IDENTITY, IMAGE AND ETHNIC CONFLICT IN BURMA: A CASE STUDY OF MON PEOPLE
Mon, Pon Nya
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Burma's ethnic conflict is one of the longest conflicts in the world. The conflict has been ongoing since 1948. The conflict has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and thousands more have become refugees or internally displaced persons. This study attempts to explain the root causes of ethnic conflict in Burma through an in-depth analysis of the Mon ethnic group as a case study. Based on the results of the analysis, the study presents possible solutions to the conflict. The results show that the conflict is caused by three major factors: threats to ethnic identity, nationalist sentiments, and images of out-group. When the Mon ethnic identity was identified and measured, the Mons are highly nationalistic and strongly identified with their group. Thus, they are prompted to respond to threats to their identity. Major factors explaining the threats to Mon ethnic identity are the loss of territory, downgrading of identity, restrictions on the teaching of language and literature, and practicing of culture, the destruction of national symbols, internal migrations and population transfer, intermarriage, and threats of annihilation. The Mon have a barbarian image of the Burman because they see Burman as superior in capability, inferior in status, and as having harmful intentions. The level of in-group identity also has a positive correlation with the level of barbarian image. These two variables (identity and barbarian image) also have positive correlations with the level of conflict. This implies that those who have higher levels of in-group identity and a greater barbarian image of the Burman results in higher levels of conflict. The level of barbarian image also shows a positive correlation with the forming of alliances with other non-Burman ethnic groups and fighting against the Burman. The current Burmese government's "seven steps road map" will not provide a solution to the ethnic conflict in Burma. Burma's ethnic problems could be solved by dialogue among all stakeholders, democratization, power-sharing, and the forming of a super-ordinate identity. These can happen through the establishment of a genuine federal political system that guarantees autonomy to all ethnic groups in Burma.