top of page

Paradox of Solidarity

by Thirteen 


As of writing this blog, there are at least 10 state-led mass killings in the world, in which Myanmar is one. [1] Having lived through decades of dictatorship in different shapes and forms, we, Burmese people, are not foreign to the reality of oppression. However, oppression is multifaceted. The ways in which people experience and perceive oppressions are diverse, creating knowledge gaps in our common understanding of oppression. 


Recently, I came across a few profiles of Burmese military supporters. Burmese military supporters on social media platforms such as Facebook are recognizable by their open support for the cruelty of the Burmese military, as they believe (or seem to be convinced that) such acts are justifiable means to an end. Most of them also share propaganda and false news of the atrocities happening in the country by claiming that such atrocities are being conducted by resistance groups despite evidence proving otherwise. As I fell into the rabbit holes of their profiles, one of them, interestingly, posted news about the bombing of Israel on Palestinian people. It intrigued me because I could sense that his post implied his support for Palestine. I found myself taking a pause to think what factors could have driven him to reach such cognitive dissonance; to be able to (seemingly) empathize with an oppressed group of another nation but not of his own. On the one hand, his support for Palestine could stem from feelings of hostility against Israel whom he could (rightfully) perceive as a groupie of the Western countries; countries that are not currently in good relationships with his military regime, and therefore, making Israel “evil by association” from his perspective. On the other hand, his empathy could also come from a genuine place, which then raised the question of whether his perception of oppression becomes different as an issue becomes seemingly less personal from his standpoint.


In the long run, no type of oppression, however justifiable it may seem at the moment, is less personal for any of us. [2] This is because impacts of oppression are not static. A relevant example is the recent enforcement of the ‘People’s Military Service Law’[3] in early February 2024 by the Burmese military regime. [4] This law, initially introduced in 2010 during the era of the former dictator Than Shwe, was reenacted by the current regime; an act which has been widely assumed as one of the last desperate attempts to forcefully maintain the regime’s authority while losing grounds on multiple fronts. The law states that any male from 18 to 35 years old and any females from 18 - 27 years old must join mandatory military service. If someone is a doctor, an engineer, a technician or considered a ‘skilled’[5]  person, then the eligible age range extends up to 45 years old for males and 35 years old for females. The penalty for intentionally evading the service is 5 years of imprisonment. The impact of this oppressive law reaches upon not only those who dislike the military regime but also those who support it. In fact, there have been backlashes against this law within military affiliated communities since its reenactment, stating that such law must also include the children of high-level military officials in order to show ‘solidarity’ with grassroots soldiers. [6] Similar sentiments have also been expressed on social media platforms by those who do not support the regime. This shared feeling between the two opposing sides regarding the law shows that our struggles, as working class people, are ultimately interconnected, and that being a groupie of oppressors does not miraculously exempt us, oppressed people, from impacts of the same oppression in the long run. Our history also shows us that this has been the case with the genocide of Rohingya and decades-long targeted killings of ethnic groups by the military. Violations of human rights that were once mostly consolidated within marginalized communities have come back to haunt us all in the present. 


From America to the Democratic Republic of Congo, none of us are truly outside of supremacist contexts. As we engage with each other in the spirit of resistance against variations of supremacy, it is becoming crucial to learn how our struggles can take different and often more violent forms in other communities. Although systemic oppressions at its core primarily serve the interests of authorities and oligarchs, impacts and mechanisms of oppression can materialize differently between colonized and colonial nations, the privileged and the underprivileged, the marginalized and (what societies consider to be) ‘the default.’ The truth of the matter is that while we all are oppressed, some are more oppressed than others. While every Myanmar citizen is vulnerable to its oppressive system, it is the truth that the Rohingyas have been systematically targeted for genocide by the Burmese military for decades. [7] Ethnic minorities have also been systematically discriminated against in many ways. For instance, according to the controversial 1982 ‘Citizenship Law’, the government retains the full right to decide if any ethnic group is a citizen or not,[8] and those with Islamic faith in particular have been systematically oppressed via this law. [9] Given that the Rohingyas are almost all Muslims whose ethnicity is unacknowledged by the government, they bear the systemic violence imposed upon them for 1) being from an unrecognized ethnic group and 2) for being a Muslim. [10] This type of violence imposed upon marginalized communities is not only systemic but also intersectional.

Therefore, if we choose to be informed only of our own struggles but not of others, specifically of different marginalized communities; if we selectively empathize with a handful of oppressed people but not others; if we fail to acknowledge the collective, systemic, intersectional and dynamic nature of our struggles, and perhaps most importantly, if we do not make room for addressing historical grievances of marginalized communities, we are bound to produce localized solidarity, creating more divisions and thereby, impeding our collective freedom. In order to overcome intersectional violence, we need to build intersectional solidarity. 

As much as I tried to give the benefit of the doubt to that military supporter, I was not convinced that his implied empathy for the Palestinians came from his ability to discern the bullies from the bullied. The fact that he still explicitly supports mass killings orchestrated by the Burmese military regime, while implicitly supporting another oppressed group whom he perceived as less threatening to his nation’s politics, showed me that his support for the latter is probably rooted in his own agenda and distorted takes on justice rather than liberation. Paradoxical solidarity, as seen in that Burmese military supporter, is not a new phenomenon in politics. On December 12th 2023, during the UN General Assembly, a large majority of the member states voted for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza which included countries such as China and Russia. [11] While such actions are much needed at the international level, we must also remember that China has been systematically persecuting Uyghurs[12] and as of February 2022, Russia has invaded Ukraine[13]; both of which are continuing to this day, proving the oppressor and oppressed dynamic rooted in their own respective political histories. 


As I was using the Burmese military supporter as an anchor to organize my jumbled thoughts on the nuanced perceptions of oppression and solidarity, I was also reminded of the fact that we, who are participating in variations of anti-oppression work, are equally vulnerable to such political myopia. The glaring contradictions I saw between his national political stance and his sense of justice in a different political context made me think more critically about myself and the solidarity space that I am in. It reminded me of the importance of inclusive dialogues and the necessity of ongoing discussions across the anti-oppression space to recognize that our struggles are deeply intertwined. Granted, there are learning curves in any anti-oppression work and those within the anti-oppression space are no more perfect than those who are not actively a part of it. This is why it is crucial to constantly assess our activism. We must ensure that it does not lean towards elitism and exclusionism. We must take careful steps not to lightly appropriate powerful words such as ‘community’, ‘grassroots’, ‘solidarity’, and ‘collective liberation’ in order to fulfill our own self-interests. Such meaningful words should be clearly defined in their respective themes. When we use the words ‘community’ and ‘solidarity’ in our work, let’s be specific about who are being welcomed and which groups could potentially be alienated, including other anti-oppression groups who are able to give different perspectives.


When we use the word ‘grassroots’ in our discussions, let’s be mindful of who it truly represents rather than who it seems to represent. When we say ‘collective liberation’, let’s be clear that it means the liberation of all, and especially the most marginalized groups, not just those whom we can relate to or perceive as less threatening to the status quo in which we find comfort. 

Notes

  1.  Countries at Risk for Mass Killings 2023-24 Statistical Risk Assessment Results. 2024 January. Early Warning Project. pp 8.

  2.  Hanisch, C. 1969 February. The Personal is Political. The Women’s Liberation Movement classic with  a new explanatory introduction.University of Victoria. https://webhome.cs.uvic.ca/~mserra/AttachedFiles/PersonalPolitical.pdf

  3.  Learn more in http://tinyurl.com/bdye2kxs (unofficial translation)

  4.  Myae Latt Athan. 2024 February 10. http://tinyurl.com/yc5599pk

  5.  As of writing this blog, there is no legal or clear definition for “skilled” persons. 

  6.  Thazin. Than Lwin Khet News. 2024 February 14. https://thanlwinkhet.net/?p=7710

  7.  Hagen, L. 2023 October. Myanmar - Genocide of the Rohingya. World without Genocide. https://worldwithoutgenocide.org/genocides-and-conflicts/myanmar

  8.  See https://www.refworld.org/legal/legislation/natlegbod/1982/en/49622 (unofficial translation)

  9.  Aung Thiha. 2016 September 5. Myanmar immigration try to shape mainland Muslims as stateless. https://www.m-mediagroup.com/en/archives/8726

  10.  Swincer, G. 2016 November. Citizenship and Discrimination Issues of Muslims in Myanmar. Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group.

  11.  See https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/12/1144717

  12.  Maizland, L. 2022 September. China’s Repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Councils on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-xinjiang-uyghurs-muslims-repression-genocide-human-rights

  13.  See Ukraine in maps: Tracking the war with Russia by BBC News https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60506682



About the author

Thirteen is a non-academic researcher on community land and land governance in Myanmar with an emphasis on customary tenure. Dedicated to deconstructing colonial structures and systemic oppression in Myanmar’s land governance structures, she hopes to help refamiliarize communities with ways of indigenous land practices. Her current research focuses on helping communities establish local land mechanisms with the hope to reduce their dependence on formal land institutions and governmental bureaucracies. The broader goal of her work is to build resilient communities who are able to conduct their own communal land affairs independently of government agencies, and to see communities self-governing their own land with democratic practices. A strong believer in the power of collective work, she hopes to meet potential friends and colleagues who are passionate about community land and indigenous land practices in Myanmar and beyond. 





135 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page