A significant sub-system within the system relates to tensions between different religious and/or ethnic communities resulting from a lack of trust and positive interaction.
There are four important feedback loops which constitute this sub system. The first (R10) , is characterized by the fact that hate speech against Muslims (that employs stereotypes of Muslims as violent) reinforces the perception among non-Muslims that Islam is an inherently violent or aggressive religion. This perception in turn leads people to interpret social or inter-personal conflicts or crimes as religious conflicts (since they assume that Muslims are more likely to be aggressors and/or Islam to be incompatible with other religions). This contributes to the perception that religious conflict is rife, that Islam per se is the cause of the conflicts and/or that non-Muslims are at risk from attack by Muslims, which often results in hate speech against Muslims.
The second feedback loop in the sub-system involves the perception that Islam is a violent religion leading to fear and suspicion between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. This suspicion increases the likelihood that non-Muslim communities will misinterpret Muslim religious practices as sinister or threatening (e.g. slaughtering cows at Eid) which either reinforces the perception that Islam is violent religion (R11a) or leads those communities to self-segregate, which exacerbates the misinterpretation and subsequent perception that Islam is a violent religion (R11b).
The third feedback loop involves this fear and suspicion of Muslim communities contributing to anxiety over increases in non-Muslim populations due to high birthrates, intermarriage or immigration (which is exacerbated by several other factors in the system). This anxiety in turn leads non-Muslims to be more susceptible to anti-Muslim narratives which in turn leads to increased fear and suspicion (R12a). A variation on this loop involves an additional step where fear and suspicion increases self-segregation between communities which reduces understanding of other cultural or religious practices and thus makes people more susceptible to anti-Muslim narratives.
The fourth feedback loop (R14a/b) links the fear/suspicion factor between communities with the perception that Islam is a violent religion, anxiety over demographic change, and hate speech against Muslims. This hate-speech results from the fact that theories about how and why demographic change is happening involves dangerous stereotypes about how Muslims force Buddhist women to convert to Islam through violence or financial incentives, carry out sexual assault against non-Muslim women, and intentionally have high numbers of children in order to become the majority population.
This sub-system relates to the impact that both local and international media have on social cohesion in Myanmar. Important dynamics in this sub-system (e.g. R7, R8 and R9) relate to the fact that international and local media tend to primarily report on different (i.e. Muslim vs. non-Muslim) experiences of violence. The factors that sustain/explain this dynamic are outlined in the upper right part of the sub-system. This includes the fact that international journalists tend to interview communities in Bangladesh, rather than Rakhine state (see below). Another supporting factor is related to how misinterpretations of key terms leads to further anger
and frustration at being misinterpreted. Specifically, there is often misinterpretation of the English words “ethnic group” (taingyintha vs. lu myo) and “citizen” (taingyintha vs. naingan tha) between Myanmar and English languages. Many Myanmar citizens interpret the international media/community’s use of the expression “Rohyingya ethnic group” to mean that “Rohyingya are taingyintha (indigenous) and that ”Myanmar deny Rohyingya citizenship” which is not the case for many Myanmar citizens, who are primarily opposed to Muslims in northern Rahkhine being granted the status of taingyintha, not citizenship per se.
The anger/frustration of being misrepresented/having your experience ignored is important in the system since it is not only a cause of hostility towards Muslims (by non-Muslims in Myanmar), but also towards Bamar (by Muslims and other minorities) and also towards the international community. The anger/frustration felt by non-Muslims is due to the perception that the international media/community fails to acknowledge the experience of non-Muslim victims of violence. This perception is enforced by the fact that international media reports primarily on interviews with violence affected communities outside of Myanmar (i.e. Bangladesh) since they do not have free access to violence affected communities in Northern Rakhine state due to restrictions imposed on journalists
The anger/frustration felt by Muslims is that local media primarily reports on the non-Muslim experiences of violence, which fails to acknowledge their experience as well as (from their perspective) contribute to and validate anti-Muslim narratives. Possible reasons for this are outlined throughout the rest of this document. Ethnic minorities are frustrated/angry about being portrayed unjustly (according to negative stereotypes) in media and in popular culture (several popular proverbs that cast a negative light on minorities were cited), which contributes towards hostility against Bamar.
Another important dynamic revealed in this sub-system (R6 and R10) is the fact that international media coverage of violence carried out by Islamist terrorist groups such as ISIS (especially shocking images of beheadings etc.) has a signicant impact on the factors which exacerbate bias and fear against Muslims in Myanmar. This contributes to both the sense of threat among non-Muslim communities as well as the perception that the international media is being hypocritical by focusing on violence carried out by Islamist groups in other countries, but ignoring the violence carried out by Muslims in Myanmar. These factors impact the narratives in local media and hate speech on social media. They also contribute to the wider perception that Islam is a violent religion which in turn feeds into several of the other factors in the “Fears and Anxieties” sub-system discussed below.
The issue of ethnic conflict came up much less that the topic of religious conflict during the analysis.
Still, some key dynamics that emerged include the fact that fears about the territorial integrity/national security of Myanmar (which are greatly affected by anxiety about immigration /demographic change/terrorism/Islam in R13) contribute to discrimination against ethnic minorities because these fears underlie the fact that public institutions so heavily centralized and resistant to change, accountability or inclusiveness.
This in turn leads to/reinforces the perception that Bamar are trying to culturally and politically dominate ethnic minorities, which contributes to a sense of insecurity among ethnic minority communities which in turn leads them to feel that the stakes related to securing economic resources and opportunities are higher. This in turn reinforces their anxiety about being economically dominated (see R1).
Furthermore, an important factor affecting both Bamar and ethnic minorities communities was the fear of being economically dominated by another ethnic or religious group. Bamar communities are anxious about being economically dominated by Muslims (and to a lesser extent Chinese) while ethnic minorities are anxious about economic domination/exploitation by Bamar.
These factors in turn contribute to the tendency of identity politics to be the dominant mode of political mobilization among ethnic minority communities. Given that ethnicity is the primary cleavage around which political parties and goals form, the grievances of ethnic groups are given primary focus and thus perceived threats from the Bamar majority and the insecurity of minority communities are constantly in the forefront of public debate. This acts as a reinforcing dynamic which contributes to ethnic polarization.
Fears and Anxieties
The sub-system which comprises the most fundamental dynamics in the system (as measured by the number of red and orange factors) is related to fears and anxieties related to perceived threats, mainly to the Buddhist majority.
Fears related to the decline of Buddhism as a result of being “swallowed up” by other religions are fundamental to the sense of insecurity among Buddhist communities. These fears act as a key driver for other dynamics throughout the system. This fear of the decline of Buddhism is often based on the fact that Buddhism is a minority religion in the world, and is exacerbated by the fact that Myanmar is surrounded by two of the biggest (non-Buddhist) countries in the world and shares a relatively porous border with a Muslim country). The fears about Islam described above also contribute to this anxiety, as do the frequently cited examples of other countries (e.g. Indonesia, Afghanistan) were formerly Buddhist but became Muslim majority countries over time (R4, R5).
A further aspect of the sense of threat/insecurity and hostility towards Muslims is that they contribute to support for extremist groups which in turn amplify the sense of threat and vulnerability to a wider audience (R3, R6, R16). In addition to this process, moderate voices are intimidated by the threats frequently made by extremist groups against those who are perceived as betraying their own people. Signifcant in these dynamics is the role of manipulation of people’s fear and hostility by actors who seek to politically benefit from the situation (R2).
The most significant dynamic which runs through and is somehow central to all of the other sub-systems is the chain which runs from the perception of Islam as a violent religion, to the hate speech which results from and reinforces this perception, to increased support for extremist groups (via the tendency to interpret social/inter-personal conflicts as religious conflicts) which then exacerbates Buddhist (and possibly Muslim) fears about the extinction of their religion/culture combined with anxiety over demographic change/immigration and the resulting sense of insecurity among Buddhist communities. This chain involves all of the key driving factors in the system and influences (directly or indirectly) almost all of the other key dynamics in the system.
There are numerous places in the system where more analysis is needed, however, three questions have emerged as particularly pressing during the post-workshop analysis process. These questions (marked as pink “?Q?s”) are:
1. To what extent/how does the dynamic of feeling pressure not to speak out about racism etc. function in relation to the rest of the system and to the prospects for social cohesion more generally?
2. Does the dynamic of hostility towards Muslims -> support for extremist groups -> sense of insecurity among Muslims only apply to Buddhist extremist groups or does it also apply to Muslim extremist groups? I.e. to what extent is the sense of insecurity felt in Muslim communities causing more radical or extreme voices to resonate within Muslim communities in Myanmar?
3. To what extent does fear and suspicion between communities increase hate speech on the community level? I.e. is hate speech a widespread and grassroots phenomenon or does it originate mainly among extremist provocateurs?