Campus group outreach over-simplifies Myanmar crisis

Geneseo’s Amnesty International recently sent out an email concerning mass atrocities being committed in the Rahkine region of Myanmar, including a few bullet points on the issue and asking readers to tweet their objections to Myanmar’s commander-in-chief of its Armed Forces Min Aung Hlaing. This email, however, presented an overly-condensed, misguided version of this complex situation.

Myanmar––formerly Burma––is a South Asian country bordering Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand, Laos and the Bay of Bengal. Its proximity to these vastly different countries has resulted in a tumultuous history of development and unification in the nation due largely to cultural clashes.

The current issue at hand is one that has been going on for hundreds of years: the persecution of the Rohingya people. A predominantly Muslim group, the Rohingya people trace their ethnic roots back to the eighth and ninth centuries, when Arab merchants intermingled with the local Rahkine population. After Myanmar conquered the Rahkine state in the late 19th century, it instituted a brutal system of oppression and violence against the Muslim and Rahkine populaces.

The conflict escalated in the 1950s and has continued into recent years after; following a rejection from Pakistani leadership on a proposal to join their country, several extremist Muslim elders proposed a campaign of jihad in order to establish a state of their own. This battle between the military and these extremist pockets is fueled by racial tensions between the Muslim Rohingya and the ultra-nationalist Buddhist Burmese. 

While democratic supporter Aung Sang Suu Kyi became the “de-facto” prime minister of the nation in 2010, the Myanmar military continues to suppress resistance to the reported “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, and maintains an iron grip on military policy while waging three separate civil wars.

This is only a sliver of the history of Myanmar, and even specifically, just the Rohingya people. Possessing a greater understanding of the events surrounding this crisis, however, can allow us to make not only more informed assessments about the issue, but more informed decisions on how to effect real change.

For example, it is clear that tweeting to the head of the military that has been brutally inflexible and intolerant for over six decades is likely much less effective compared to tweeting to the de-facto head of the country who has expressed––and been suppressed––for her public support of freedom and equality. 

The over-simplification of information too easily results in people developing under-informed opinions which often hurt rather than help long-term goals, as seen clearly in Amnesty’s brief email. Understanding the importance of comprehensive research and critical thinking is essential to the success of any endeavor to bring about international change, whether in Myanmar or in any other nation.

 Bagan in Myanmar reflects the ancient history of the region plagued with civil wars for decades.  Without proper research, it is easy to over-simplify the complicated racial tensions and violence gripping the country. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Bagan in Myanmar reflects the ancient history of the region plagued with civil wars for decades.  Without proper research, it is easy to over-simplify the complicated racial tensions and violence gripping the country. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

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