The Rohingya, Buddhism, and anti-Muslim sentiment

I’ve been constantly checking my twitter feed lately. #RohingyaNOW Why? Because it’s almost the only place I can find news about what appears to be a straight-up genocidal attempt by some Burmese fascists. I’m not using that word metaphorically or rhetorically; I believe they qualify as fascists under most standard definitions of the word. These people are attempting to provoke a mass movement to expel or murder all non-Burmese and non-Buddhists from the country. Facing its own long-running Muslim minority problems in the South, Buddhist Thailand is doing its bit, too. Long the cooperative beneficiary of human trafficking from Burma into Thailand, security forces from both Thailand and Burma have attacked boats full of Muslim refugees fleeing the violence, sometimes drowning all those on board, other times pushing them away from Thailand’s coastlines, refusing them the obligatory offerings to refugees under International Law.

I do not have time at the moment for an extensive commentary on these issues, but want to add my voice to those who are pleading with the media, the United Nations, and others, to increase coverage, stand up for the victims of communal violence, and begin a process of restoration for victims of genocidal violence. A few points:

1. These are indeed “Burmese Buddhist Fascists.” They are opposed, apparently, first to the Rohingya, an ethnic minority and Muslim group largely in Western Burma.  The fascists consider them illegal immigrants, though they have been in the area for many generations. They are not opposed to the Rohingya solely for reasons of ethnic difference, either: they are explicitly opposed to Muslims in general. Moreover, much of the most vocal leadership, and according to pictures from the most recent riots and murders, much of the on-the-ground leadership, is by Buddhist monks. Here’s Buddhist monk Wirathu, founder of the newly-formed Buddhist Fascist group “969”, sermonizing against Muslims and encouraging a financial boycott of Muslim enterprises, while stoking fears of a Muslim takeover of Burma. It’s chilling:

Additionally, while the violence against Burma’s Rohingya and Muslims existed prior to the recent steps toward democratization indicated by the new participation of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD in politics (so lambasted in the monk’s speech, above), it seems to have worsened significantly since then. I do not have enough knowledge of the situation first-hand to confirm this, and am basing my perception here on discussions I had with various people who study Burma (both Burmese and non-Burmese) recently. If correct, it would be interesting to read Burma’s current case against the recent work of sociologist Michael Mann, Democracy’s Dark Side: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. In that book, Mann (whose companion volume on Fascists is also compelling) argues that sudden democratization, mediated by a number of other necessary preconditions, can actually drive ethnic cleansing. I don’t necessarily endorse his views in either book, though I have found much of them compelling and very “good to think with.”

Regardless, Aung San Suu Kyi has been almost completely silent about the multi-year attack on Burmese Muslims. Some reports point out the great overlap between the primary sources of her political support (Buddhist monks) and the primary sources of these anti-Muslim fascists (Buddhist monks), such as this article, headlined, Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Saffron Monks” Stalk Streets With Machetes – Mass Slaughtering Refugees.

2. This is a political conflict about ethnicity and religion, not a religious conflict that has become political. This is a key distinction. When it is presented as ‘ethnic violence,’ or ‘communal violence,’ in the international media, or by UN officers, we imagine different lines than may actually exist.  Watch the following video, which covers the aftermath of the anti-Muslim pogrom that took place in Meiktila on March 22. You’ll see two Burmese Buddhist laypeople interviewed. Continue reading

Sounding the Public Disciplines for February 2012

Basically just a link dump. Lots of good things keeping me busy offline.

  • Religion Bulletin reviews a new book by Hans Kippenberg titled “Violence as Worship.” They also published an interview with Paul-François Tremlett on the “Legacy of Structuralism,” and some straight talk on graduate study in a post titled “So you think you want to get a Ph.D.?
  • A new peer-reviewed, open access, ethnography journal, Hau, is making waves, especially in the wake of AAA’s decision to not support Open Access, and then their sudden reversal of that same decision. Savage Minds has covered Hau in this context here, here, and here. Savage Minds has also written about open access publishing from the perspective of Ed Carr, here.
  • Understanding Society weblog has this good post on Defining a Social Subject, as well as a specifically Weberian take on the same subject.

Sounding Cambodia for June 6 2011

The end of the semester got away from me folks, which means that today’s Sounding Cambodia will consist of a lot of links, videos, and topics, with minimal commentary. Lots of important stuff in there, though.  Go read!

  • Sand mountains during Khmer New Year (Video)
  • Cash pledges from politicians – exactly what is going on?
  • Violence against Cambodian Labor by the government
  • Interviews with Rich Garella of Who Killed Chea Vichea?
  • Nuon Chea and Cases 002 and 003 in the Extraordinary Chambers/Khmer Rouge Tribunal
  • Would you like some Borax with your Cambodian food?  Formalin? You’re welcome.
  • Tiny Toones NGO – “Hey Babe” video.
  • Cambodian Rice Exports to the Philippines
  • Judy Ledgerwood’s awesome Summer ethnography school in Cambodia
  • Damned Dams and their impacts on damned-near everything; an article in Critical Asian Studies by Ian Baird
  • Book Review of Constance Wilson’s edited volume on the Middle Mekong River Basin
  • Thai Politics – an election primer from Duncan McCargo
Click through to see the actual content Continue reading

Academic Freedom Note: County Sheriff interrupts Class

If this sort of incident wasn’t really far more average than we would like to believe, it would be even more amazing.  Even for the jaded amongst us…well, what can I say?

At around 9:20, a half hour before the class’s scheduled 9:50 end time, Sheriff Kevin C. Larkin, dressed in a trenchcoat, opened the door to Prof. Glass’s classroom. According to one student attending the class that night, Max Grindlinger, “[Larkin] said, ‘Michael, can I see you for a minute?” 

According to Buckley, Grindlinger and another student, Diane Walker, Sheriff Larkin and Prof. Glass had a roughly three-minute conversation outside of MS 205. No one overheard the conversation. The two then reentered the classroom, Prof. Glass introduced Sheriff Larkin and apologized for “making disparaging comments” about the Sheriff. 

“[He] gives an apology while Sheriff Larkin is standing no less than six inches from him,” said Grindlinger.

Both Buckley and Grindlinger report Sheriff Larkin as saying, “This isn’t over,” on his way out of the classroom. According to Buckley, Larkin’s aide, who was waiting outside the classroom, said as the classroom door was closing, “You’re a terrible teacher, you should get your facts from a book.”

I know what I can say: this is fantastic journalistic writing from a student reporter, for a community college paper. Somebody needs to option this kid’s first job now; Dmitry Gurvits should be headed straight for the shattered ruins of print journalism – maybe he can make it better with more stories like this one.

LAW AND DISORDER: County Sheriff interrupts class – News.

Sounding on Southeast Asia for February 23, 2010

  • Do a search for Mekong and Naga lately – lots of news.  Here’s a review in the Nation (Thailand) of a new book relating the Mekong and the Naga.  Good stuff, want to read.
  • I’ve got a couple of students who are writing a grant to go work and study with the awesome group in Cambodia Tiny Toones.  Tiny Toones is an organization founded by Cambodian Deportee K.K., who was one of those young Khmer Americans forcibly deported from the US (usually the only home and dominant culture they’ve ever known) because he never applied for citizenship and got into trouble with the law.  Sounds like he had a pretty rough life, but he’s making a seriously positive difference in Phnom Penh, where he teaches breakdancing, life skills, and literacy to street children.  Here are a couple of mass-media articles about the group. Time Magazine | NYT

And oh yes, this is what this web site sounds like if it were music.

Sounding on Cambodia for February 19, 2010

Busy as a Beaver on Methamphetamines (Yama, Yaba) these days, but here are some of the Cambodian things I’m watching:

  • A US citizen who moved to Kompong Thom to open a “grassroots health clinic,” and was raped, beaten, wrapped in barbed wire and left for dead, has had her account confirmed by the Embassy, in the face of the K. Thom police, who claim the entire thing is made up by the woman, who they characterize as insane.  DAS has an excellent take on the entire thing:

The State Department’s confirmation should spark a new wave of questioning, which will certainly prompt more ridiculous answers from corrupted local officials who are trying to cover up the truth. As any police chief knows, the strong routinely prey upon the weak. Spousal abuse is epidemic. And rape is not only commonplace, it’s considered sport among a significant part of the male population. Sadly, Cara Garcia’s attack was anything but “impossible.” Utterly predictable is more like it.

Give the circumstances, you would think that people would protest in the streets. That women would demand justice. Demand accountability. Demand safety. If not for Cara Garcia, for themselves. For the Cambodian woman who will be raped and likely murdered today. And the Cambodian woman who will be raped and likely murdered tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Ad infinitum. Continue reading

The Enclosure of Women’s Reproduction in Cambodia

I mentioned recently that I’d read the horrifying, amazing work of Silvia Federici recently, specifically her book Caliban and the witch: women, the body, and primitive accumulation. The argument, summarized briefly, is that

Caliban and the Witch shows that the body has been for women in capitalist society what the factory has been for male waged workers: the primary ground of their exploitation and resistance, as the female body has been appropriated by the state and men and forced to function as a means for the reproduction and accumulation of labor. (16)

In another section, Federici argues that Marxist ‘primitive accumulation’ involves the ‘enclosure’ not only of communal lands but also of social relations that stretches back to the origin of capitalism in 16th-century Europe and America.” (9)

In investigating the history of the enclosure (or ‘capture’) of women’s labor and bodies, especially their reproductive capacities, Federici looks to the 16th century of Europe, immediately after the Black Death killed off 1/3 of the European population.  The state response was frankly sexually domineering. The following is a lengthy quotation, but I dare you to stop reading it once you’ve begun (bold emphases are mine):

“As Jacques Rossiaud has shown in Medieval Prostitution (1988) in France, the municipal authorities practically decriminalized rape, provided the victims were women of the lower class. In 14th-century Venice, the rape of an unmarried proletarian woman rarely called for more than a slap on the wrist, even in the frequent case in which it involved a group assault (Ruggiero 1989:91-108). The same was true in most French cities. Here, the gang-rape of proletarian women became a common practice which the perpetrators would carry out openly and loudly at night, in groups of two to fifteen, breaking into their victims’ homes, or dragging their victims through the streets, without any attempt to hide or disguise themselves. Those who engaged in these ‘sports’ were young journeymen or domestic servants, and the penniless sons of well-to-do families, while the women targeted were poor girls, working as maids or washerwomen, of whom it was rumored that they were ‘kept’ by their masters (Rossiaud 1982: 22). On average, half of the town male youth, at some point, engaged in these assaults, which Rossiaud describes as a form of class protest, a means for proletarian men – who were forced to postpone marriage for many years because of their economic conditions – to get back ‘their own,’ and take revenge against the rich. But the results were destructive for all workers, as the state-backed raping of poor women undermined the class solidarity that had been achieved in the anti-feudal struggle.” (47-48)

Now, let’s read the most recent figures published by End Child Prostitution, Abuse, and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT):

End Child Prostitution, Abuse, and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT) published figures of rape, of sex trafficking, and of debauchery based on reports in five local newspapers: Koh Santepheap, Rasmei Kampuchea, Kampuchea Thmey, the Cambodia Daily, and the Phnom Penh Post-vp, where there were 322 cases of rape reported. The number increased by 16.77% compared to 2008, where there had been only 268 cases, and by 6.52% compared to 2007, where there had been 301 cases. The 332 cases victimized 337 persons, among whom 202 were underage girls and 2 were boys. Most of the victims were Khmers, but there were also Vietnamese, Cambodian Muslims, and Australians. It should be noted that gang rapes [when two or more men rape one girl] increased to 29 cases – in each case there were 2 to 7 perpetrators involved, and 5 victims were killed after they had been raped.
(translation via The Mirror)

Add in the notoriety of ‘bauk,’ the practice of gang rape that has become nauseatingly common in Cambodia, and some similarities become clear.  On the other hand, there are important differences: rape is illegal in Cambodia, and has harsh penalties, though enforcement is almost non-existent, especially for the poor; women currently compose approximately 85-90% of the garment industry’s working class (a polar reversal of the 16th century French examples), though the gendered resentment might have similar wellsprings.

yuch.