The prejudice and hostility that Rohingya Muslims face in Myanmar stretch beyond the country’s notoriously brutal security forces to a general population receptive to an often-virulent form of Buddhist nationalism that has seen a resurgence.
BANGKOK — The prejudice and hostility that Rohingya Muslims face in Myanmar stretch beyond the country’s notoriously brutal security forces to a general population receptive to an often-virulent form of Buddhist nationalism that has seen a resurgence since the end of military rule.
Many of Myanmar’s Buddhists have objected to the way the media and international community have portrayed the crisis in Rakhine state, which has caused a half million Rohingya to flee the country in the past month. Rather than recognize what the U.N. calls ethnic cleansing, they see a threat to national sovereignty and the future of Myanmar as a Buddhist-majority nation.
The standard academic work cited by Buddhist nationalists seeking to argue their case against the Rohingya — who they see as migrants living illegally in Myanmar — has a telling title: “Influx Viruses: The Illegal Muslims in Arakan.”
“They are seen as foreigners trying to infiltrate the country, and Buddhists of the strident type see them as trying to undermine their faith,” said Robert Taylor, a scholar of Myanmar’s political history.
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Yet just as Rohingya have roots in Myanmar stretching back centuries, so do the historical forces that have shaped their oppression.
BRITISH COLONIALISM: The Rohingya, while not recognized as an ethnic group in Myanmar, are decedents of centuries of intermingling between indigenous Muslims and migrants from the area that is now Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal. They lived mostly untroubled until after the British arrived and Myanmar became part of British colonial India and later the separate colony of Burma.
For about a…