Since last summer, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled western Myanmar to Bangladesh. The Myanmar military began its sweep of villages on 25 August in response to attacks on police outposts by an insurgent group aligned to the Muslim minority, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. Those who escaped to Bangladesh have recounted that soldiers, often accompanied by Buddhist civilians, encircled villages under the cover of darkness and sprayed bullets through the latticed wooden walls of houses, cutting down people who tried to flee and torching what structures remained. Satellite images show hundreds of razed villages. The military’s campaign has produced the most concentrated outflow of refugees in the world since the Rwanda genocide in 1994, and the camp the Rohingya now reside in across the border in Bangladesh is the largest anywhere.
The intensity of the violence has shocked the outside world – Médecins Sans Frontières conservatively estimated that 6700 Rohingya were killed in the first month alone – but news of the military’s institutional malice shouldn’t be surprising. Battalions of soldiers have attacked civilians in Myanmar’s borderlands for decades. Since coming to power in 1962, the military has pursued, almost obsessively, the subjugation of what it considers an unruly periphery in which ethnic minority groups have rebelled against an aggressively centralising state ever since independence from Britain in 1948. Yet where rapes and executions elsewhere have been loudly decried by the majority in Myanmar, the accounts told by Rohingya have been dismissed as sob stories designed to elicit international sympathy. The mainstream view inside the country is that the Rohingya are an illegal Bengali immigrant community out to Islamicise their Buddhist neighbours. Deceit is seen in everything they do and say. Only a small minority have questioned a popular narrative that treats allegations of military persecution as fictions. ‘We have seen the devastation caused by this criminal military against our people for many years,’ read a statement issued in September by the Karen Women’s Organisation, representatives of a minority group that knows only too well the military’s tendencies. ‘This is the story of our nightmares and must be stopped immediately.’
Such voices have to contend with a formidable weight of contrary opinion, held as firmly by grassroots agitators as it is in the country’s highest offices. A government spokesperson, U Zaw Htay, told the media in October that the exodus was a plot by Rohingya to ‘mislead’ the international community into believing ‘that there is mass migration’. Mass public demonstrations have taken place in Rakhine State, where the majority of Rohingya have lived until now, calling for the expulsion of the international NGOs assisting them. ‘We don’t need terrorist supporter groups,’ read placards at one protest last year. The UN, often a target of these protests, has reported ‘mass rapes’ of Rohingya women by soldiers; Aung San Suu Kyi’s office countered by claiming that Rohingya women were trading in ‘fake news’. The UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee declared that the military’s campaign bore the ‘hallmarks of genocide’. Still the jeers rang out. In 2013 one government official claimed that Rohingya reproduce at ten times the rate of their Buddhist neighbours. Monks have likened them to ‘African carp’ that ‘breed quickly’.
The perception of a conniving community of interlopers in Rakhine State has intensified since 2010, when Myanmar’s democratic opening began, starting with multi-party elections and followed by a rapid freeing up of media, the emergence of a more participatory political sphere and the cautious liberalisation of the economy after half a century of military rule. The almost simultaneous eruption of violence has upended long-held but simplistic views that many in the West had of Myanmar. How could the campaign against the Rohingya be supported by a population that had, from afar, seemed united in its opposition to the military? Why risk rehabilitating that institution at precisely the time a long fought-for shift away from military rule is taking place? And what of the self-professed democrats who are rallying behind the mass expulsion of a vulnerable minority? A violent opposition towards this minority has cut across political divisions, with lauded figureheads of the erstwhile pro-democracy movement speaking of a willingness to take up arms alongside the military to drive out ‘foreign invaders’, and monks calling for ‘unity’ with the army. What has happened?
It is clear that democratic transition has brought significant developments in Myanmar’s political centre, but it has had the converse effect in the periphery. Military assaults on minority groups in the borderlands – like the Kachin and Shan peoples – have intensified, while the Rohingya, already subject to several waves of lethal mob violence by ethnic Rakhine, have faced gradually tightening restrictions on their freedom of movement. Since a first wave of mob violence in June 2012, upwards of 120,000 have been confined to camps and ghettos, prevented from leaving by barricades and armed police. Further north in the state, checkpoints line roads leading into towns where, until the violence in 2012, Rohingya had traded alongside Rakhine in the marketplaces and children had been schooled together. Those checkpoints now mark the limits on movement for Rohingya in surrounding villages, and the towns where they once lived and worked are no longer open to them. Only one adequately equipped hospital in the state will accept them, but they are attended to in segregated wards. This racialised system of healthcare has had a devastating effect: a Lancet report from 2016 found that infant mortality in northern Rakhine State, where Rohingya were, until August, a majority, was three times higher than in areas of the state less than eighty kilometres away, where Buddhist Rakhine are predominant. Finally, they are politically ostracised, allowed no representatives in parliament and afforded no voting rights.
Underpinning the antagonism the Rohingya face is a fierce dispute over their identity and genealogy. Before the August exodus began, Rohingya numbered around a million in the towns and villages along the western coast. The ethnonym is first mentioned in a 1799 survey of communities in Myanmar by a Scottish botanist, Francis Buchanan, but then, save for sporadic mentions over the next two hundred years, it disappears from records. No census carried out by the British during its 124 years of rule mentions the name. Despite the fact that the post-independence government of U Nu recognised the Rohingya as an ethnic group, their detractors cite their long absence from censuses as evidence that the Rohingya are a new entity, a political project by immigrants from the subcontinent. What really happened is unclear. Many who now identify as Rohingya were probably bracketed under different designators, such as ‘Rakhine Muslims’ or ‘Chittagonian Muslims’. Some may well have arrived from Bangladesh after Burma’s independence in 1948, following a migratory route that long predated the drawing of hard borders and that has served both Buddhists and Muslims moving in either direction. But after Myanmar’s first dictator, General Ne Win, came to power in 1962, even these two categories were dropped from censuses. The reasons are uncertain. Perhaps Ne Win, a known xenophobe who banned Muslims from entering the army, expelled hundreds of thousands of Indians from Myanmar after coming to power and launched a pogrom against Rohingya in 1978 that caused close to 250,000 of them to flee Bangladesh, was unable to countenance having an indigenous ethnonym like Rakhine alongside a ‘foreign’ religion; perhaps he believed that allowing ‘Chittagonian’ to remain on census lists legitimised claims for recognition by outsiders.
Although it was the period of military rule that stripped Rohingya of their legal status, the basis for their exclusion extends back to the politicisation of ethnicity under colonial rule. Before hard borders were established, the territory known today as Myanmar was a place of porous frontiers and interpenetrating political systems. For much of Myanmar’s precolonial history, a patchwork of mountainous micro-states encircled a lowland core composed of innumerable identity groups. There were ethnic markers – dress, language – but loyalties were largely towards political authorities, and less to ethnic kin. Yet Britain’s obsession with racial classification and its desire to make legible the complex tapestry of ethnic groups meant that boundaries developed between peoples where they hadn’t previously existed, and once-fluid notions of ethnicity began to calcify into hard distinctions. The military, obsessed with bringing disparate identity groups under Buddhist Bamar authority, aggressively pursued this endeavour during its time in power, drawing on British censuses to create an index of officially recognised ethnic groups, or ‘national races’ – each of them supposedly fixed entities that had remained consistent across time, certifying the right to citizenship. Some were ‘more’ indigenous than others: the Bamar Buddhist majority were at the top, with others below in a hierarchy of belonging. Ethnic identities were printed on ID cards, and the lines between different groups became highly volatile. The removal of the Rakhine Muslim and Chittagonian Muslim designators from the census occurred at precisely the time that an individual’s ethnicity came to determine whether or not they were seen as members of the nation. A sizeable Muslim community on the western coast, stripped of its identity, was therefore compelled to seek another. This has fed a perception, now mainstream, that the Rohingya identity is a political construct, in contrast to groups like the Rakhine and Bamar, whose identities have supposedly remained intact across centuries.
Anti-Rohingya agitators often point to the corrosive effect British rule had on Buddhism as evidence of what will happen unless this alien entity is contained. The British, who took Burma in three stages after 1824, ended nearly a thousand years of unbroken monarchical rule and sidelined the Buddhist clergy, disdaining its central position in society and embittering the Buddhist population. The subsequent importation of hundreds of thousands of Indian workers, who rose to economically powerful positions, compounded fears that Buddhism was under threat. Indian Muslims were accused of forcing Buddhist women to convert on marriage, thereby diluting the Buddhist line. The Rohingya are seen as the latest iteration of this colonising drive, and legislation has accordingly been passed to mitigate its effects. In 2014, as anti-Muslim sentiment was growing inside Myanmar, parliament passed a set of laws – advocated for by ultra-nationalist monks – that required anyone who wished to convert to another religion to seek official permission, and gave local governments the power to limit the reproductive rates of women if they considered their region to be suffering from overpopulation.
A conviction that Rohingya are plotting to usurp the position of local communities, and that the Western countries providing them with aid and vocal support are abetting this project, has been fanned throughout the democratic transition by monks, activists and politicians. Monks pepper their entreaties to protect the faith with references to Malaysia and Indonesia, onetime Buddhist strongholds that have long since fallen to a rapacious Islam. In 2015, a popular booklet published by the monk-led nationalist movement Ma Ba Tha warned that non-Buddhist religions were ‘devouring’ the cherished faith and customs of Myanmar. Should Muslim communities in Myanmar be empowered by the democratisation process, their argument goes, then Buddhism will die out, and a more violent society will take its place. Granting them rights would aid their project, so the rights must be removed. Placards, hoisted during protests in Rakhine State in February 2015 against allowing Rohingya to take part in elections, read: ‘Anyone who allows foreigners to vote is our enemy.’ Because the identity is a project in and of itself, all individuals who subscribe to it are party to that project, and are therefore held collectively responsible for the actions of a few within it.
In response, justifications for the killing of non-Buddhists have come from the monastic community’s top ranks. Sitagu Sayadaw, perhaps Myanmar’s best-known monk, addressed hundreds of military officers in November, three months after the campaign against the Rohingya began. He quoted the words of Buddhist clerics in Sri Lanka who two thousand years ago had counselled an anguished king, Dutthagamani, following his army’s slaughter of Hindus in battle against a Tamil ruler: ‘Don’t worry, king, it’s a little bit of sin. Even though you killed millions of people, they were only one and a half real human beings.’ In the dominant interpretation of the Theravada strand of Buddhism practised in Myanmar, intention is key when assessing the positive or negative aspects of an action. If the objective is to safeguard Buddhism, then the means required to do so must be evaluated in light of that intent. Among their adherents, these monks are therefore not seen to be breaking with their gospel of peace, but instead ensuring that the peaceful way survives.
The outside world’s view of the crisis – an aggressive military attacking a defenceless minority – is the reverse of the crisis as it is perceived inside Myanmar. The majority population sees the Rohingya as aggressors, and sees the military, for so long deeply derided inside the country, as newly welcome defenders of the nation against an expansionist Islamic force. Government officials have branded the Rohingya ‘terrorists’ or ‘terrorist sympathisers’, inserting them into the familiar narrative of a violent Islam. The global dimension this lends to what is essentially a local struggle in a remote corner of the country greatly exaggerates what is at stake – an entire culture, not just the peoples of the western coast – should Myanmar not be defended. The popular construal of violence as morally legitimate predictably follows.
Internationally, there has been as much shock at the response from Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, as there has at the military’s violence itself. Awards have been revoked by universities across the world. The UN’s Yanghee Lee has argued that she could be complicit in crimes against humanity. There is disbelief at her apparent break with a long-standing commitment to equality and non-violence. Her National League for Democracy party is filled with luminaries of the pro-democracy movement. How then could it act as it has? Explanations in most newspapers refer to the nature of the present political structure in Myanmar, suggesting that Suu Kyi, in entering a delicate power-sharing agreement with the military, gave up too much to it; that were she to criticise its actions in Rakhine State, then it could turn on her and scupper the fragile transition; and that because she values a democratic society above all else – after all, she sacrificed 15 years of her life under house arrest to bring about that change – she will do anything not to threaten it. But these arguments make a number of assumptions about the deal Suu Kyi struck with the military that are incompatible with a close reading of the dynamic between the various institutions of state. The military carefully choreographed the transition to ensure it would serve its purposes, and the seven-step Roadmap to Democracy it announced in 2003 has been largely adhered to. Its significant economic interests are locked in, and it retains control of three key ministries – Home Affairs, Defence and Border Affairs. Suu Kyi has meanwhile become a lightning rod for criticism of the military, despite having no control over it. What interest would the generals have in upsetting the status quo?
Perhaps more glaringly, assumptions have been made about Suu Kyi herself, and the people she keeps around her, that don’t necessarily stand up. While under house arrest she wrote passionately of the need to break with the devious politicking of the military and the divisive mental state it produced in society. ‘Without a revolution of the spirit,’ she wrote in Freedom from Fear (1990), ‘the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration.’ The broader pro-democracy movement had made equally spirited demands during its time in opposition for minority groups to be given identical rights in a new Myanmar, and it therefore seemed a given that the Rohingya would fare better once under the NLD’s stewardship. But, crucially, Rohingya had never been included in those calls; their plight had always seemed peripheral to the movement’s vision for a democratic society. Even among the many shows of cross-ethnic solidarity that came and went over the decades, Rohingya were absent. One-time supporters in the West have bemoaned what they see as a remarkable volte-face by Suu Kyi, with headlines lamenting the fall of an idol; few acknowledge that there is continuity in the brazen denialism her government has shown since Rohingya began to pour across the border into Bangladesh. As the attacks intensified late last year, the government began to repeat a line originally pushed by the military around the time of the mob violence in 2012, that Rohingya had torched their own houses to garner international sympathy.
The question ‘Why all this, why now?’ has been met with similar confusion. Doesn’t the violence, and the rehabilitation of a deeply unpopular military, imperil hopes for democracy? If so, how could the people of Myanmar, such dogged advocates of democratic governance, possibly support it? But again, there’s a problem with the assumption behind the question. From outside Myanmar, the violence appears to threaten the transition, but among the majority inside the country, it may well be the making of it. Buddhism is not the only thing at risk in a modernising society; also under threat is the political standing of communities that see themselves as legitimate claimants to rights long denied to them. Should the transition bring about a true levelling of the playing field, enfranchising the Rohingya, then the position of other communities would, so the thought goes, be weakened. Since the annexation of their kingdom to Myanmar in the late 18th century, the story Rakhine tell is that their land was stolen and their culture corroded, first by majority Bamar rulers and then by an imposing colonial power. It is Rakhine who now feel most acutely the fear that a supposedly age-old hierarchy will be upended by peoples from the subcontinent. The long neglect and political marginalisation they suffered under the military, which left Rakhine State the least developed in the country, has produced a deep resentment of any group seen as a threat to their culture and a competitor for the scarce resources they claim for themselves.
The long experience of dictatorship helps illuminate why the democratisation period presents itself as a zero-sum game to many in Myanmar: political rights are not seen as a public good, available to all; historical experience shows they are greatly limited, and thus finite. As the transition has advanced, Rohingya have become more vocal in their demands for citizenship and access to the political sphere, but if their wishes were granted, the logic goes, it would undermine the fragile and long awaited accession of other communities. General Ne Win, the architect of Rohingya statelessness, had warned time and again of the danger of subordinate groups being empowered. ‘This is not because we hate them,’ he said in a 1982 speech explaining a new citizenship law that privileged majority Bamar Buddhists and various others as ‘full’ citizens and relegated many minority groups to ‘associate’ citizens. ‘If we were to allow them to get into positions where they can decide the destiny of the state and if they were to betray us we would be in trouble.’ The relentless peddling of that fear by the military over half a century means that the Rohingya’s claims to citizenship are viewed not merely as a device to elevate themselves to a position equal to that of other communities, but to usurp those positions.
But support for the targeting of an entire group, not just individuals within it, requires that the fear of political competition be fused with a more sinister outlook. The estimates by Médicins San Frontières of the death toll from the first month in the period of violence that began in August included 730 children under five. Rohingya who made it to Bangladesh recounted the killing of infants at close quarters by soldiers. Even these reports prompted no shift in public opinion inside Myanmar. Rakhine I interviewed in the years after the violence of 2012 had often spoken of Rohingya as if they were a single metastasising cell that threatened all who shared the mountains and coastal plains of western Myanmar. Could the violence be indiscriminate if the entire group had been set up as a threat? The idea of the individual Rohingya as an autonomous being had long since been thrown out of the window. Instead, he or she was seen to be always acting in the service of their identity, and the moral inhibition about targeting group members en masse was accordingly diminished.
After busloads of Rakhine men laid waste to Rohingya neighbourhoods in the state capital of Sittwe in June 2012, Rakhine politicians and monastic groups busily circulated statements that displayed this inability to disaggregate individual from group. It was always ‘they’ that needed to be dealt with. Calls went out for Buddhists to break all social and economic ties with Rohingya; statements warned that ‘Bengalis … are now working for the extinction of the [Rakhine].’ Aid groups assisting Rohingya were accused of having ‘watered poisonous plants’. By helping Rohingya, both young and old, they were keeping alive a toxic presence in the state. A meeting of senior Rakhine monks in Sittwe in October 2012, under the banner of the All-Arakanese Monks’ Solidarity Conference, issued in a statement imploring Buddhists to ‘expose sympathisers of Bengali Kalars [a term often used disparagingly to refer to people of South Asian descent] as national traitors’ and to ‘spread the information to every township’. Four days later, mobs launched co-ordinated attacks on Rohingya communities across the state.
The removal of voting rights for Rohingya and the expulsion of Rohingya representatives from parliament before the 2015 elections laid bare the political machinations underway to isolate them, but the psychological ostracisation they underwent arguably had a more profound effect on their security. The acute segregation that followed the violence in 2012, with Rohingya confined to camps, villages and ghettos, meant there was no scope for the sorts of interaction that might help correct the narrative being pushed by Rakhine politicians, monks and activists. As a result, an anxiety seemed to develop among Rakhine that inside the camps lurked a mutating threat, hidden from view. Rakhine and Rohingya stopped visiting one another’s villages. I have met a number of Rakhine who recalled that relations before 2012 were comparatively harmonious: they had sat in the same teashops, traded in the same marketplaces; they had lived alongside one another. At a stroke, those relationships were broken. The anxiety intensified as time went on, and reached a peak with the appearance of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. After its first attack in October 2016, an editorial published in the New Light of Myanmar, a state paper overseen by the civilian-run Information Ministry, spoke of a particular peril now facing the country, of ‘fleas that we greatly loathe for their stench and for sucking our blood’. When the military began its sweep of Rohingya villages the following summer, a Rakhine MP, Aung Win, warned that ‘all Bengali villages are like military strongholds.’
These abuses have been ongoing for years, and have been amply warned of by journalists and human rights investigators studying the country. But the Western governments that backed the transition in Myanmar, particularly the US and UK, indulged too much in a hope that the ‘Rohingya problem’ was merely a bump in the road towards a more democratic state, rather than the catastrophe in waiting it has turned out to be. In December, four months into the military’s campaign, and as the first reports of mass graves in Rakhine State were emerging, the UK Foreign Affairs Committee published a report that criticised the UK’s myopic approach to Myanmar since the start of the transition: ‘There was too much focus by the UK and others in recent years on supporting the “democratic transition” and not enough on atrocity prevention and delivering tough and unwelcome messages to the Burmese government about the Rohingya.’
Western governments have lamented the military’s campaign in tones that suggest a deal has been reneged on, and that Suu Kyi, through her support for the military, has stabbed her supporters in the back. It would be too much to ask what exactly these governments had expected, for even the most seasoned observers of Myanmar have been taken aback by the ferocity of the violence since August and the response from the populace. But those who breathlessly championed the political opposition during the transition came to Myanmar ill-informed about the context in which the transition was taking place, and the degree to which the military had, over half a century, manipulated ethnic and religious identities and cultivated violent struggles over rights and belonging. Myanmar’s faultlines are complex and fluid, making the job of determining allegiances and animosities hugely difficult for outsiders. But once the military’s narrative had taken hold the precariousness of the Rohingya was obvious. The civilian mobs that had attacked them in 2012 suffered no consequences, and neither did the authors of the pamphlets that called for their expulsion. All the while, Suu Kyi refused to be drawn on the worsening conditions for Rohingya, and like the military and the increasingly assertive Buddhist nationalist lobby that made up an important part of her constituency, she would not speak their name in public.
Ultimately, however, the particular focus of the diplomatic community in Myanmar obscured the depth of the crisis brewing in Rakhine State. Western governments had used the evolving political centre to guide their assessment of the broad health of the country, applauding the freeing up of the media, the newly filled parliament and the liberalising economy. They paid less attention to the worsening conditions in the periphery. The military had been testing international thresholds for violence throughout the transition, and publicly so, yet this drew only muted condemnation. Less than three months after parliament sat for the first time in March 2011, battalions of soldiers launched ferocious assaults in Kachin State in the north and Shan State in the east, ostensibly targeting rebel positions but in fact forcing the flight of tens of thousands of civilians into China. Those conflicts have continued throughout the past seven years. In spite of this, Western engagement has only deepened. Sanctions were eased bit by bit up to 2016, and the UK and US persisted with a programme of military-to-military engagement that had begun in 2013. Even after the military torched Rohingya villages in the wake of the first ARSA attacks in October 2016 and forced 66,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, Myanmar’s army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, was in Europe meeting defence officials.
Western engagement was coloured by a belief that a military which had shown a willingness to acquiesce in the formation of a civilian government might, with incentives, gradually withdraw further from power and allow a more democratic state to come into existence. But the transition had been designed to ensure it would always remain the pre-eminent political and economic institution, and that little real space would be ceded to a civilian ruler. Its persisting control of the Defence Ministry indicated that it was unwilling to come under civilian authority, while its self-written constitutional requirement that a quarter of parliamentary seats go to unelected army officers provided further proof that a government free of military influence had not been part of the plan.
Geostrategic interests provided additional incentives for Western governments to maintain full engagement in spite of the potential for reputational damage and despite the fact the military might see this as a green light to continue with their violence. The US, following Obama’s ‘pivot’ to Asia and its bid to limit China’s growing global influence, was clear about the need to maintain good relations with Myanmar, lest the country slip back into the close orbit of Beijing, which had long been the junta’s principal patron. There is also the question of who else inside the country they could turn to. The uncritical view many in the West had of the Suu Kyi-led opposition has now been revised, but options for an alternative point person are limited. Suu Kyi has centralised what power is available to a civilian leader in her hands, and allowed no room for a rival. Western nations that see continued full engagement with the Myanmar government as necessary are therefore stuck with her, and with the decisions she makes.
There is now deep uncertainty over what happens next. Bangladesh will not want to bear the responsibility for this vast refugee population for long. Food prices in the area surrounding the Rohingya camp doubled within weeks of the August influx, triggering tensions between the local Bangladeshi population and the refugees. The Myanmar government has built a ‘reception camp’ to house thirty thousand refugees who may one day opt to return, and pictures that have emerged from the site show an expansive barrack-like compound surrounded by barbed wire near the border. Government officials have confirmed that new security force bases are being built on the sites of razed Rohingya villages. Rakhine Buddhists from elsewhere in the state are being incentivised to resettle in newly built model villages in the north, lured by the offer of free housing. Some 300,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State, the majority confined to their villages in the north or the internment camps in the south. Since August, aid organisations have reported mounting difficulties in obtaining permits to distribute supplies to Rohingya camps and villages across Rakhine State, and levels of assistance were reduced to the bare minimum. Rohingya who have continued to cross into Bangladesh, or leave on boats to Malaysia, long after the military wound down operations in late November are not fleeing violence, but have effectively been starved out of the country. Indirect assaults on the systems designed to keep a community alive are harder to detect from afar, but they are as effective in driving out a population as direct physical attacks.
The sequence of events that precipitated the mass killing and expulsion of Rohingya were misunderstood, when they weren’t ignored. This matters in relation not only to what has already happened, but what can still happen. What was already a lethal dynamic in Rakhine State has dramatically worsened over the last year. Militias composed of Rakhine civilians, armed and trained by the police and the military and located across the blighted north of the state, have been formed. Not only does this give Rakhine official endorsement for violent mobilisation, it signals that the government is willing to defer the policing of communities to civilian mobs already radicalised by violence and by the provocation of nationalist elites, and who can help in the future to deliver campaigns of state violence against Rohingya. If ARSA militants attack again – and they may well – the military’s response will again reach far beyond their hideouts and into the Rohingya villages that remain.
There will be no retroactive remedy for what’s been done in Myanmar. The conversation will now move on, as it always does, to the lessons that can be learned for similar events in the future, elsewhere in the world. But there is something more to gain from a deeper understanding of the processes that have created an enabling environment for ethnic cleansing, if not genocide, in a country undergoing rapid change. Violence of this nature mutates over time. The military’s strategy in Rakhine State has evolved over the years, and it may continue to as the transition brings new political and societal pressures. We have seen the shift from the structural violence of the camps and the ghettos to the physical efforts to cleanse the population. We have seen it sanctioned by various pillars of authority, civilian and religious, and a poisonous antipathy has accordingly entered the mainstream. It would be wrong to assume that the refugee camp that now spreads across the cleared hillsides of south-eastern Bangladesh is where the story of the Rohingya ends.
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