|June 18th, 2012 by Student Vote||Leave Comments »|
There should have been an outburst of happiness and joy in streets of Burma to celebrate the abolition of more than 30 years of military dictatorship and the transformation towards a democratic future. However, Burma continues to burn in the fire of ethnic conflicts.
Burma (also known as Myanmar) is one of Asia’s most ethnically diverse societies, with 106 languages and dialects, numerous faith groups comprised of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and various form of animism. Historically, the prolonged ethnic tension in Burma has impeded the progression of peace and stability in Burmese society and imposes a new threat to its democratic future.
The recent ethnic unrest started with the rape and murder of Rakhine Buddhist women by three alleged Muslims last month. Reprisals resulted in the deaths of 16 Muslims and 13 Buddhists in Sittwe region; this led to the internal dislocation of 30,000 people and the burning of 2,500 homes.
An article by the Journal Gazette briefly explains the complex history behind the conflict between the Rohingya Muslims and the Rekhine Buddhists. Myanmar’s government considers Rohingya Muslims as illegal migrants, even though many of them have been living in Burma for generations. According to the U.N., there are presently more than 800,000 Rohingya living in Burma, mostly concentrated in the Rakhine region.
The grudges between the two communities are “interwoven into a complex web of issues,” like the belief that “Muslims have illegally occupied Burma which predominantly is a Buddhist country.” Former military led government portrayed Rohingya as foreigners and emphasized their physical traits different than those of Burmese and refused to recognize them as a part of the country’s 135 ethnic groups.
The treatment of Rohingya Muslims as foreigners by the military junta has resulted in the development of strong resentment against the group by other ethnic communities in Burma over the years; recently, this has erupted into violence and bloodshed.
The lack of unified leadership over the years and the legacy of intolerance left behind by military rulers raise a very important question: how will ethnic diversity be reflected in the new democratic Burmese society?
Burma is in transition from a military dictatorship to a democratic society. However, the success of its democratic future will depend on how the country will facilitate its ethnically diverse groups while ensuring individual freedom and equality for everyone.
Perhaps, the “Canadian Diversity Model” can guide the incumbent Burmese government to adapt some principles in their new democratic society to ensure ethnic peace and economic progress.
A 2001 policy report published by Canadian Policy Research Network (CPRN) provides a brief overview of the Canadian Diversity Model. According to the report, Canadian identity is deeply rooted in diversity which shapes the public discourse in Canada and that “the Canadian Diversity Model is a repertoire of responses to Canada’s longstanding sociological diversity.”
Like many other liberal democracies, Canada also faces the challenge to find a “right balance” to individual freedom and creating equality conditions for everyone. The report emphasizes that the Canadian Diversity Model focuses on “simultaneously seeking equal treatment and recognizing difference,” in addition to ensuring democratic practices to achieve specific outcomes to address challenges faced by Canadian society collectively.
In 2000, Prime Minister Jean Chretien described the “Canadian way” to effectively manage diversity:
“Accommodation of cultures. Recognition of diversity. A partnership between citizens and state. A balance that promotes individual freedom and economic prosperity while at the same time sharing risks and benefits. An understanding that government can be an instrument of collective action – a means of serving the broader public interest.”
The effectiveness of the model within Canada could be argued by some. However, it provides a framework on which policies can be developed to manage diversity within a democratic state; primarily by striking a balance between individual freedom and equality for everyone and by facilitating democratic process and dialogues that ensures effective policy delivery that binds the ethno cultural mosaic together.
The Canadian Diversity Model can guide Burma to help facilitate the interests of its various ethno cultural communities and encourage the incumbent government to develop centralized leadership which is neutral and free of any cultural influence and interference.
Today, diversity is a reality advanced by globalization. Instead of boycotting its diversity, Burma can realize the potential of its diversity and use it as an asset towards democratic and peaceful nation building.
Abhi (CIVIX Intern)
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