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Regular version of the site


An ‘un-imagined community’: the entangled genealogy of an exclusivist nationalism in Myanmar and the Rohingya refugee crisis

Social Identities. 2020. Vol. 26. No. 5. P. 590-607.

The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted religious ethnic
minorities of the contemporary world. They have been persecuted
in Myanmar since the post-coup military regime came to power in
1962. What explains this brutal pursuit of violence against a
minority? In answering this question, I trace the genealogy and
the ethnogenesis of the Rohingya in Myanmar in a longue durée
through an analysis of extant data, both historical and
contemporary, and I supplement it with an ethnographic study I
conducted in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. I argue that the emergence
of the Rohingya identity is constitutively related with the stateformation,
war conquest, and power shifts in Myanmar during
precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial times. I demonstrate how
the post-coup state of Myanmar – in association with the religious
civil society, led by a section of the majoritarian Theravada
Buddhist Bamars – provoked religious and exclusivist nationalism
and constructed the ‘Rohingya Muslims’ as the enemy ‘Other’. I
demonstrate also how the democratization of Myanmar ironically
exacerbated the problem. The Rohingya themselves – once
alienated and un-imagined from the national space – embraced
this identity of victimhood to design their resilient and
oppositional disposition against an exclusivist state, which further
politicized and reified the identity.