Nationalism as a form of everyday resistance : How the stateless Rohingya of Myanmar experience belonging

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Title: Nationalism as a form of everyday resistance : How the stateless Rohingya of Myanmar experience belonging
Author: Kuuttila, Iina
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, Sosiaalitieteiden laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Research
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för socialvetenskaper
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2017
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Sosiaali- ja kulttuuriantropologia
Social and Cultural Anthropology
Social- och kulturantropologi
Abstract: In recent years, differences between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, particularly between populations native to the state of Rakhine, have developed from intolerance to outright oppression. Historical tensions over identity are threatening the future of the nation; the outlook for the humanitarian crisis is very worrying. Rohingyas, an Islamic ethnic group in Myanmar, have been deemed by the government as “illegal immigrants” and widely perceived as Bangladeshis. The Rohingyas of Myanmar have become a stateless population fighting for their right to stay in Myanmar due to the Buddhist government's nationalist vision to unite and protect the nation from the existential threat posed by non-Buddhist outsiders. The purpose of this thesis is to shed light on the tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar through the discourse and narratives of Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists interviewed for this study in 2016 and 2017. This thesis explores how Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar experience belonging to a nation that does not consider them nationals. In other words, how Rohingyas make sense of their feelings of belonging while being told they do not belong. The notion of belonging is central in defining an individual’s social identity. Membership to certain groups is essential in constructing a sense of belonging; bonding through social networks creates a sense of security and acceptance. This study is aimed to unpack the notion of belonging through the key concepts in which Rohingyas anchor their sense of social identity. In other words, through the theoretical lens of cultural belonging – from ethnic boundaries to nationalism – this study interprets Myanmar’s Rohingyas’ sense of belonging through their discourse on nationality and ethnicity. Analyzed using James Scott’s (1985) concept of everyday resistance, the objective is to understand how these markers of belonging translate into the everyday lives of Rakhine’s Muslim and Buddhist populations. The study found that, based on the discourse of the Rohingyas, their sense of belonging is anchored to their nationality and their ethnicity simultaneously. While nationality is unquestionable, ethnicity is more fluid. At first Rohingya participants upheld the notion that their ethnicity is tied to their identity, however if offered nationality without ethnic recognition, the Rohingya would give up their ethnic identity. Understanding how they manage to maintain these feelings while being oppressed and harassed comes down to resistance. Rather than rioting, demonstrating, or violently confronting the state, the participants of this study simply insisted that they are citizens and belong in Myanmar. The reoccurring theme of belonging suggests that nationalism is used as an everyday form of resistance. This practice is a way of attempting to achieve results without the risks of violence. Maintaining a balance between their national and ethnic identities silently resists the state's claims of Rohingyas being illegal migrants or stateless individuals, without adhering to the state's demands of renouncing their Rohingya ethnicity. Unfortunately, recent developments do not promise a brighter outlook for the Rohingya population: resistance has been met with punishment and it is unlikely that everyday resistance will be the sole method of opposition in the future. There is no end in sight to the affliction of the Rohingyas and further violence cannot be ruled out as a possible consequence. Passive resistance has not brought about a solution in the short term, nor has the attempts of the international community. My hope is, that by increasing knowledge about the plight of the Rohingya of Myanmar, this study prompts further research and action.
Subject: Belonging
Cultural Identity
Everyday Resistance
Ethnic Boundaries

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