Conflict in Myanmar: War, Politics, Religion

Conflict in Myanmar: War, Politics, Religion
Date of publication:  2016
Publisher:  ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
Number of pages:  390
Code:  PIC244
Hard Cover
ISBN: 9789814695862
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Soft Cover
ISBN: 9789814695848
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Maaike Matelski, Bijdragen Tot De Taal-, En Volkenkunde 174 (2018) 81 - 139.

"This book is based on the 2015 Myanmar/Burma Update Conference held at the Australian National University, which also hosts the insightful New Mandala weblog on Southeast Asia. It focuses on the final years of the quasi-civilian Thein Sein government (2011- 2015), leading up to the elections that brought Aung San Suu Kyi's party the National League for Democracy (NLD) to power. The chapters, which also cover the immediate aftermath of the 2015 elections, are grouped around military, political, and religious conflict, although some authors refer to conflict only indirectly. 

In Chapter 14, interesting parallels are drawn between Islamophobic sentiments in Myanmar and the United States, which arguably help us to look beyond simplistic, essentializing conclusions. 

This book provided an accessible introduction to many of the pressing issues in Myanmar society over the past few years, covered from a diversity of angles. Some of the chapters are quite factual and report-like, while others provide more in-depth analysis of political and societal processes."

Francesca Chiu, Pacific Affairs: Volume 91: 4, Dec 2018.

The book comprises fifteen chapters arranged in three sections: "War and Order," "Elections and After," and "Us and Them." As noted by Nicholas Farrelly, one of the editors, Myanmar is undergoing a political transition after more than half a century of military dictatorship, and this book provided a timely discussion of conflicts of war, politics, and religion.

This book provides useful insights on a variety of topics related to conflicts in Myanmar and more importantly, as Nick Cheesman points out in his concluding chapter, on the return of politics and the promise of the political to Myanmar (here "political" being the condition wherein parties try to come to agree upon solutions despite their mutual disagreements), however long and circuitous the process of their return may be. He ends by tying the chapters together with the central question of what it means to be political in Myanmar after the end of the military dictatorship.

This volume will prove useful in providing a broad, political economy perspective of conflict in Myanmar during recent years, although it remains important to remind ourselves that conflicts continue to evolve once described and there are still more worthy of attention than can be covered in one book.

Nehginpao Kipgen, Asian Journal of Social Science 46, 2018.

The volume attempts to understand the complexities of conflicts that have engulfed Myanmar under three broad thematic areas - war, politics and religion. It discusses conflicts in general, election and legislative reforms, and religious tensions. 

...the strength of the volume lies in its evidence-based empirical data that offers new ideas and different perspectives of understanding the myriad problems of the country. The volume also provides suggestions on how to address the protracted conflicts, contested political ideologies and the simmering religious tensions. 

Despite the variation of topics covered in the volume, the editors have managed to condense under the broad theme of conflict. The volume is a good read and helpful resource for researchers, Myanmar specialists, as well as people who have interests in thematic issues of war, democracy and ethnicity, especially in diverse societies."

Aidan Gnoth. Journal of Conflict Transformation and Security, 2017. 

"It is rare to find a text which can straddle the interrelated yet complex conflict dynamics of communalism, identity, inequality, and nationalism, and still offer in-depth, critical analysis. Conflict in Myanmar is a volume which does just this; its editors and contributors successfully address the significant complexities that affect field research in a country which has been ruled by military dictatorship for 50 years.

This collection of essays builds upon the already excellent "Myanmar/Burma Update" conference's catalogue, and its editors set out to explore the re-emergence of politics, or "the political", through an analysis of conflict in three key realms: war, politics, and religion. Nick Cheesman and Nicholas Farrelly organise the book's 15 chapters into three sections which focus respectively on "War and Order", "Elections and After", and " Us and Them."

Conflict in Myanmar is heavily reliant on empirical data. Its 15 papers are grounded in fieldwork from surveys to ethnographic analysis, and it features a wealth of context-specific information. .... Ultimately, what emerges from the text is a snapshot of contemporary Myanmar. It explores a variety of tensions which shaped conflict between 2010 and 2016....

.... its editors have brought together materials which successfully reflect the myriad complexities apparent in Myanmar's modern-day politics. The book offers an exceptionally nuanced array of research that explores the social, economic, and ultimately political forces which shape Myanmar's contemporary conflict. .... the sheer variety of detailed new research contains ensures that the volume makes a positive contribution to the field and will have value both for new and experienced scholars alike. 

Ultimately, Conflict in Myanmar highlights an unusual dichotomy which Cheesman aptly highlights in his concluding chapter. He reasserts the intrinsic relationship of conflict and politics and suggests that the snapshot of Myanmar presented in the volume points to the re-emergence of politics and "the political". The volume not only draws attention to a political space in which Myanmar's people are contesting and shaping their country and institutions, but also shows how that space is threatened by those who are fearful of violent conflict: in their attempts to mitigate it, they deny their enemies a political voice and potentially fuel further conflict instead."

Dulyapak Preecharush. 6 July 2017. 

"....Conflict in Myanmar, through presenting several narratives, analyses and evidence-based accounts, provides insights on the specific nature of the conflicts and disputes existing and unfolding. The volume can be considered a genuine attempt to examine the character of conflict transformation in Myanmar and aspects of conflict in country's democratising process. The book is an admirable product from the Australian National University (ANU) Myanmar Update Conference in 2015. The theme focused on Myanmar's conflict dynamics and the conference panel discussions were attended mostly by the rising generation of scholars, analysts, and practitioners. 

The book consists of seventeen chapters structured into five parts. Part one is just one chapter by Nicholas Farrelly and provides a lively introduction to the collection that has been categorised into three key topics: war, politics, and religion (p. 7). Part two presents five chapters that examine the conflict through the lens of war and order, while part three, with five chapters, connects the conflict to election and other political and legislative institutions. The five chapters of part four analyze Myanmar's ethno-religious conflict as well as the internal and international dimensions of communal violence. 

Part five is a concluding chapter written by Nick Cheesman that seeks to conceptualize the patterns of conflict in Myanmar. Chessman evaluates the preceding chapters by systematising them into three terms: politics, the political and the non-political (p. 255). He suggests the term "politics" signifies a set of practices and institutions through which an order is established. The "political" refers to the essence or the condition of political accommodation via fundamentally nonviolent approaches, whereas the "non-political" creates antagonism through generally violent means (p. 354).

Through incorporation of Cheesman's conceptual categories with Farrelly's empirical categories, Conflict in Myanmar helps to answer, in part, the two meaningful questions of "what explains the decades-long conflict in Myanmar" and "how can we conceptualise conflict in transitional Myanmar." 

Overall, the book is a timely contribution following the pace of political change and conflict transformation in Myanmar. The volume will be of interest to scholars and readers of Myanmar politics, comparative politics, Asian ethnography, and peace studies. Its unique selling point lies in the fact that it signifcantly contributes to the complex and labyrinthine "Gordian knot" inside one of the most fascinating Balkanized states in the contemporary world."

About the publication

As Myanmar’s military adjusts to life with its former opponents holding elected office, Conflict in Myanmar showcases innovative research by a rising generation of scholars, analysts and practitioners about the past five years of political transformation. Each of its seventeen chapters, from participants in the 2015 Myanmar Update conference held at the Australian National University, builds on theoretically informed, evidence-based research to grapple with significant questions about ongoing violence and political contention. The authors offer a variety of fresh views on the most intractable and controversial aspects of Myanmar’s long-running civil wars, fractious politics and religious tensions. This latest volume in the Myanmar Update Series from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific continues and deepens a tradition of intense, critical engagement with political, economic and social questions that matter to both the inhabitants and neighbours of one of Southeast Asia’s most complicated and fascinating countries.

“Conflict in Myanmar is a timely collection of first-rate essays, looking in-depth at the dynamics of war and peace, identity, religion, and nationalism that are re-fashioning the country today.  The old Myanmar story of dictators versus democrats is quickly fading. This book’s combined analysis gives us an intimation of what might come next.”

—Thant Myint-U, author of Where China Meets India

“Ranging across prospects for peace in a land long marked by warfare, for democracy in a country actively transitioning away from authoritarian rule, and for communal accord in a state yet to become a meaningful nation, Conflict in Myanmar is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary Southeast Asia.”

 —Ian Holliday, University of Hong Kong

“The latest volume from the Myanmar Update Series continues its admirable tradition of including both younger scholars and scholars from Myanmar, but the real strength is in its contributors’ careful study of their subjects. Grounded in fieldwork in diverse parts of the country, the chapters also engage ably with discipline-specific theory. We need more books like this, that deal intelligently with such a critically important yet poorly-understood topic.”

—Matthew J. Walton, University of Oxford

“Since its inception at the Australian National University in 1999, this series of biennial academic conferences has produced edited volumes that have contributed significantly to the literature on Myanmar studies. This volume addresses some of the most challenging and pressing issues in Myanmar. It is a welcome addition to our knowledge.”

—Maung Aung Myoe, International University of Japan

“ANU’s Myanmar/Burma Update proceedings have always been valued references on the central issues that confront Myanmar today. Books in this series include both cutting-edge research and syntheses on the political, social and economic forces shaping Myanmar since the turn of the 2010s. There is no question that this new volume will be an important addition to our understanding of Myanmar’s startling transformations.“

—Renaud Egreteau, Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.


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