University of California, Berkeley, Myanmar (Burma)
Disclosure: Disclosure information not submitted.
The recent waves of mass murder, dispossession, and displacement of Rohingyas from Rakhine state have featured prominently in the international media, which have broadly represented conflict between Rohingyas and Rakhines as not simply historically derived, but even ‘ancient’. Violence between Rohingyas and Buddhists throughout Myanmar is also widely understood among Burman Buddhists as the (correct) response to a long standing “Muslim invasion” by “illegal” Bengali immigrants. Yet, even while the year 2012 marked an irrevocable change in lives and livelihoods for Rohingya and Rakhine communities in Rakhine state, our fieldwork uncovers how everyday material experiences and memories of peace and coexistence define many accounts of Rohingya and Rakhine oral histories of the region. Rather than approaching Buddhist-Muslim conflict as a historical fact, this paper highlights the mundane ways that Rohingyas and Rakhines have made lives alongside each other, and shows that instances of violence are more complex than what is often described opaquely as “communal tensions.” Findings from oral histories, interviews, and participant observation in Sittwe (Rakhine state) and Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) together challenge narratives that frame conflict between Rohingyas and Rakhines as inevitable, instead pointing to the crucial role of contemporary military-state practices in shaping so-called “communal” violence between Rohingyas and Rakhines.