A Jingoist Media Foments Violence in Burma’s Arakan State

Publications such as Weekly Eleven are accused of fueling anti-Muslim sentiment in Burma.

Encouraged by a rabidly irresponsible nationalist press, the Buddhist nationalists that constitute Burma’s majority population, along with the ethnic Rakhine minority, have adopted a siege mentality that Rohingyas, whom they call “Bengali” illegal immigrants and terrorists, are causing the problems in their otherwise peaceful country.

The earlier anti-Rohingya campaign has now become an anti-Muslim movement. Victims of fresh violence that broke out on October 23 in central Arakan state are ethnic Kaman of Islamic faith. According to the United Nations, more than 28,000 people have been displaced in the past seven days—27,300 of them Muslims, mostly Kaman. Thousands of homes have been razed and more than 100 people have been killed, according to most estimates.

Similarly, Human Rights Watch released satellite images on October 26 showing a vast land area in Kyauk Pru (Kyaukpyu) township in Arakan State being burned to the ground. The organization said thousands of Muslims were floating in the sea, while many have landed on the banks of islands and ports in life-threatening conditions. Aid organizations, international media around the world, and the once-exiled Burmese media are reporting the worsening persecution.

Quite contrary to what the world is witnessing collectively—that Muslims are the mass victims in the Arakan conflict—the Rakhine and Burmese majority continue to believe they are the victims. This is not to deny that Rakhines are not victims. In fact, many have been killed and many houses have been razed. It is undeniable, however, that Muslims constitute a much larger majority of victims and refugees.

Yet the majority population keeps repeating that Bengalis, even when the victims are not Rohingyas, are terrorists and troublemakers who fomented the violence and that therefore they and their religion must be suppressed. The majority do not accept that the violence must stop immediately, and that nobody deserves to be killed, tortured or expelled. They have not realized that the problems must be solved through political settlement.

The political effect of self-victimization is that it lends support to an anti-Muslim campaign which is already manifested in large-scale violence.

The immediate reason that Buddhist majority support the continuing violence is the domestic media, which has been publishing exceedingly biased news and nationalistic views, perpetuating public anxiety, feelings of insecurity and the sense of victimhood allegedly caused by “Rohingya terrorists.”

In such a politicized environment, the first step to stop violence in Arakan state is to suspend the domestic journals, at least temporarily. It might sound quite bizarre to advocate the suspension of print journals in the new so-called “democratic” Burma. The ugly truth, however, is that the Burmese-language journals published are feeding misinformation and subjective perspectives that are turning the increasingly polarized population into a mob that won’t shy away from violence.

In Burma, the power of the newly unleashed domestic journals is immense. The people, previously starved of information for decades, find newly established publications to be an oasis. In major cities and even small towns, newsstands are now everywhere. New journals keep appearing one after another, with an audience ranging from rickshaw drivers to government officials.

The two most popular journals in the country are the Weekly Eleven and the Voice Weekly. They are also leading a media war against those whom they call “Bengali” illegal immigrants. These journals are not celebrating freedom of expression with responsibility. Even though the ideal of freedom of expression, which ideologically permits their political existence in a reformed Burma, is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of human rights for all is nowhere close to their culture, ethics or political aspirations.

Instead, they are pitting Buddhist Rakhines against the Muslim Rohingyas, who are altogether seen as “foreigners” and a national security threat, however unproven. They support the Rakhines’ political interests at the expense of the Rohingyas’ who have already taken the brunt of the abuse. Such a nationalistic stance is responsible for the people’s delusion.

For example, The Voice Weekly published a story on October 27 (one day after Human Rights Watch released satellite images), that was entirely based on a single Rakhine source of information, the Arakan League for Democracy. It referred to a simplistic but politically motivated statement by the party and cited a comment by Myo Kyaw, secretary of the Arakan League, saying that a foreign organization, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, had ignited the conflict. The journal then weaved into the story a previous announcement by President Thein Sein that made it appear that the government and the Arakan League were in agreement against international organizations.

Similarly, the Weekly Eleven ran two opinion pieces on October 28th (two days after the Human Rights Watch report and the same day the UN said almost all of the displaced victims are Muslims). Both pieces proceed from a Rakhine perspective that denies any chance for coexistence between Rakhines and Rohingyas. The authors accuse Rohingyas (and Muslims) as being the cause of the problems.

The second article, titled “Who pulled the strings from behind?” accused Rohingyas of initiating ethno-religious conflicts to realize their “ethnic dream.” It cited 30 Muslim religious leaders from home and abroad as visiting Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships during the conflict. The narratives suggest that Muslims perpetrated the violence, never mind the fact that those running desperately for their lives are Muslims.

Such biases and perspectives are not exceptions, they are the rule. Since June this year, both journals have consistently printed and posted explicitly anti-Rohingya news and views.

Collectively, the journals fan popular misunderstandings and prejudices that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants despite living in the region for hundreds of years; that they are source of the problems; that they started the conflict by setting their own homes on fire and ran away; and that they are responsible for violence. The publications alleged that the Rakhines, not Rohingyas or Muslims, are the victims of the violence.

By repeating the arguments about victimhood and “Rohingya guilt,” the journals mask the ugly truth that it is predominantly Muslims who are facing the violence. They continue to bombard peoples’ minds with anti-Rohingya views and accusations at the expense of the opportunity to call for ending the violence.

Given that the two journals have become the most popular in the country regardless of quality and ethics, the audience uncritically accepts the information and views presented. They disregard all alternative information and views as false and manipulated. As such, the Burmese are having trouble accepting what the outside world is witnessing.

To be fair, the violence is not all fomented by Rakhines. There have been attacks and counterattacks from both sides, with both taking casualties. But no one can deny that Muslims experience much worse attacks than their Rakhine counterparts. Otherwise, the 27,300 out of 28,000 displaced people in the past few days would not have been Muslims.

Whoever started the conflict, there is no justification for the media to side with one group to support the expulsion of another. Yet, the most popular and influential journals in Burma have failed miserably. Instead of stopping violence, they have fueled the conflict by deceiving the public, by perpetuating public hatred of Rohingyas and by provoking fear, insecurity and victimhood, driving the public to legitimize violence and support angry mobs.

Thus, the first step to stop violence in Arakan state should be to temporarily suspend the Burmese language journals, which are shaping public opinion towards mob culture. Otherwise, people will continued to be fooled so as to keep rallying for violence. This is not a call to back away from freedom and democracy for a return to military rule. This is a call that unethical and abusive media costing human lives and dignity must be suspended.

Sai Latt is a Burmese, and a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University in Canada. This article first appeared in Asia Sentinel on Oct. 30, 2012. The views expressed are the author’s and do not reflect The Irrawaddy editorial policy.

12 Responses to A Jingoist Media Foments Violence in Burma’s Arakan State

  1. Thanks for you informative article. Although I
    don’t agree the periodicals should be suspended I do think media that provides
    alternative points of views should be allowed to exist and flourish.  I’m
    saddened by how easily fooled the majority of the population in Burma have
    been. But I’m utterly disgusted by the majority of the views purported by
    Burmese nationals who have been granted resettlement to countries western countries.
    They can rant all they want but they fail to understand is just how much harm they will cause
    to the Muslim and Buddhist populations who have to live aside each other in Arakan State. Furthermore, how they
    fail to draw the connections to their own experience as refugees in Thailand
    and third countries is beyond me.  I can only conclude that racism is the furthest
    thing  from intellectual thought, and by
    wielding it the victims are made less than human. 

  2. George Than Setkyar Heine

    Sai Latt?
    Maybe the name is not hisI bets.
    And if he was BORN A BURMESE HE WOULD’NT HAVE WRITTEN this article specifically the way it is written like this as well.
    I don’t give a damn what the journals/newspapers are writing about in Burma and their aim and objectives of the subject matter as well.
    The Rakhine-Rohingya FLAREUP in Arakan State is the WORK of the ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS from Bangladesh callling themselves Rohingyas today WREAKING HAVOC in the land of the Rakhines ONE of the MAJOR ETHNIC MINORITIES of BURMAuntil today I say.
    The BOTTOM LINE is there is NO ETHNIC MINORITY named Rohingya in Burma since the BEGINNING of  TIME until today as well.
    The CRUX of the MATTER at hand today is Rohingyas are UNTITLED hence HAVE NO PLACE in ARAKAN STATE and much less BURMA lest ALL FORGET.
    And ALL PEOPLE BORN in BURMA  regardless of creed, color or ethnicity as well ACCEPT the FACT: Rohingyas are NO NATIVES of BURMA and hence, they  have NO RIGHT to CLAIM – ETHNICITY much less CITIZENSHIP of the  COUNTRY – specifically via CROSSING the BORDERS as ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS in the first place and MAKING THEIR POINT, RUNNING AMOK – RAPING, BURNING, KILLLING etc – for that matter like today.
    Note:  FREE and FAIR REFERENDUM  held in this REGARD would certainly CLEAR the MATTER as well, any bets?
    Of course we are CLUELESS over the FACT: What MADE Min Aung Hlaing’s (Chinese paid) MERCNARY BURMA ARMY HESITATE or FAIL to ACT ACCORDINGLY and IN TIME as well for that MATTER (Rohingya hijacking uprising for ethnicity and citizenship of the country)?.
    Of course the Burma Army VOWED to PROTECT the PEOPLE and COUNTRY in the first place has the PRIOIRTY/RESPONSIBILITY to SAFEGUARD the SECURITY and PROPERTY of the NATIVE RAKHINE people most importantly as well.
    The  United States and all civilized nations on earth called it NATIONAL SECURITY of course.
    And it would FAVOR and SERVE BETTER for the ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (Rohingyas) as well as INTERNATIONAL AID/RELIEF could be RENDERED  OFFICIALLY and LEGALLY to the FENCE JUMPERS as well no less.
    Of course the UN, US, OIC and other Islamic countries can PITCH IN THEIR LOT/PART in this MATTER , monestarily and others, while PROCESSING/PROCEDURES  are ONGOING before RELOCATING THEM (Rohingyas) to THIRD COUNTRIES most preferably Islamist countries in the OIC no less for the better and further PRACTICE/PROFESS  their CULTURES, RELIGION and WAY of LIFE of course.
    Burma is a BUDDHIST COUNTRY and BASICALLY the CULTURE, BELIEF, NATURE and WAY of LIFE not to mention DIALECT/LANGUAGE as well are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from the Rohingyas’ BASICALLY and FORMERLY the NATIVES of Bangladesh as known and obviously as well.
    And the Rohingyas as well would not ASSIMILATE much less  CONFORM to the CULTURE, NATURE and WAY of LIFE of the NATIVES of BURMA as well of course.
    Of course BURMA COULD/WOULD NOT ACCOMMODATE the ALIENS BULL-DOZING THEIR WAY into the land of Rakhines since CENTURIES or DECADES AGO until today and FORCING THEIR HANDS for Burmas’ CITIZENSHIP and ETHNICITY  as well today.
    In that light and scenarion, BEST BET for the Rohingyas is to BACK TRACK to their NATIVE LAND – Bangladesh – or ASK/REQUEST for ASYLUM in THIRD COUNTRIES from the UNHCR, most suitably in ISLAMIST COUNTRIES in the ORGANIZATION of ISLAMIC COUNCIL of course.

  3. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    How dare Irrawaddy publish such a bias article calling for suppression of recently found freedom of press in Burma? It is quite obvious that some extremists are working really hard to drive communal riots into complete full blown religion riots in Burma. After a decade of study through the opportunity of Burmese Democracy Movement, a Burmese Muslim Author, born and raised in Burma, migrated to Canada as a refugee from Thai-Burma border, Sia Latt has now come out to show who he really is, a savior of his Muslim brothers in Burma. 

    Never has he ever been such an active guy in the whole Burma struggle in a fight against the tyrant in Burma.
    He is a good son of imams who do not see any wrong doing in their Muslim brothers.  These are the facts: everywhere attacks happen and suicide bombers carry out their missions in the name of Allah. And what do the leaders and imams of our Muslim brothers say? “It has nothing to do with Islam.” Can we accept this lack of explanation, especially when considering that so many verses of the Koran encourage the fight against non-Muslim religions and promise Paradise to their soldiers? 

    Given these facts, no Muslim authors such as Sai Latt can ever set his sight straight in finding any solution to the communal riots, but twist the religion as much as he could until it comes into full blowup. 

    Irrawaddy in the mean time is responsible for its news coverage of this complete nonsense bias article, and should not get away with a simple quote that the views expressed are the author’s and do not reflect The Irrawaddy editorial policy. How dare are you Irrawaddy in promoting a call for a suppression of freedom of expression in Burma? Are you out of mind? 

    One thing for sure is that this communal riot makes some degree of blindness to a lot of us, but that blindness should not make us to become out of sight; the sight of Irrawaddy is now in question and needs immediate medical attention before it’s too late. Remember!  It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  4. Irrawaddy magazine is Islamist propaganda tool.

  5. Like a sickness, like a disease, there has been violent vitriol against Muslim in social media since June affair by a large groups of people still in or from Burma. That, no doubt, would have helped encourage the people on the ground to act more recklessly than otherwise making the  situation worse.

    Still this has to be seen in the background of centuries old peaceful co-existence which people would not even term as “tolerance’ because there has thus far no need for toleration. Simple co-existence. Again like most diseases, the period will pass and the past will come back again, with wise counsel and patience.

    Yes, the attacks now include long time neighbours Kaman who are Muslims. But it more likely reflects the local mechanics  of relationship among the groups at a time of extreme stress and uncertainty. 

    No doubt this will increase weariness among the Muslim populations around the country and the bomb attacks in Karen area do not help either. But there is no ground to hold up the all out Muslim Buddhist annihilation card  as a lot of advocates seem to be representing the situation which itself is inciting.

    It is remarkable that he article did not mention “Hmu Zaw” of Thein Sein the Good Guy’s office who was and is the conductor of this mis-information/ incitement orchestra. There is no doubt that the “independent media” in Burma today is simple mouth piece of the gaung-paunged military who are the arch-practitioners of chauvinistic and overbearing attitude for half a century.

    And the “disease” of the public is due to their successful transfer of such dishonourable attitude not present in common people for centuries.

    Currently while that horrid military is being feted around the world, the Burmese populace has no chance to see the truth. Being racist and chauvinistic, the military is rewarded all over the world and their  leaders and the cheerleader Aung San Suu Kyi are being lauded.

    Now things have gone out of hand, threatening to destroy not just the planned group of people but the whole nation, human around the world must condemn the racist military  with and without gaung-paung even though they hold the only key for entry and exploitation of Burma’s riches.

    For people on the ground on both sides, practical support to alleviate their suffering and reassurance and reconciliation are required rather than a Catalog of the hurts and unjust acts to foment further incitement.

    Not just the two, all the publications are either immature or sycophantic. When the maestro changes the tune, the orchestra will follow.

  6. Very sad to see all these fatal clashes between the two
    communal groups.

    I’m sure there are certain groups who are profiting out from
    this crisis while the two communities are losing their love ones.

    These kind of crises are never simple.  It is always driven by greedy individuals and
    Burma is not the only country which has fallen into these sorts of systematic

    But this is also a test for the people of Burma whether we
    are ready to walk into a bigger and wider society. If we are rigidly defined
    ourselves by the man-made boundaries of so-called maps, we should never leave
    from those boundaries. Don’t travel abroad or the regions out from that
    boundary. Don’t learn or use science or technology that was discovered by other
    nationalities. Don’t dream for the ideas of democratic society that other
    nationalities had first developed and enjoyed.

    If we look at the maps of African countries, we will see a
    lot of straight lines. Is this possible for a tribe to live on a straight line
    pattern? The answer is “NO”. They were colonial countries and those messed-up maps
    were drawn by European countries. They are never natural borders but man-made
    which explained why ethnic cleansing and civil wars are still going on in
    Africa. The map of Burma was also drawn by the British and it has never been
    perfect as any other colonial countries.

    On the websites and facebook pages, the propagandas from
    both sides are posted every day. Although some will claim themselves nationalists,
    fighting for the religions or human rights, don’t forget that there are also
    people who are paid to spread the vicious rumours by greedy individuals/groups
    so that they could continue to enjoy the resources of the country if Burma is
    ever derailed from the current progress.

    I really want to urge the people who have genuine concerned
    for the development of Burma, “think first before you post or share these
    propagandas”. Even some acts or words meant innocently, they are no longer
    served the true intentions. Don’t let the greedy people take advantage and stain blood on your hands!!!

  7. Thanks Sai Latt for insightful analysis. But I do not agree with banning of the periodicals even for a temporarily. Rather, they should be educated on how to respect international human rights and observe norms of ethics in publications. They should also point out to the general public that peaceful coexistence among majority  and minority groups, irrespective of color, creed, or religion,  is important to achieve genuine democracy.

  8. Muslim author? If it is quite obvious that Muslims are working really hard to drive communal riots into complete full blown religion riots in Burma, then it is obviousl to me that you need your brain functionality checked.

  9. let us not forget who or what the mujahids were for after Independence.
    Call a Spade  Spade:
    Myanmar should consider giving shelter to Buddhists in Bangladesh and Bangladesh should consider giving shelter to Rohingas/Bengalis FAIR EXCHANGE NO ROBBERY.
    For those Burmese Muslims, in particular of Afghan, Iraq/Iran Origins, that were transplanted by the British, they might give serious consideration, claiming citizenship of their forebears, if their prime concern were for their Muslim Brothers.

  10.  Where’s  Muslim, there’s  problem in the world! Their religion is itself a politicized one not a purely spiritual one. The World witnesses it in Nergia where we hear there are some fighting between Christans and muslims communities, likewise in Egypt and other countries of Africa, Filiphines and other countries in Asia, Chechnya in Russia and former Kosovo  in Euro. If they really want to live peacefully along with other communities in the world, they need to change their sensitive sentiments  probably taught by their religion.

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