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October 2017 Newsletter: Rohingya, Cuba, DACA, and more

The Roots of Violence against the Rohingya

On August 23, just days before thousands of Rohingyas began fleeing their homes in Rakhine State, Aung San Suu Kyi’s recently appointed Rakhine Advisory Commission, established in 2016, submitted its final report. The engaging of an independent commission, tasked with recommending new ways to improve the lives of Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar’s most deeply persecuted minority group, seemed a promising development.

Image Source: AK Rockefeller- Flickr

That same week, when clashes broke out between Rohingya militants and security forces, nearly 400 people died, only 29 of whom were militants. What had seemed a window of opportunity to test the findings of the report, which recommended reviewing a citizenship law that revoked the rights of Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar in 1982, was slammed shut. Instead, record numbers of Rohingyas, more than 400,000, fled to Bangladesh.

The Rohingya have been persecuted for a long time. Author Min Zin, executive director of the Institute for Strategy and Policy in Myanmar, explains in an article in Social Research that violence against the Rohingya minority has deep roots. In 1977, when Burmese authorities registered citizens for a national census, almost 200,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee to Bangladesh in the face of alleged police brutality, an allegation disputed by authorities, who maintained that they were simply screening out foreigners. Another wave of violence broke out in 2011 when a “pseudo-civilian” regime took over, breaking ground with the more “hardline” authoritarian regime.

In February, the United Nations released its first findings of the longstanding conflict, laying bare the killings, gang rapes, and “crimes against humanity” committed by the Burmese state’s military in its retaliation to the attack. It is time for Aung San Suu Kyi, as Burma’s de facto leader, to take a stand against the government’s strategy of condoning ethnic cleansing and exile against the Rohingya people.

For more information, see From Burma to Myanmar: Critical Transitions, Social Research 82:2 (Summer 2015).

-Roshni Majumdar


Cuba: Looking Toward The Future

As Raúl Castro prepares to step down as president of Cuba and the new United States president puts forth a radically different vision of the US's foreign policy, there is much at stake for Cuba. Contributors to the newly published issue of Social Research, “Cuba: Looking toward the Future,” investigate key aspects of Cuba’s economic, social, and political evolution, articulating the intersection of domestic and international dynamics and pointing to the ways in which those interactions will shape Cuba and its place in the world.

Image Source: Social Research

Guest-edited by William M. LeoGrande, professor of government at American University and former adviser to the Democratic Caucus Task Force on Central America, “Cuba: Looking toward the Future” covers a broad intellectual terrain. One sentiment is consistent throughout the issue, however: that the future cannot be predicted. As LeoGrande writes in his introduction, “while the articles in this special issue cannot foretell the future, they point us to the essential dynamics that will shape that future for Cuba, both at home and abroad.”

The issue features eleven articles by leading scholars on Cuba, including:

  • Margaret E. Crahan, director of the Cuba Program at the Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University, who describes Cuba as “a nation or believers.” Crahan notes that while “religion is not a major factor in uniting and mobilizing civil society … religions have increasingly asserted themselves,” albeit very carefully, in the revitalization of Cuban civil society.

  • Ricardo Torres Pérez, a professor at the University of Havana’s Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, who looks at the ways in which the Cuban economy has changed since its formal “updating” in 2011. He argues that this effort “can be viewed as an attempt to adapt to a world characterized by rules … that are not necessarily in line with the primary goals pursued by the revolution.”

  • Rafael M. Hernández, a political scientist and editor of the Havana-based journal Temas, who considers the role of the intellectual in Cuban civil society, proposing a view of Cuban society as a “transition matrix” of interplaying complex factors.

  • Mervyn J. Bain, a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, who examines Havana’s evolving relationships with both Moscow and Beijing since 1959. Bain concludes that Cuba’s realist pragmatism has underpinned improvements since the mid-1990s.

“Cuba: Looking toward the Future” (Social Research 84(2) Summer 2017) is available in print through Johns Hopkins University Press and online through Project Muse.

-Jerusalem Parsons


Refugees, Dreamers, and DACA

In the spring 2017 issue of Social Research, “The Invasive Other,” Michael Ignatieff wrote, “Refugees in flight from chaos, bombardment, and fear are described as an invading force…. [The] legal and humanitarian duties [toward refugees] that states and their citizens once took for granted are reinvented as burdens to be sloughed off.”

He continues, “The United States had prided itself on responding generously to surges in refugees and forced migrants [but s]ince 2012, the United States has taken in no more than fifteen thousand Syrian refugees, and the newly elected president wants to bar the door to any refugees from countries that have a majority of Muslim citizens.” His words highlight the sharp contrast between the current situation and the United States’ former generosity toward those seeking refuge within its borders. And though Ignatieff was addressing primarily the travel ban and the refugee crisis, the crossing of borders is not unique to that population, nor is the search for refuge.

Image Source: Pax Ahimsa Gethen, Wikimedia Commons

There are many reasons why the undocumented US residents known as Dreamers might have been brought by their parents to the United States. A great many of them are now students, members of the academic community and society at large, benefitting from and contributing to invaluable intellectual capital. No matter the motivation that brought them here, we as a country must now live up to the generosity Ignatieff invokes. We live in a critical time of action, when ideals must be practiced.

Social Research and our partner project, Endangered Scholars Worldwide, take issue with political rhetoric implying that undocumented students at universities across the country are a burden or a threat. Since our founding as a journal in 1934, we have stood up for academic freedom, access to education, and freedom of expression for all students and scholars, undocumented or not. We remain committed to this work and will continue these efforts.

For more information on migration and immigration, see our special issues on Migration Politics (77[1] Spring 2010), Food and Immigrant Life (81[2] Summer 2014), and Borders and the Politics of Mourning (83[2] Summer 2016).

- Nina Rosenberg


Thirty-five years ago in Social Research

"If fascism becomes an all-purpose term for repression, it will simply become another promiscuously-used dirty word—and that is a sure way for a word to lose even its dirtiness.… If we are going to call the ills and fevers of democracy "fascism," what are we going to have left to call the real thing? The purpose of this verbal excess may be to frighten us with the way our democracy is going; unfortunately, it also serves to make fascism less frightening than it should be."

—Theodore Draper, “The Specter of Weimar,” Social Research 39 (2) Summer 1972, 328–9.

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