By now, the main contours of the recent events in Rakhine State, in western Myanmar, are well-known. On August 25, an insurgent group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) (previously Harakah al-Yaqin) attacked police posts in northern Rakhine, eliciting a broad counterinsurgency response from the Myanmar military that has displaced over 400,000 Rohingya people into Bangladesh. As in previous cycles of violence, the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, has reportedly targeted civilians in its “clearance operations,” leading to allegations of killings, rape, and the burning of villages. The UN’s human rights body has referred to this latest outbreak of violence as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Since 2012, we have carried out twelve months of urban anthropological research in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and its economic and cultural center. Until February 2016, however, we had not once visited the country’s capital, Naypyitaw, a planned city of immense size. It had not been a priority for our work, but we also had not been really keen on visiting: when the former military government began to relocate the capital in November 2005, away from cosmopolitan, multireligious, multiethnic Yangon, located at the mouth of the Andaman Sea, to a previously more or less vacant inland area, most commentators had been dismissive, bemused, or outraged.