Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
Over 167 people have been killed and more than 100,000 made homeless in clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Animosities between these two long-time antagonists were kept at bay by Myanmar’s brutal military junta – proving that old adage that there is a silver lining to everything – but once the regime became more liberal, this hostility reared its shaved head spurred on by individuals such as Sayataw Virathu, a Buddhist monk, who was jailed for sparking anti-Muslim riots and who, upon his release, immediately started protesting against the country’s Muslims. The current cycle began after Muslims were blamed for the rape and murder of a local woman and the peace-loving Buddhists lynched a number of Muslim pilgrims who retaliated by burning monasteries in Muslim-majority areas while the Buddhists destroyed mosques in Buddhist-majority towns.
Myanmar is overwhelmingly Buddhist – 89% – but has large Christian and Muslim minorities but this violence is directed primarily towards the Rohingya who are the 800,000 South Asian Muslims – a quarter of Rakhine state’s population – that are not allowed to become citizens and aren’t considered to be an ethnic group. Ironically, while the Myanmarese consider the Rohingya to be Bengalis, Bangladesh does not recognize them as such. Also, Rakhine’s Buddhist residents do not consider themselves to be Myanmarese and Naypyidaw – that country’s capital – recognizes them as a separate group. So, essentially, this conflict is between two groups that aren’t considered to be Myanmarese by the country’s rulers. Theoretically, they should band together against their oppressors but, unsurprisingly, they are fighting amongst themselves in a conflict which doesn’t look to end anytime soon – especially since teachers at Buddhist monasteries consider the Muslims “invaders, unwanted guests and ‘vipers in our laps’” who don’t “practice human morals” and should live in Muslim countries among “their own kind.” In addition to the lost lives, this conflict is really hurting the global community’s plans to exploit Myanmar’s resources.
In shades of the Holocaust, Buddhists are calling for those Muslims – not just the Rohingya – who cannot prove they have lived in Myanmar for three generations to be put into camps and sent to another country. The Rohingya who have been forced to leave their homes, meanwhile, are already living in such camps while the government has announced that will make every possible but undefined effort to stop this violence. Under pressure from other nations, and the United Nations, the government has announced that it will resettle the displaced Muslims inside the country and immigration authorities are ascertaining the citizenship of the Rohingya – under the law, individuals whose ancestors lived in Myanmar prior to 1948 can apply for citizenship but that has not been applicable to the Rohingya who were excluded from the 1983 official census. Naypyidaw has not said what it will do to those Muslims who are not recognized as citizens.
I believe that the root of this conflict lies in the state’s changing demographics as the Buddhists are no longer a majority in Rakhine and the traditional master (Buddhists) – servant (Muslims) relationship is under threat. Plus, these growing numbers are putting increasing pressure on the state’s resources. This, combined with the historic animosity and new freedoms provided by the government, and the rumor mongering among the people and on the internet, makes for a potent mix that has now exploded into what can easily become the newest ethnic cleansing incident. This conflict gives further support to my theory that people are vicious creatures and that it doesn’t matter if they are Muslims – perceived to be a violent religion – or Buddhists – long seen as the world’s more peaceful religion.