Dissertation by Matthew Bowser – 2020
Titled “Misdirected Rage: The Fascist Response to Co-Colonialism and Capitalism in Burma and the Origins of Burmese Islamophobia, 1929-1942,” Dr. Bowser’s dissertation investigates the relationship between the emergence of Islamophobia, the contemporaneous rise of ultranationalism, and British colonial policy in 1930s Burma. Dr. Bowser said he first became interested in the topic of his dissertation during a graduate class on the British Empire. He knew he wanted to research the dynamics of race and the concept of nationalism as some of the foremost causes of the atrocities of the 20th century, specifically genocide and ethnic cleansing.
While looking at South Asia, he was drawn to Burma as a borderland between South and Southeast Asia. Temporally, he was interested in the 1938 anti-Muslin riots that broke out for the first time in more Burmese history. Dr. Bower suggests that, “Though scholars agree that Burmese Islamophobia first appeared in the colonial period, they have not yet explained why.” His dissertation reveals that “Islamophobia emerged in interwar Burma as a result of ultranationalist attempts to blame Indians and Muslims for political and economic crisis.” Dr. Bowser argues that the “British ruling class amplified and propped up Burmese fascism because it shifted revolutionary hostility form the colonial state to a radicalized minority.”
Much of Dr. Bowser’s research came from international institutions like India Office Records at the British Library in London, the National Archives of the UK in Kew, and the National Archives of Myanmar and Yangon University in Yangon, Myanmar. Dr. Bowser was able to visit the archives in Myanmar in April 2018. With the assistance of Maitrii Aung-Thwin, a prominent scholar of Myanmar, he was able to gain access to archives in Yangon. Luckily, Dr. Bowser was also able to find English and Burmese language material at the Library of Congress as well. In October of 2019, Dr. Bowser visited the National Archives of India in New Delhi where he looked at the contemporary domestic Indian response to the developments in Burma in the 1930s and 1940s. Because of his travels, Dr. Bowser was able to take a “world-historical approach” and combined archival evidence not necessarily associated with the history of Burma and Myanmar.
Dr. Bowser hopes his work makes interventions into three primary fields of history: “it intervenes in the historiography of Burma to address the underexamined rise of Islamophobia in late colonial Burma…it intervenes into studies of South Asia and the Indian diaspora by demonstrating that the administrative separation of Burma and India by the British…and finally that it provides a case study for asking what kinds of subversion challenge authority and what kinds uphold it.” In his conclusion, Dr. Bowser argues that “ultranationalism and fascism in 1930s Bruma served only to ‘divide and rule.’”
Currently, Dr. Bowser is continuing his researching and looking to share his research in academic, government, or private sector positions.