How ethnic and religion issues came to appear as a dilemma, The Case of Muslim Rohingya ethnic in Myanmar.

Culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law custom and any other capabilities and habits which acquired by man (both genders) as a member of society”

E.B. Tylor

Culture is the basic factor that can influence how people act and doing something around others. Almost every individual or groups of people have different culture in this world. Based on what Tylor stated, we know that culture is the accumulation of knowledge, beliefs (sometimes we called it as religion), arts morals, custom law, and so forth that manifested by man (male and female) during their social life. Those factors, if we really paying attention on it, is a very crucial matters. Every people have different perspectives when seeing or responding something. And if this diversity cannot be well understood by the people, the possibility of conflict among them will be so high. When we talks about culture, sometimes we were facing difficulties to differentiate ethnic and religion.

Those two things are like two different side of a coin. We cannot separated this because it is related each other. Sometimes when we discuss about ethnics about what, how, and why ethnics did such a thing but on the other hands, religion wills then entering the discussion. We cannot deny because sometimes religion is the basic factor of what and how an ethnic behavior. The diversity of culture is become more vulnerable to become a conflict when we talks in the wider environment called state. Talks about cultural diversity at state level, it is very crucial and we have to be careful to deal with this. Usually there are so many different ethnics group that exist in one states. Those ethnics group of course has their own objectives based on they own knowledge and beliefs, they have their own rules and regulation for its people and this will be adhered by the people every time and everywhere in interacting with others.  Imagine that each people in a state have this, if one ethnic is so different and not fit with another and then they interact each other. The possibility of misunderstood and conflict regarding this, is on eyes.


Actually the ethnicity problem was occur long time ago. But, the most worried conflict happened two years ago in June 2012. The conflict is actually between Myanmar Government against Rohingya Muslim ethnic group as minority since 1947 that currently involving Buddhist Rakhine groups as another actors.  The Rohingya are a Muslim minority ethnically related to the Bengali people living in neighboring Bangladesh’s Chittagong District. They form 90 percent of the one million people living in the north of Rakhine State in Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh and includes the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. While residents in northern Rakhine State are predominantly Muslim, ethnic Rakhines – primarily Buddhist – are the majority of the state’s three million residents. Actually, some Rohingya have been in Myanmar for long long time ago while others arrived in recent times.

The problem here is the Burmese authorities (Government) at that time consider them as undocumented immigrants and do not recognize them as one of their citizens or as an ethnic group. Rohingya are de jure stateless and the resources of instability in the country. The rejection is supported by the Myanmar President, Mr. Thein Sein that said “Burma will take responsibility for its ethnic nationalities but it is not at all possible to recognize the illegal border-crossing Rohingyas who are not an ethnic [group] in Burma,” on the President’s office website. This conflict worsens when the Rakhine Buddhists involves in June 2012. Homes and places of worship razed. About thousands people were killed and displaced at that time (the majority is Muslim Rohingya). The term “ethnic cleansing” was popular at that time which declared by the Buddhist towards the Muslim Rohingya. Referring to the above case study, if we analyze it carefully, we will then find a dilemma that the conflict is purely because of ethnic differences or religious differences. If the conflict happened because of the ethnicity matters, like what the statement of Myanmar President, then why there is also a religious matter come up as the factor when Rakhine Buddhist involves and try to do ethnic cleansing towards Rohingya Muslim at that time. If the reason is religion differences, it is actually did not make sense because in Myanmar there are three Muslim ethnics which are Burmis muslim, Indian muslim, and Rohingya muslim. So, why then only Rohingya muslim become the only victims on the conflict then. This is the question that cannot be answered by all up to now indeed.

Culture and conflict are linked each other. However, this does not mean that the diversity of culture will always produce conflict. Conflict is a normal phenomenon of people interaction. Conflict can include segregation, discrimination, and exclusion. Whatever the root of the problem, In conflict resolution, tolerance and patience are key factors to prevent conflict. In the case of Myanmar, we see that sometimes culture (ethnic) and religion cannot be separated each other and closely linked. So, while we discussing or debating about ethnics conflict, sometimes the religion matters is came to appear as one of the factor of the conflict.


[Rizky Adi Yananto]



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