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The Limits to History

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Jonathan Saha: Public discussions around Rohingya people currently fleeing violence in Rakhine state, Myanmar, have often involved arguments about history. While critical historical analysis is useful in offering insights into conflicts, History—if treated as a single, knowable past—is not. This is especially true when dealing with ethnicity. Whatever the past was, no amount of historical research can justify the current violence against Rohingya people. […] History has limits. We can only know so much. It can only answer certain questions. The discussion around the history of the Rohingya, at its worst, deflects attention away from the problem of defining citizenship through ethnic indigeneity. Such a definition is premised on bad history and ethnic chauvinism, and it is a problem across the world. More urgently, right now in Myanmar it is contributing to an ongoing ethnic cleansing of a people who today identify as Rohingya, irrespective of what we may or may not know of the past. More here.

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