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Myanmar Culture and Religion


Discuss about the Potential Role of Racial Discrimination.

The Rohingya humanitarian crisis was due to violence that escalated in the state of Myanmar Rakhine that caused a lot of suffering which could be categorized on a catastrophic scale. Rohingya is one of the ethnic minority found in the state of Myanmar. At the start of 2017, the number totaled to about one million in the country. Most of the Rohingya people live in Rakhine state, and they make up the highest proportion of Muslims in the whole region of Myanmar. The Rohingya crisis is one of the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world (Zarni et al. 685). Since August 2017, more than half a million Rohingya residents have fled their country to the neighboring Bangladesh nation. They claim their homes are being destroyed and are facing significant persecution from the Myanmar military. However, Myanmar military claims they do not target the Rohingya civilians but the militants. Therefore, risking all, they walk on foot or by sea for many days for fear of losing their lives. This paper, thus, discusses the history, culture, religion, and political regime evolution of Myanmar. The reason why Burma changed its name to Myanmar, how the Rohingya crisis happened, possible warnings signs, nations affected, reactions by the international community, use of diplomacy, and the countries/international organizations actively involved.

Myanmar culture has received substantial influence from the Mon people and Buddhism. Also, Westernization and the British colonial influenced significantly various aspects of the Burmese culture, specifically on education and language. The Burmese culture as well has been influenced heavily by their neighbors, specifically China and India (Kaung 45).

Myanmar is primarily a Theravada Buddhist country. It was adopted from India together with Hinduism and when the Christian era was being introduced in the region. All these religions, as well as the indigenous animism, interacted but Buddhist emerged to be the most predominant. Christianity came into existence in the 1800s brought by the European missionaries. It is estimated about 85% population of Myanmar practice Buddhism although a substantial number of animists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims still exist (Smith 43). Therefore, in a single neighborhood its common to see churches, temples, mosques, and pagodas nearby.

Myanmar consists of over 100 ethnic groups with their different languages and dialects. The majority of the groups speak Burmese. However, English is also extensively spoken in some regions like in urban centers and tourist hubs. The Myanmar nation fell into colonialism in the 19th century under the British colonial rule. It eventually became independent in 1948 as the Union of Burma. However, it entered a period of civil war immediately as the central government was dominated majorly by the Burmese group and, therefore, the ethnic minorities fought against its dominance. In 1962, the then new leader, Ne Win, constitutionalized new policies which feel under the umbrella of the slogan; ‘the Burmese Road to Socialism.’ Come 1972; the name was converted to the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. Eventually, in 1988, after the civil unrest, the name was changed again by the Myanmar government to the Union of Myanmar (Aung-Thwin 78).

Myanmar Political Regime Evolution

Myanmar changed its name officially to Burma in 1989 by the State Law and Order Restoration Council through the Adaptation of Expression Law. Initially, it was referred to as Union of Burma, but now it’s called the Union of Myanmar. Although up to date the names are used interchangeably. For instance, Australia and Canada still call it Burma while the United Nations (UN) and the Asian countries refer to it as Myanmar. The word Myanmar usually indicates the land in the literal meaning. Therefore, the government decided to call it so because the change considered all the ethnic groups together with their strange feelings and culture. Thus, their main aim was the establishment of national identity (Dittmer 7) involving all the country’s ethnic groups. Secondly, they wanted to excise the influence of names created by the British during the colonial times. The name Burma was spelled by the British and other Burmese town names were also changed. For instance, Moulmein to Mawlamyine and Rangoon to Yangon.

The Rohingya reached one million at the beginning of the year 2017 in Myanmar. It was one of the minority ethnic groups in the country with the highest percentage of Muslims. They believe to be descendants of Arab traders who traded in that region for many years. Also, they have their own unique culture and language as compared to other ethnic minorities. The Rohingya crisis began when the Myanmar government refused to recognize them as legal citizens (Zawacki 18). Myanmar is predominantly a Buddhist country, and in the 2014 census, they excluded Rohingya as non-citizens. According to the government, they are illegal immigrants originating from Bangladesh. The Myanmar military, therefore, started fighting the Rohingya militants as well as the civilians, although they denied doing so. Before the latest crisis in 2017, the Rohingya kept on fleeing Myanmar due to the communal violence and abuses they experienced from the security forces. The plight of August, 25th 2017 was as a result of Rohingya’s Arsa militants attacking of over 30 police posts in Myanmar (Khin 47). As such, the people of Myanmar responded by sending troops backed majorly by the local Buddhist mobs who attacked and killed them as well as burning their villages.

Since independence, Rohingya community has experienced social and legal discrimination. The majority of Myanmar population is made up of Buddhist and Rohingya being Muslims; they were segregated (Willis 82).  There has also been economic tension between these two communities since the government stripped them of their citizenship and right to self-identity. They also are prohibited from traveling and marrying without authorization and working outside their villages. All these incidences acted as signs of a possible crisis against the Rohingya community.

The Rohingya Crisis

The Rohingya crisis is a problem that has tremendously impacted various nations especially the neighboring countries. It does not only distress the Myanmar state but also the economic and security trends of the countries in the region as it creates an unstable economic and political arena that impacts the development negatively in the area. The greatest affected nations are; Malaysia, Thailand, and Bangladesh which are directly feeling the spillover effects (Rahman 235). The Rohingya crisis, therefore, seizes to be a domestic problem for Myanmar only but now it’s an international problem which requires immediate attention.

Various international communities as well have come together to aid in assistance of the matter. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), made up of Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, and Indonesia, and contributes significantly in changing its member state’s political behavior. The most critical problem currently is the conflict between the Muslims and Buddhists especially targeting the minority ethnic groups. ASEAN, therefore, have a crucial role in ensuring preventive diplomacy measures are implemented (Arendshorst 102).  Structural and legal reforms by the Myanmar government are essential as they will put an end to the ever-worsening Rohingya refugee crisis thereby stopping political violence against the Rohingya’s.

The Rohingya crisis was so pronounced that the international community such as UN and UNHCR had to come in and offer assistance and aid where necessary (Jeihan 6). The refugee population of about one million people needed shelter and food. Children under five years suffered from severe acute malnutrition-about 21, 677. Therefore, they were offered the right medication to improve their health. Those below 15 years (about 315, 00) received a five-in-one vaccination covering whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria. They also set up temporary emergency latrines in the Bangladesh military and many metric tons of aid were delivered throughout the harsh period the refugees endured in the camps.

Other international communities as well, such as the European Union (EU) have given financial and material aid to help curb the dire situation. The EU as well offers assistance to the refugees located in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh through the international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations. The ECHO foundation in 2017 as well funded several projects in the Rakhine State that addressed numerous needs such as shelter, sanitation, health services, water, food, and nutrition.

The United Nations was at the forefront of ensuring this crisis experienced by the Rohingya came to an end. The situation was labeled by the UN as the ‘world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.’ Various nations and international organizations joined hands in condemning the actions undertaken by the Myanmar government although sanction talks have been muted for long (Sarkin and Mare 371). For instance, the UN Security Council did not impose any sanctions despite the fact that they urged the Myanmar government to stop the looming violence. They believed that there was an act of genocide carried out by the state military forces against the Rohingya Muslims. On the other hand, the US asked the military troops to ensure the rule of law was respected and followed to the latter. They urged them to stop civilian displacement from all the ethnic minority communities. China supports the decisions carried out by Myanmar, and it believes other international community should as well encourage Myanmar in safeguarding and protecting its national development and political stability. On the other side, Bangladesh provided shelter for the refugees and built more shelters especially at the Cox’s Bazaar area (Parnini 291). The UK as well offered support to the refugees and asked for military action withdraw in Rakhine.  So far, no diplomatic negotiation has seen the crisis come to an end (Brooten 136). The human rights as well have been silent on the matter.

Nations Affected by the Rohingya Crisis

The Rohingya crisis has led to adverse effects in several sectors of the economy. Not only to the affected individuals but also to the whole community and the neighboring nations. Therefore, to mitigate this crisis, it is critical to enumerate possible steps that can lead to the end of the crisis.

  • Limiting dissemination of false information that causes more tension. The domestic and International media outlets should avoid spreading information that is not verified as well as making generalizations on the ethnoreligious groups, especially on social media. However, the human right agencies, international diplomats, and media outlets should be at the forefront of highlighting the plight of the Rohingya people. Through this, they can solicit for help hence help stop the crisis.
  • Building constructive relations between various ethnic groups through non-violent approaches such as initiating public information campaigns that can raise awareness on the importance of co-existence. The awareness also should focus on teaching the people of Myanmar the aftermaths of such violence such as the suffering it causes especially to children and women. The campaigns can be carried out by the International agencies as well as the Myanmar government.
  • Creating and implementing rules and regulations that prohibits discrimination on ethnic lines. The rules would ensure any person who engages in an action leading or perpetuating violence against the minority ethnic groups would face charges (Ragland 301). Additionally, the signing of agreements and commitments between the Muslim and Buddhist leaders would go a long way in bringing the crisis to an end.
  • Also, advocating for tolerance by the community despite the ethnic group that one comes from, hence, fighting for democracy especially the two key pillars which are diversity and inclusion.


Rohingyas are the minority Muslim group in Myanmar. The Rohingya crisis which started 35 years ago has been described as a long overdue problem that could have been solved by now. However, the majority of the international communities remain mute on the issue as they are not advocating for the end of the problem. The Rohingya crisis is a human rights crisis having adverse humanitarian consequences. The people of Rohingya have limited viable livelihood opportunities as well as limited access to essential services and as such their living conditions are deplorable. The Myanmar government also have denied them citizenship rights, and they have restricted their free movement. Rohingya to date remains one of the biggest stateless population worldwide (Robinson 17). It is crucial, therefore, for the Myanmar government and international organizations to join hands and come up with steps that can be used in mitigation the crisis, thereby bringing the Rohingya crisis to an end.


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Aung-Thwin, Michael, and Maitrii Aung-Thwin. History of Myanmar since ancient times: Traditions and transformations. Reaktion Books, 2013. 1-334.

Brooten, Lisa. "Blind Spots in Human Rights Coverage: Framing Violence Against the Rohingya in Myanmar/Burma." Popular Communication 13.2 (2015): 132-144.

Dittmer, Lowell. "Burma vs. Myanmar: What's in a Name?" Burma or Myanmar? The Struggle for National Identity. 2010. 1-20.

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Sarkin, Jeremy, and Marek Pietschmann. "Legitimate Humanitarian Intervention under International Law in the Context of the Current Human Rights and Humanitarian Crisis in Burma (Myanmar)." Hong Kong LJ 33 (2003): 371.

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Zarni, Maung, and Alice Cowley. "The slow-burning genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya." Pac. Rim L. & Pol'y J. 23 (2014): 683.

Zawacki, Benjamin. "Defining Myanmar's Rohingya Problem." Hum. Rts. Brief 20 (2012): 18.

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