The tragedy currently facing the Myanmar Rohingya Muslim community as they flee into neighbouring Bangladesh amid fears of mass ethnic cleansing come as no surprise after reading Francis Wade's terrifyingly prescient first book.
Released just prior to the 2017 refugee crisis, it chronicles the way regional Muslims, specifically the Rohingya in Rakhine state, have been periodically persecuted, often being used as pawns for sinister political agendas on all sides, from the powerful Bamar and Rahinke elite to the ruling Junta, in a blood-soaked quest to ‘unify’ the country under the religious identity of Buddhism.
Based on Wade's many years of reporting from the country for press outlets like, The Guardian and Newsweek, it is an impeccably well researched and impressive piece of work that looks back at almost a thousand years of history, charting the region's rich mix of people and ideas from 11th century, King Anawrahta through to, Aung San Suu Kyi’s independence party and its seminal election win. In between it examines how the British East India companies occupation of the area and its strategy to ‘divide, categorise, and conquer’, entrenched racial divides and set the scene for the atrocities that followed.
Wade peppers the book with his own experiences of travelling a country he so clearly loves along with interviews from local witnesses and compelling stories from fellow journalists. You often feel like you're getting to peek behind the curtain into a secretive country that few will ever fully understand. The stories act as excellent framing devices and essential colour, giving the book a fast-paced and personal tone that lacks in many similar nonfiction reads.
It's a brave piece of work that isn't afraid to move away from the traditional good Vs evil narrative that Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was so keen to popularise against the military Junta. The book makes clear the many shades of grey present in the current ruling party, as it turns a blind eye to the rise of ultra-nationalism, the persecution of the Rohingya and the radicalisation of youth through conservative Buddhist organisations like the Ma-Ba Tha.
At times, the book feels like your reading a report from 1945, detailing the grim discoveries of the German labour camps - it’s quite upsetting, but nevertheless, an essential read, it covers the implementation of ghettos, the removal of basic rights from the Rohingya and the previous mass exodus to Bangladesh in the 1990's. The theme of history constantly repeating is sadly littered throughout.
The wider implications afford an uncomfortably familiar parallel at how Muslims are being treated globally. It shows the power of what an unchecked press looks like when wielded by governmental forces and religious zealots and the book's allusions to fake news and a country terrified by events like 9/11 and the destruction of the Buddhist statues in 2001 by the Taliban, make the persecution of the Rohingyas as much a symptom of global problems as well as regional.
This book will be required reading for anyone looking to better understand the tensions in the region, but more than that, it’s an uncomfortable truth about how democracy is not a cure-all to a society's ills, but often simply a mirror.
This book was written and published before the recent forced exodus but it foreshadows the tragedy. It is a story about hate, treachery, lies, ethnic cleansing and a useless United Nations. The cause of the exodus is now well established. It was the result of a deliberate and organised conspiracy by Aung Suu, the military, politicians and supposedly peace-loving Buddhist monks to rid the land of Rohingya.
Myanmar's northern state is Rakhine. Some one million Muslim Rohingya lived there. Now only around 300,000 do because the rest have either been massacred or fled across the border to Bangladesh. Those who survived to flee, some 500,000, represent the most rapid exodus of a people since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when yet again the world stood by and did nothing save utter nauseating platitudes.
The Rohingya were driven out by a brutal, pitiless army with the backing of Buddhists and the government. The toothless UN has called what happened a textbook ethic cleansing but then looked the other way. The scoundrel Aung Suu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize not long ago. It makes a mockery of the Prize and all previous award holders. She belongs in prison.
Wade has shown the disaster was very predictable and could have been prevented. He demonstrates it is a looking glass world where Buddhist monks became hate filled villains and murderers.. What a mockery it makes of their religion. They, the army and the NLD regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants. They are called Bengali Muslims. Despite the killing and cleansing which began in Sittee on the west coast in 2012 and what has happened recently-the general public here know little of the true degree suffering being undergone by men, women, children and babies-Suu is today more popular than ever. In recent days even her opponents have praised her. No one in the country is on the side of the Rohingya. Those remaining are in a very dangerous situation.
What this barbaric event demonstrates is the hypocricy of the UN and world leaders. Wade has exposed it in all its sordid glory. In addition, I have yet to hear of one leader of a major religion condemn Suu and her collaborators.
The book is the product of research undertaken-over many visits to Myanmar between 2012 and 2016 to report on violence and its consequences under what was a vicious military government. Wade was sometimes there for months.The author admits that it was difficult to comprehend how a return to civilian rule plus venerated monks could result in violence and bloodshed. Neighbour turned on neighbour in 2012. The Buddhists were the chief culprits. Plans began to get rid of an entire religious community. The whole nasty business has echoes of other ethno-religious conflicts, for example 1947 in India and the Balkans. The violence of 2012 was terryfying, heads were severed in broad daylight. Young Muslim students were massacred. The Buddhist perpetrators claimed they and their culture were under attack. There is little evidence to support this.
From June 2012 the violence spread from village to town to city. The Muslims came to be seen as outsiders bent on ruining Buddhism. It was feared said Buddhists that democracy would allow Muslims to gain control. As is so often the case a particular incident sparked the violence. A young 26 year-old girl was raped and murdered by a gang on 28 May 2012. The accused were Muslims. Inevitably the Buddhist community returned the violence a few days later. Ten Muslims on a bus were murdered. They were all missionaries, none were local. This set of mobs and more horrendous violence. Old scores were settled.
This is a tragic story that has not yet ended. It has many lessons for all nations, most of which go back to antiquity. Above all it demonstrates once more the hatred engendered by ethnic and religious differences, and the unwillingness of those in power to stamp it out . The most powerful nations on earth seem powerless to protect the innocent. So said Voltaire. How true.
Francis Wade has written a gripping, and forensic account of a people in peril. It is written with verve and clarity . The research is admirable. It is a book that is disturbing in its acuity. Myths are shattered and the light is shed on some hitherto dark places. It is a book that deserves a wide readership.
It's easy to get sucked into misinformation regarding what's going on in Myanmar/Burma right now - from sources demonising Aung San Suu Kyi to sources hailing her as a misrepresented martyr, the West doesn't quite know what to think of what's going on. In this book Wade aims to tackle that by looking at the origins of the problems, the environment in which they've developed and the future. Myanmar is a beautiful country with amazing people and deserves fair treatment, in this text Francis Wade goes some way towards that.
Required reading for anyone interested in Burma and the current Rohingya crisis. Wade elegantly delves into the history of this much-maligned people, while weaving in personal illustrations of the nation's perverse focus on ethnic politics, the post-democratization emergence of a radical Buddhist right, and the stunning indifference of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to this festering humanitarian disaster. Reportage at its finest.
A timely and insightful addition to understanding communal violence and the heightening humanitarian crisis that has followed a brutal assault on Myanmar’s Muslim minority. Francis Wade’s interrogation of the rise of ethno-nationalism is thoughtful and intelligent, a nuanced historic mapping to understanding the forces that have given way to the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya. Most interesting is perhaps his exploration of the human condition, and the fragility and interchangeability of so-called immutable identities. A necessary read.
Timely and Indispensable for a proper understanding of the deeply troubling plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Francis Wade looks at their decades long suppression through the eyes of ordinary people, both victims and aggressors. With historical data and vivid descriptions of critical events, a picture emerges of a military and political class that uses negative ethnicity and religion as tools to strengthen their hold on power. It is a dangerous game with tragic consequences.
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Burma and religious persecution more generally. Elegantly and thoughtfully written, Wade draws upon his personal experience of living in this troubled country and combines it with rigorous research and historical data - making it an accessible and gripping read. Brilliant and, tragically, more important now that ever.