November 12, 2014
by Stanley A. Weiss
Given the five decades it spent as one of the most repressive countries in recent history, it’s hard to imagine that Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was once considered an empire. But 190 years ago this past March, after the Burmese Empire conquered two large Bengali territories across its western border and undertook a series of raids into British-held lands, the British Empire had had enough. British India launched a counter-insurgency that would drag on for two years and take thousands of lives. With some of the heaviest fighting concentrated in Islamic border communities, thousands of Muslims were forced to flee, eventually settling along frontier areas in India and Myanmar.
The Muslim families driven into Burma as a result of Burmese aggression — known as Rohingya Muslims — never left, despite being persecuted ever since. A grisly modern chapter began in 2012, when the alleged rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in western Rakhine State led to mob violence that took the lives of hundreds of Rohingya over the next two years and saw 135,000 Rohingya held in squalid camps for their own “safety.” Seemingly oblivious to global concerns sparked by the persecution of this Muslim ethnic minority, the Myanmar government last week announced a repulsive new policy: All Rohingya must prove that their families have lived in Myanmar for at least six decades. For those we cannot, the penalty is either a refugee camp or deportation. For those we can, the prize is second-class citizenship, but with a catch: They must first renounce the term “Rohingya” and agree to be classified as a “Bengali.” It’s little wonder that more than 100,000 Rohingya have reportedly escaped Myanmar the past two years.
October 6, 2011
JAKARTA—One of the mesmerizing dances performed here is Jaipongan, a style that mixes Indonesian martial arts with village ritual music. It features graceful arm movements and slow, lunging steps that create the appearance of forward momentum. While the dancer floats across the floor, you never really notice that she’s moving in a circle until the dance ends and she is standing back where she started.
September 1, 2011
BALI—Set upon a blue background, the flag of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations depicts 10 yellow rice paddy stalks drawn in the middle of a red circle with a white border. The interesting thing about the banner is not merely that it represents the main colors of all ten ASEAN member state flags: Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines. It is that 44 years to the day after ASEAN was founded, on August 8th—in a development that received little attention outside Asia—the flag was hoisted for the first time alongside the banners of all member states at hundreds of embassies and diplomatic missions around the world.
December 3, 2010
The recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, after deeply flawed elections that allowed the military in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to tighten its half-centurylong grip on the country, raises numerous political questions: What comes next for her? Will the ruling junta engage her newly reconstituted National Democracy Party? Will other political prisoners be freed?
August 31, 2010
JAKARTA — It was 62 years ago this week—on September 2, 1948—when the principles underlying Indonesia’s foreign policy were first articulated. In a Cold War speech to the young republic just emerging from Dutch rule, future Prime Minister Mohammad Hatta asked, “Do we, Indonesians, in the struggle for freedom of our people and our country, only have to choose between Russia and America?” No, he answered: “We must reserve the right to decide our own destiny and fight for our own goal, which is independence for the whole of Indonesia.”