Myanmar’s Buddhist-Muslim Crisis: Rohingya, Arakanese, and Burmese Narratives of Siege and Fear

Hardback: $85.00
ISBN-13: 9780824881795
Published: September 2019
Paperback: $29.99
ISBN-13: 9780824882112
Published: September 2019

Additional Information

324 pages | 13 b&w illustrations, 3 maps
  • About the Book
  • Myanmar’s Buddhist-Muslim Crisis is a probing search into the reasons and rationalizations behind the violence occurring in Myanmar, especially the oppressive military campaigns waged against Rohingya Muslims by the army in 2016 and 2017. Over more than three years John Holt traveled around Myanmar engaging in sustained conversations with prominent and articulate participants and observers. What emerges from his peregrinations is a series of compelling portraits revealing both deep insights and entrenched misunderstandings.

    To understand the conflict, Holt must first accurately capture the viewpoints of his different conversation partners, who include Buddhists and Muslims, men and women, monks and laypeople, activists and scholars. Conversations range widely over issues such as the rise of Buddhist nationalism; the sometimes enigmatic and unexpected positions taken by Aung San Suu Kyii; use of the controversial term “Rohingya”; the impact of state-sponsored propaganda on the Burmese public; resistance to narratives emanating from international media, the United Nations, and the international diplomatic community; the frustrations of local political leaders who have felt left out of the policy-making process in the Rakhine State; and the constructive hopes and efforts still being made by forward-looking activists in Yangon. Three main perspectives emerge from the voices he listens to, those of Arakanese Buddhists who are native to Rakhine (once called Arakan), where much of the conflict has taken place; Burmese Buddhists (or Bamars), who make up the vast majority of Myanmar’s population; and the Rohingya Muslims, whose tragic story has been widely disseminated by the international media.

    What surfaces in conversation after conversation among all three groups is a narrative of siege: all see themselves as the aggrieved party, and all recount a history of being under siege. John Holt gives voice to these different perspectives as an engaged and concerned participant, offering both a critical and empathetic account of Myanmar’s tragic predicament. Readers follow the hopes and dismay of this seasoned scholar of Theravada Buddhism as he seeks his own understanding of the variously impassioned forces in play in this still unfolding drama.

  • About the Author(s)
    • John Clifford Holt, Author

      John Clifford Holt is William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • As the world learned of the mass exodus and terrible abuse of the Rohingya of Myanmar, one question lingered: How could it happen? Here Professor Holt gets as close as one can to an answer by capturing the perspectives of leading figures on each side of the divide inside Myanmar. Through these voices, we achieve insights into the deep historical, cultural, social, economic, and political contexts in which the tragedy occurred. One may not agree with all of what these voices have to say as Holt himself notes, but anyone who cares about the future of the Rohingya—and of Myanmar—ignores them and this book at their peril.
      —Ambassador Derek J. Mitchell, US ambassador to Myanmar, 2012–2016
    • This is a captivating account of the complex dynamics underlying the trilateral conflict between Muslim Rohingya, Buddhist Rakhine, and Buddhist Burmese. Professor Holt tells this story through in-depth discussions with key representatives of each community held between the lead-up to Myanmar’s 2015 elections and the brutal expulsion of the Rohingya. While skillfully weaving in history and his own expertise, he paints a sobering picture of the growing hopelessness of the Rohingya, the siege mentality of the Rakhine and Burmese Buddhists more broadly (who too see themselves as victims), and the persistent and pernicious influence of Myanmar’s military.
      —Governor Bill Richardson, US ambassador to the United Nations, 1997–1998
    • John Clifford Holt has produced an extremely significant and useful work; it is timely, deeply personal, and speaks to the tragic situation in Myanmar’s western region and its permutations in different areas of the country. Holt offers an intimate and sorrowful view of the situation that has been and remains dire for many, and raises questions relevant not only to Myanmar but to persisting and emergent global realities in many parts of the world, including in the US itself.
      —Jason A. Carbine, Whittier College
    • Each of the in-depth interviews in this book provides unparalleled and nuanced insights into a complex network of actors, interests, and causes in a conflict that is too often labeled with just simple attributes: religious and ethnic genocide. It shows that the complicated realities of the conflict are articulated in the lives of people on either side.
      —Juliane Schober, Arizona State University
    • Masterfully organized and richly informative, this is an audacious book, both scholarly and personal, mindful and challenging, deeply engaging yet unsettling. At its core, it contains extracts from series of interviews Holt managed to conduct between 2015 and 2018 with 15 people at various locations in Myanmar (Yangon, Rakhine State, and Mandalay). Holt’s conversations, showing utmost patience, progress in many-sided dialogues flowing between the oppressive past and the ongoing Rohingya conflict, Buddhist-Muslim relations, critical events within the country (such as the 2015 elections), and individual life stories. . . . Presented with both empathy and scholarly rigor, the various dialogues invite critical reflections on Myanmar’s Buddhist-Muslim conundrum, the status of Buddhism as a cultural and mind-setting system, and ultimately the role of education.
      —Jacques P. Leider Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Yangon, Southeast Asian Studies 9:2
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