily to the Paradise's manager (played by Soe Myat Thuzar) about foreigners exploiting Burmese that:

…if the birds live in their own nests and eat their food, there is no reason to have any problems. But if they invade another's [nest], even small birds must protect themselves as much as they can. If you don't want any racial issues, like you said, why don't they stay in their own nests? If they invade other's [nests], [we] will break their wings and throw them in the sea. Then, politics. I don't know it either, but I know "maggots in the meat" [quisling] who betray [her/his] home and family and collaborate with thieves…. We are not maggots that open the fence for the thieves. Now I hit the thieves you brought in. I don't care even if that causes the national problem [implying national political problems involving other countries]. That's the politics I know.

Whoever Shwe Oak's nationalist anger is directly or indirectly targeting, the film exacerbates intolerance, group-ism, nationalism and racism but not multiculturalism, diversity, tolerance and a progressive understanding of social justice. The film therefore is counter-productive in bridging societal divides and addressing identity-based conflict.

The fact that the film won three Academy Awards highlights that the issue of intolerance and racism is not just a personal issue for some individuals in the industry, but the industry itself, which officially endorses such theatrical messaging of hate.

Apart from long-term ideological intoxication, the film caused a social media war twice: once in early 2016 when the film was shown in theaters and another in March 2017 when it won the Academy Awards. Many supporters uploaded the entire film on Facebook and Youtube, sharing the specific scene of Shwe Oak's anger discussed above— both the video file and the text— urging people to watch and read. There were comments using such words as "thief," "home stealer," "woman stealer," "maggots," and so on. On the other hands, progressive social media users expressed their disappointment, and responding with disapproving comments about both the awards and the nationalist attitudes they represented. There was almost no decent or constructive debate about the issue, but rather just comments thrown back and forth.

Myanmar Idol

The next social media war of intolerance is about the Myanmar Idol singing contest. The finale of its second season took place in March 2017, a few days after the Academy Awards. The two top contestants were Thar Nge and Billy La Min Aye, one male and female respectively. Billy was known to many as a PaO-Karen-Christian girl from Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. Billy received an enormous amount of hate and criticism from angry viewers who swore at her on Facebook using harsh and sexist language. They said she was uptight and selfish, not friendly and considerate enough to her colleagues who were voted out, and also that she was using her beauty to mobilize votes.

On the other hand, Thar Nge, known to be an ethnic Rakhine, received some ethnic identity-related comments, but not as many. One of Billy's fans wrote that Billy, as a girl from the hills, has not sold natural gas nor seaport to the Chinese – making reference to the Kyaut Phyu seaport project and the natural gas pipeline from Rakhine state going to China. Thar Nge, regardless of his ethnicity, has nothing to do with the seaport or the natural gas; he lives in Pyi Oo Lwin near Mandalay and sells Burmese pea fritters as a low-income earner! Thar Nge won the Myanmar Idol award.

Apart from the social media war of insults and indecency that went on for a few months, observing the show, particularly the last two minutes before announcing the winner, makes one wonder seriously what the entire hall chanting Thar Nge's name in opposition to Billy, the nervous young lady standing on the stage, tells us about the public psyche regarding who they 'like' and 'don't like', and the strong and the vulnerable. Should the audience not show decency and maturity by making themselves appear to be comforting both candidates? Or is the same psyche operates in politics–commitment to the ruthless crushing of opponents in operation here? What if the majority is inattentive to the vulnerable?

There are lessons to learn from the Myanmar Idol. The imported brand of singing contest not only turns out to be a "nationwide affair", but also indicates how the society is vulnerable to division and intolerance. It also shows how easily people resort to intolerance, prejudice, and hate.

The "Aung San Bridge"

At the time people were waging wars of words on two forms of entertainment, another one was being waged in the context of naming a new Union government-funded bridge in Mon state. The NLD government decided to name the bridge after the late General Aung San, as opposed to originally designated name, "Thanlwin Chaung Sone Bridge". The Mon people feel outraged by the government decision. They want the bridge to be something that signifies Mon-ness, and gives a taste of Mon state. But the government unilaterally went ahead, while failing to consider ethnic grievances, making people see the bridge naming as part of the ongoing Burmanization of ethnic peoples. The issue has divided those who support the name "Aung San Bridge" and those, mostly ethnic Mon and non-Bamar ethnic minorities across the country, who are against the government decision. There have been various public protests as well as anger on social media.

According to some civil society leaders in Mon state, the divide between Mons and ethnic Bamars has widened, and those who used to collaborate on various issues do not work together anymore. The language used to oppose the "Aung San Bridge", articulated through identity politics and minority rights, has made ethnic Bamar see the Mon as increasingly nationalistic and anti-Bamar, while ethnic people see the pro-Aung San Bridge crowd as chauvinists opposed to minority rights.

During the bridge campaign came the 2017 by-election campaigns. Locally specific identity-based movement of the bridge campaign entangled with rising nationalism across the country. It is the narrative of "the house owner and the guest", originally articulated in the context of the anti-Rohingya campaign, traveling to Mon State. A Facebook campaign ad said, "Only the house owner can fix the house. Let's vote for ethnic parties to protect ethnic rights".

The "house owner and guest" discourse travels not only to Mon state, but also to different parts of the country. For instance, some activists in Shan State speak of "house owners who became tenants" to refer to the way the Shan State government convened the Shan State region-based dialogue in Taunggyi between April 23 and 25. The State government convened the region-based dialogue with the approval of Dr. Tin Myo Win, chairperson of the Union-level Peace Commission. The government did not consult with political parties, ethnic armed groups, and Civil Societies based in Shan State. Instead, it planned the region-based dialogue unilaterally, just four days prior to the dialogue on April 23. Many members of the Shan State dialogue supervisory committee were unaware of the planned dialogue until April 21st. The government also organized prior township-level dialogues and district-level dialogues in one to two days. In some places, participants were invited by phone or Viber. In some places, they were invited just two hours ahead of the dialogues — which were not really 'dialogues' or 'debates' anyway.

For the Shan State-wide region-based dialogue in Taunggyi, political parties were required to submit the names of representatives in less than a day, and position papers on politics, economics and land/environmental issues in less than two days. Stakeholders in Shan State felt that they were not given time for preparation, but instead were forced to follow the rules of the game set by the government.

It is even worse for ethnic Shans as they have not been able to convene Shan ethnic-based dialogue due to the government not allowing the dialogue to take place in Taunggyi (or Panglong). Shan communities feel the government's convening the region-based dialogue in Taunggyi is inattentive to their grievances. Equally disappointing for the Shan State Civil Society Forum Committee— a collection of representatives from various civil society organizations— is that they were not invited to the dialogue. The invited civil society representatives were not allowed to submit papers nor participate in discussion.

In short, the questions over representation, decision-making, implementation, and the potential consequence of the dialogue are not only puzzling for many in Shan State but create a sense of loss over the process. The activists speak of the fact that the Shan State region-based dialogue was supposed to be their own affair, but local stakeholders were invited as 'guests' and forced to accept the rules of the game set by the government, which is seen as the Bamar government — an outsider. In short, people felt that outsiders are dictating the house affairs, and the house owners have instead become powerless tenants.

Intra-Buddhist Divides

The major religious divide in Myanmar has traditionally been between the majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities. Religious cracks within Buddhist communities were rare[1] until the 2015 general election campaign, when the political cracks between supporters of the NLD and the junta/USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) were partly articulated around religion. Buddhist nationalists, banding together as Ma Ba Tha, supported the USDP in the name of protecting race/religion, while the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi supporters, still nationalists, rejected Ma Ba Tha's religiously-loaded political campaign. By that time, many people came to realize that Ma Ba Tha was using Buddhism to mobilize supporters for the USDP against the NLD.

The crack was amplified in February this year when Myanmar Now's chief correspondent Swe Win raised a question regarding Ma Ba Tha's possible link to NLD lawyer U Ko Ni's assassination. Also, when the leading Ma Ba Tha monk U Wirathu publicly thanked the assassins of U Ko Ni, Swe Win criticized him, which led U Wirathu's followers in Mandalay and Yangon to sue him on charges of defaming Buddhism and U Wirathu. U Wirathu's supporters warned him to apologize, but Swe Win criticized U Wirathu in a press conference instead. Swe Win requested the Ministry of Religion and Culture to comment on whether what he said about U Wirathu amounted to defamation. The ministry issued a statement on the 5th of April saying that it did not. The USDP and 8 other political parties accused the Ministry of interfering in the judiciary, and that such interference can result in unnecessary consequences. Ma Ba Tha also issued a similar statement, indicating that the ministry is responsible for any unnecessary consequences.

Earlier, on February 9, U Wirathu delivered a sermon in former President Thein Sein's home village Kyon Ku, in the Irrawaddy Division, that Buddhist women should marry dogs (or alcoholics or drug addicts) instead of 'Kalar'. He said dogs are as capable as 'Kalar', and that he would send monks to fulfil the women's desires. The sermon took place in defiance of the regional government's ban on him preaching in the region.

This outraged Buddhist communities, including women, some of who have spoken out against his preaching. U Min Hlaing filed a case against U Wirathu at Dawpong court in Yangon Region (which the court rejected on the basis that the sermon took place elsewhere).

On March 10, the Sangha Maha Nayaka (Ma Ha Na), the official supreme clerical body to oversee the Buddhist religious life, banned U Wirathu from preaching for a year. Though the Ma Ha Na warned that legal action would be taken if he failed to comply, he has continued to disobey the ruling.

His latest preaching has triggered public responses, including signature campaigns to urge the government to prosecute Wirathu, as well as social media campaigns. It should be noted that it is not only U Wirathu who is under scrutiny, but also other hate-preaching monks.

Meanwhile, nationalist monks are collecting signatures urging the prosecution of Swe Win.

In short, intra-Buddhist divides have been seen recently, which was rarely the case before. For the time being, and generally speaking, the intra-Buddhist divides look like the Ministry of Religion and Culture, Ma Ha Na, relatively more progressive portions of the NLD, the media and activist communities, and anti-Ma Ba Tha civilians on the one hand, and Ma Ba Tha, the USPD and its nationalist political party alliance on the other.

Is the Peace Process Lagging Behind Societal Divides?

The four cases discussed above raise an important question: to what extent does the peace process, particularly the planned 21st century Panglong Conference and National Dialogues, respond to emerging societal situations? It is uncertain how accessible the peace process is to the public, let alone whether people have a deep understanding of, interest in, or confidence in the process, itself. But the film Oak Kyar Myat Pauk is as popular among the people, as is Myanmar Idol. Racism, hate and intolerance in theatrical dialogue have been officially endorsed by the Myanmar Film industry. Many more films insensitive to conflict and diversity can be expected. Myanmar Idol shows that society is vulnerable to division. It also shows a public psyche obsessed with crushing the opposition, and that respect, decency and comforting the weak do not seem to be part of the public culture.

The "Aung San Bridge" and the Ma Ha Na/Ma Ba Tha cases show that inter-ethnic and intra-communal divides, involving the government and politicized communities, accelerate quickly. All these cases collectively demonstrate that racism, sexism, intolerance and societal division are fundamental and common to all issues in Myanmar today. Addressing these issues requires serious inter-communal and intra-communal dialogues with deep political, ideological and intellectual commitments to anti-racism, multiculturalism and social justice.

It is questionable whether the planned political dialogues can address these issues at all. The process has been complicated. It is doubtful whether every key person involved in the process even understands the framework for political dialogues and emerging Terms of Reference (ToR). Progress has been slow. The first political dialogue was expected in 2013. Four years have passed, but substantive negotiations on the thematic issues agreed upon by the government and ethnic armed groups have not taken place. The relevance of the substance of political dialogues is questionable as well. While the agreed topics such as politics (federalism), security reform, economics, social, and land/environment may be important, the issues of racism, sexism, and intolerance are key to all of them. Yet, it appears that the political dialogues, designed to talk about traditional 'political' topics are detached from everyday human relations and experiences in the social world. Areas such as entertainment, racism, and religion shape society yet often do not make it to the venue of traditional or high-level political talks.

In other words, political dialogue for national reconciliation, designed on the track of 'doing politics', does not seem to reflect the societal divides. It is neither sufficient nor substantive enough to address such divides. Moreover, it is not fast enough to catch up with the societal cracks, which ironically could further slow down the political talks.

Perhaps, the slow pace of the political dialogue can be an opportunity for the leaders of the peace process to be 'sociologically' savvy and reflect on the 'social world'. As racism, intolerance, inter- and intra-ethnic/religious divides can be the litters for the political dialogue for peace and reconciliation, it is important for peace leaders to commit to anti-racism, multiculturalism, inter- and intra-communal harmony, and social justice. Conflict sensitivity measures must be sensitive to racism, sexism, intolerance and social justice. Otherwise, political justice will continue to be eclipsed by the forces of social injustice.

Dr Sai Latt received PhD from Simon Fraser University in Canada. He researches violence, securitization, displacement, development and regionalization.

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[1] A rare doctrinal divide perhaps has been the case of Moe Pyar or (Pyint Saut Pan Kamma) sect led by U Nyanna that the state has criminalized.