All know the Way, but few actually walk it. ~ Bodhidharma
Myanmar (also known as “Burma”) is ethnically diverse (135 ethnic groups), and has faced various amounts of ethnic conflict in its history. One such conflict that gained worldwide attention was that in the western Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state between what is referred to as “Rohingya” Muslims and “Rakhine” Buddhists.
I am deeply saddened by the continued violence in western Burma. The media, and those with agendas, are labeling this as “Muslim” and “Buddhist” violence. Let me be clear: what is going on in Burma has nothing to do with either religion, and labeling it as such only creates hatred. It would similar to labeling “Christians” instead of “Americans”. Even though the majority of Americans are Christian, it doesn’t mean all American’s are of that faith (we have all faiths in America). And for those that do say they are of a particular faith, it doesn’t mean they are truly religious or even follow the teachings of that faith. For example, we see all faiths kill and murder which is not allowed by any religion. People are human, and humans do evil things.
This is less about religion, and more about a long history of unrest that begun with the British occupation of Burma and their actions may decades ago (you will learn more about that later). Yes, there is a Muslim population (labeled as “Rohingya”, more on that later) and the Buddhist population in that part of the country (the Rakhine state in Burma). While the world first saw the violence in 2012 after a brutal rape and murder of a young Rakhine Buddhist woman by three Rakhine Muslim men (warning this link contains graphic content), that was more than likely just the trigger for the tension that has been brewing for a long time. Regardless none of this, nor the actions and repercussions, have anything to do with religion.
Anyone who claims to be a Buddhist, but acts in contrast to the Buddha’s teachings (such as being violent), are not a Buddhist. The Buddha was exceedingly clear on this fact. Buddhists are not “Buddhist” because of what family or country they were “born” in, which was never a teaching or requirement by the Buddha, but instead by their actions and their actions alone. Any of the people (to include any of the minority of monastics) in Burma who have committed any act of violence, intolerance, or anger, are not Buddhists in action, faith, or belief, and instead are merely wearing the label of a “Buddhist”.
I cannot speak as a Muslim, because I am not one, but can speak as a Buddhist. My faith revolves around our teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, and his teachings. A Buddhist practitioner resolves to take faith in the Buddha, the teachings (Dharma), and the community. If they do so, they walk the path of mindfulness. Violence, aggression, anger, hatred, intolerance, disputes, etc., are in direct and stark conflict with the Buddha and his teachings. In-fact, these actions are actually considered the result of the “Three Poisons” in Buddhism. The Buddha showed through his example how he walked the middle path of mindfulness and nonviolence, and resolved conflicts, disputes, and more through his actions and teachings (he even prevented wars and religious discrimination). As a Buddhist, and one who is walking on the Bodhisattva Path, my mission is to see all sentient beings be safe, happy, and free without restriction. I believe that writing this article is my way of assisting with that goal in order to eventually find common ground and a way for lasting peace. When we are able to cut through the illusions and deceptions in any aspect of life, we are always closer to the truth and a resolution.
My hope is that we can eventually drop the “Buddhist” and “Muslim” labels, and instead focus on the real reasons for the violence as this has nothing to do with religion.
Lighting the Fires of Hatred: Misinformation in Social Media
On social media sites (such as Facebook), groups are using pictures and videos that have nothing to do with the violence in Burma, but instead saying they are. For example, a picture of hundreds of dead people with monks around them (titled: “The body of Muslims slaughtered by Buddhist(Barma)[sic]”) was actually of Tibetan monks helping in China after a massive earthquake. This type of disinformation needs to stop. Right action is needed to stop the violence, not wrong action.
Because this is what most people will see on social media, and not any fact verified reporting or research, it needs to be discussed first.
- Pakistani writer Faraz Ahmed Siddiqui researched this and posted original and doctored pictures to show this disinformation and relabeling of images (his research appeared on his blog, and in the respected Pakistani newspaper, The Express Tribune): http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/12867/social-media-is-lying-to-you-about-burmas-muslim-cleansing/
- In addition, the Christian Science Monitor has also explained this social media deception along with the political and financial reasons behind it: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2012/0803/Pakistan-s-extremists-whip-up-frenzy-over-Burma-s-Muslims
As these and other journalists have accurately reported, there is a campaign by a small group of people, particularly in Pakistan, to inflate and whip up a frenzy about what is going on in Burma.
This has caught wind purposely in social media where unsuspecting people believe what they are seeing and share these messages of misinformation.
This is sad, because it detracts from true violence and injustices against Muslims and Buddhists, and instead sows anger at things that are not occurring.
The reason the misleading messages are occuring? Money, power, political gain on both sides of this issue. There has been a campaign to rid Burma, especially Rakhine province, of any non-Muslim inhabitants which has been a goal by the radicals (and the military leadership) for a long time. In addition, a small minority of radicals in Pakistan are heavily invested in Burma and Bangladesh. Why? The Pakistan War. Never heard of it? You’ll read more about this in the next section and how politics and money in Pakistan are also fueling this conflict.
Does this deliberate misinformation work? Sadly, absolutely. I frequently see a slew of anti-Buddhist posts on social media regarding things that have absolutely nothing to do with Burma. But the truth is not the point of those waging this campaign. In the next section of this article, you will learn that what is happening in Burma has a long and disturbing past…but not what you have been told by journalists or writers. The sad fact is that the pictures are real (minus any added text misinformation), but the posts and context about them are completely false.
Let’s dispel some of the horrifying images on social media that are being claimed to be “Buddhists” killing and hurting “Muslims”. The point is not to place blame, but to weed out this constant slew of misinformation. What we need is truthful reporting of anything happening in Burma, not verifiable misinformation. Fake and misleading posts about violence is the wrong path to follow and only hurts the cause of justice, peace, and safety for Muslims in Burma.
Why am I showing you this, and showing how these posts are misleading? On the surface, it would seem like I am trying to disprove any violence and injustices against Rohingya in support of Buddhists. Not at all. Even Muslim journalists are writing and exposing these misleading social media posts. What we are asking for is factual reporting and correct accounts of any atrocities on either side. Are there actual photos and stories out there regarding violence against Muslims and Buddhists in Burma? I’m sure there are. Those are the ones that should be the topic of action.
Implied Claim: Muslim Baby Being Stepped On and Killed by a Buddhist Man
This one has been spreading fast showing a Buddhist man stepping on a Muslim Rohingya little boy. Horrible. Even though that is not even what is going on. You’ll notice that the picture is “cropped” so it appears to be not showing everything, including the source of the photo. What is actually happening is a man, who is not a Buddhist but a self proclaimed ‘god’/’healer’ named Yadav from India who is trying to “cure” this little boy (who is Indian, not Rohingya/Muslim) of a gut disease. This Muslim blogger is telling others that this is (of course) not how you cure a gut disease, and this little boy almost died! Yet this photo has taken off in the anti-Buddhist Burma campaign as what Buddhists are doing. For those claiming I’m just making it up, you can visit the following blog, run by a follower of the Islamic faith, who posted it: http://hambamuini.blogspot.com/2010/01/gaut-uric-asid-penyakit-manusia.html and here is more from another site: http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/international/art/20091223/13553852
Implied Claim: Buddhist Monks Burning Muslims They Killed
This is perhaps the most popular misleading images and posts because nothing is as graphic as monks, in full monastic robes, around dead and burned bodies of what are said to be Roghingya Muslims. The only problem? You guessed it, it’s fake. Buddhists can immediately see one glaring issue: the Buddhist monastic outfits used by these monks are Tibetan (thus Mahayana Buddhism) and not Burmese (thus Theravada Buddhism). It is actually Buddhist monks helping after a major earthquake in China. Everyone you see here is either Buddhist or Chinese/Tibetan. Not a single Muslim is likely anywhere in this photo, and if they were their death would be the result of the earthquake. Yet this image of selfless humanitarian assistance in light of a great tragedy is being used to say it is Buddhists killing Muslims. Disgusting. You can view the actual photos on the highly reputable photo site Getty images: http://www.gettyimages.com/event/magnitude-earthquake-strikes-remote-area-of-china-98160332#tibetan-monks-prepare-a-mass-cremation-for-the-victims-of-a-strong-picture-id98508892 and NBC News: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/36486706/ns/world_news-asia_pacific/t/low-supplies-hamper-china-quake-rescues/
Implied Claim: Burned Bodies of Rohingya Muslims
Another image in there shows what looks like aid workers walking around many dead bodies. These are Nigerians in Africa, not Burma. This was the result of a bombing in Nigeria. The victims here are Africans who are targeted by a radical terrorist group (Boko Haram) that attacks Christian and moderate Muslims, not Muslim Rohingya. http://www.icampusng.com/jos-bomb-blast-eight-final-year-students-lost-their-lives/ and http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2634258/Dozens-killed-two-car-bombs-rip-busy-Nigerian-bus-terminal-market-attacks-bearing-hallmarks-Boko-Haram-extremists.html and http://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/?p=5574
Implied Claim: Muslim Man Being Set on Fire by Buddhists
This one has been around for a long time. A screaming man is running with flames engulfing him. Apparently Burmese Buddhists set this Rohingya Muslim on fire according to the social media posts. What is actually occurring? A Tibetan who is protesting the Chinese Government oppression of Tibet and Buddhism. Not a Muslim or Rohingya to be found anywhere in this photo. How can you really be sure? Note all the Tibetan flags in the background!
The purpose of this section is for you to critically examine what you see on social media and verify its authenticity. Social media spread anything like wildfire, from the truth to the false. This also includes anything coming from the “Buddhist” side, although the frequency and intensity from the “Muslim” side is so prevalent even Muslim reporters have been quick to expose these false narratives.
This Has Nothing To Do With Buddhism
As I stated earlier, this situation has been swelling for decades. Muslims are saying that they are part of that state’s “Rohingya” ethnic group and have been in Burma for generations, while other Burmese are saying they are actually illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Which version is true? It is sadly nearly impossible to tell anymore, which is also a major issue that is being exploited by extremists on both sides. A report by Aye Chan entitled The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar) may help explain why those in the Rakhine, and other Burmese, feel this way and is recommended reading if you want a clearer picture of the historical aspect.
What is most important is to know is that none of the violence you are seeing, on either side (and yes there is violence from both sides), has anything to do with Islam or Buddhism.
While some “Muslims” have been trying for decades to violently separate Rakhine state from Burma, and make it an independent Islamic region, that has nothing to do with Islam. And “Buddhists” who claim they are defending and protecting Buddhism and Burma from being overrun by Muslims and Islam, has nothing to do with Buddhism. Any human can make any claim and attribute it to their down delusions, desires, and attachments. Is there more to this narrative happening in Burma? Absolutely. Are there innocent victims on both sides? Absolutely. In my opinion, this is a huge power play from both sides, and there are of course innocents (on both sides) that are paying the price. I am not, however, going to criticize religions over the actions of mankind.
When I hear the small minority of Buddhists/Buddhist monastics saying they are trying to protect “Buddhism”, I can only wonder if that is a “mask” over the truth cause: because they are scared, ignorant of the truth, and trapped by delusions, desires, and attachment (the “Three Poisons” in Buddhism) which breed hate and ignorance. In most Southeast Asian (Theravada Buddhism) countries you are essentially “born” Buddhist, which is not a teaching of the Buddha, yet is culturally part of their existence and national identity. With that we must take with a large grain of salt “Buddhist” violence and actions. These are ordinary people with often rituali/cultural practice in Buddhism, and perhaps no deep practice and understanding like a Westerner who might go “full in” with. And, yes, I will include monastics in that. As you will learn later in this section, many people in the population become “monks” often for a short period of time.
Let’s explore more of why the violence is occurring in Burma (not all inclusive) and why religion has nothing to do with it (but is often used as an excuse):
- British Occupation: When the British Empire had Burma as a conquest (colony), their focus was more on a colonial power than worrying about long term repercussions. They brought in “Muslim” workers into Burma as part of their colonial goals (this does not mean there were not Muslims in Burma before, but for this context, they increased it). During World War II, they armed the “Rohingya” Muslims to fight off the Japanese as they fled the invasion. Instead of fighting the Japanese after being armed by the British, the Rohingya took this as an opportunity to slaughter 20,000 Rakhine Buddhists. As I update this article in 2017, reports of “ethnic cleansing” by “Buddhists” are rampant in social media, humanitarian groups, and the news reports which never report the history of violence against “Buddhists”. In-fact, during World War II the violence by the “Rohingya” was so extreme, the British colonial occupiers recorded their horror at, what they described as “ethnic cleansing” by the Rohingya against the Buddhists. It was so bad, the British reported, that the Rohingya were going through towns wiping them clean of Buddhists, burning villages, and committing other acts of violence. Villagers fled to the wilderness in hoping to survive, and many did not. This fact, and many others, have never been included in any news reports or opinion articles I have read because it likely does not fit the narrative being presented (where a journalist should be reporting, not opining, the facts). Right or wrong despite all these instances, humans are a very fearful and suspicious animal and these factors almost certainly have added to the conflict and made it extremely complex. I have no doubt that nobody in Burma, especially Rakhine state, has forgotten this ethnic cleansing. And let me be clear, none of that has anything to do with true Islam or Buddhism. Does this give Burma/Rakhine state the right to do similar? Absolutely not. The Buddha what quite clear that anger, hatred, ignorance, and violence are not part of the Buddhist teachings and not how a Buddhist behaves.
- The Pakistan War: Often missing from stories about this situation is that during and after the West and East Pakistan War (yes, there was an East Pakistan which later became Bangladesh), a large population fled Bangladesh (who supported “West” Pakistan, but failed to unite East Pakistan with it) and moved into the Rakhine state in Burma. They then took up the “Rohingya” name to integrate quickly, and easily, into that group (even though they had no relationship to any true Rohingya living there). Because opportunists who fled Bangladesh after the war took up the “Rohingya” name complicates the issue, and this was done entirely on purpose. This is also a reason why Bangladesh, a Muslim country, won’t accept any “Rohingya” into their country (some that fled were on the side of West [current day] Pakistan during the war, so they are hostile to Bangladesh). For the purposes of this article, we will retain the “Rohingya” name even though it is more than likely many Muslims from Bangladesh migrated after the Bangladesh Liberation War to Burma. After World War II and after the Pakistan War that followed, several anti-Burma “Islamic” groups violently tried to separate Rakhine state from Burma in order to fulfill the mission of what West Pakistan (now just “Pakistan”) wanted. You’ll read more about that next. But what about the existing Rohingya that were there? They are now unfairly swept up in this mix and are facing repercussions they should not have to face. We should also strongly express that the majority of people of any religion simply want to live in peace, be safe, and love their families. Facing war, conflict, and other distress causes people to move and in this case that was to Burma. There are no easy answers here, but violence and oppression isn’t the answer either.
- Violence and Terrorism: To further complicate the situation, since Burma’s independence from the British Empire certain Muslim extremist groups have tried to create an independent Islamic state out of the Rakhine state. The slogan “Pakistan Jindabad” (Victory to Pakistan) was used, but they failed to gain support of West Pakistan and instead tried to make an autonomous Islamic region instead. This has obviously caused fear and concern for the Rakhine ethnic group living in the area, fearing their lives and land will be gone. A massive influx of money from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has been flowing in to help establish the Muslim population to create a power base, and eventually make the Rakhine state in Burma an autonomous Islamic region. Those who are trying to violently attack other Burmese and trying to create an Islamic region separate from Burma are instead causing widespread suffering for other Muslims! It is clear, at least to me, that these “Muslims” who are violently trying to create conflict and an independent state are doing this for political and power reasons as it is directly harming innocent Muslim men, women, and children. This may also part of the long term strategy that is just now paying off. How? With the increasing international condemnation of “Buddhist” violence, and reporters showing refugees, it can further help them create (what they call) an Islamic region and be independent of Burma to some extent or even reduce the amount of influence Burma has in Rakhine state. This same sort of action is also taking place in southern Thailand where an Islamic region/state is also being violently fought for, and in the Philippines. While the majority of Muslims simply want to live in peace and likely have no visions of an independent, these actions continue. In 2017, groups attacked and killed many Brumese police at border security stations (which resulted in a Burmese military backlash). There is also widespread claims and reports (for some time now) of gang rapes, killings, and forced marriages (allegedly with promises of money) that have many Buddhists and other ethnic groups in Burma scared, and angered (none of these incidents ever make it to Western newspapers). Claims of Buddhist women being forced to marry (which means they must give up Buddhism), Muslims being rewarded with money to rape and kill Buddhist women, insurrection to create an Islamic state, etc., are the result of people, actions, and politics that have nothing to do with Islam (nor does it mean that majority of Muslims in Burma do this…the majority live in peace). These are the actions of those who want to create conflict in order to achieve a political and power base purpose. It frustrates me that Muslims, and the Islamic faith, are as criticized and misrepresented as much as the Buddhists and the Buddhist faith are. At the end of the article, we will express possible ways to resolve this. However the international community, reporters, and even Burma itself (who isn’t helping the situation), need to find a correct long lasting action. Burma, as a nation, can protect itself like any other nation. But to call it “Buddhist” in any way when violence occurs is purposely misleading (remember, this is the same military that was once the military dictatorship that oppressed Buddhist monks and democracy for decades).
- Lack of Acceptance: There are at least four different Muslim ethnic groups in Burma, with full Buremese citizenship rights (to include Kaman Muslims who are also in Rakhine state), with millions of Buddhist Burmese living in peace with them. So why is the focus only on the “Rohingya”? As mentioned before, those who fled from Bangladesh and illegally moved into Rakhine state in Burma took up the name of “Rohingya” for political purposes. Yes, there is a history of people (Muslim and Buddhist) moving back and forth to what is modern day Burma and Bangladesh, but nobody can agree on is whether the Muslim population that moved between both were the original “Roghingya”. The group that moved into Burma during the war refused to acknowledge Burma as their Country (and wanted to create an Islamic state through Jihad), will not accept the national standard for citizenship (which everyone else in Burma must abide by regardless of religion), and refuse to respect the laws of Burma. Now, you may be asking why should Rohingya need to apply for citizenship if they were there for generations? And that’s exactly the issue we have with Western reporters on this issue. They completely accept that everyone in Rakhine state who is a Muslim is “Rohingya” without any sort of investigation, and then consider anything else “alleged” that comes from the “Buddhist” side (such as the gang rape and murder of the young woman in 2012). Of course, newspapers (and organizations) are there to make money, and nothing makes money like seeding religious strife (if we have not seen this for years with the equally incorrect “Islamic” terrorism reporting). If the issue were about those who illegally entered Burma, tried to violently separate a part of that country away, and refused to even learn the language…that would completely change the tone which is not what sells papers because it becomes more complex a story (and less one-sided). Imagine if someone from Canada illegally crossed the border into the United States of America, walked into an American Indian reservation and said “I’m an American Indian and my family lived here for generations!”. Now imagine millions doing this, which surpasses the original true population of that group. As silly as that example sounds, that’s basically what happened in the Rakhine state. It is no wonder (and a sad state of affairs) that the Government of Burma doesn’t consider “Rohingya” to be one of the many ethnic groups since it is impossible to determine who is who anymore. Yet, that is not a justification for violence in the name of Buddhism, which does not teach or support violence. This is a political issue, yet it is also something that the international community can help resolve. They can lend their experience and support to help with those in Burma who do not have citizenship yet (of any religion) to gain it. That is a very crucial and important thing that needs to be done. In that case, those such as the “Rohingya” would now be citizens with the rights and privileges that come with it. Yet what about those who illegally call themselves “Rohingya” and after many decades, that their children and grandchildren believe this narrative as well? How murky and sad this situation has become and I have no idea how that would be resolved. Humanitarian aid, while important, is always just a temporary fix. The long term solution is to see what can be done about citizenship for those who qualify for it under the Burmese law. For those who cannot speak the language (which can often be the reason why many “Rohingya” are not citizens, while other Muslims in Burma are citizens), the international community can start helping with education programs which include paying Burmese to teach them the national language. Not only does this help Burmese through economic means, it also helps those who can qualify for citizenship to become citizens.
- Medical Care, Education, and Poverty: Plenty of reporters cite lack of medical care for the Rohingya, lack of education, and the conditions in which they live. Let’s be clear, Burma is largely a third world country where the majority of the population in rural areas (like the Rohingya) face these same issues. More “Buddhist” women face giving birth outside of a hospital with high mortality rates, lack of healthcare is widespread, and poverty is rampant more than the Rohingya. However, the Western reporters cite only the Rohingya who face…the same situations as pretty much everyone else. Any lack of disgust and appeal to the international community is nonexistent for Buddhists who face countless more deaths and disease and poverty than Rohingya. This is not to say that Rohingya are not facing the same issues…of course they are…but placing the microscope on only one of the 135 different ethnic groups in this country for political gain doesn’t help. Certain conditions/camps that the Burmese government is placing the Rohingya inside is of concern and should of course be addressed. Anytime a government takes actions which impacts or restricts the movements of persons warrants objective review and criticism and rightfully so. However, we should also remember (once again) this is a third world country. What is shocking to us in the West, may be par for the course in that country. Buddhists in Burma also face a variety of conditions that are also bad for them regarding medical care, education, and poverty. Of which, this was the reason that other ethnic groups in Burma were complaining and protesting the relief supplies being given to Rohingya, while they were being left in the cold. While the international community was doing the right thing…providing supplies to those they considered most in need (and in the news)…they glossed over the backlash that would result from other ethnic groups in Burma (not all are Buddhist) who are also facing horrible poverty and other conditions. This is not to justify any actions, but if one thing that we have learned from history is to factor in all sides and come to the best solution. Neither Burma, or the international community, have reached that level. Do I believe the Rohingya are facing even worse medical care than others in Burma? Probably, especially those who have fled their homes, or are in camps, and with Burma not letting in independent observers, that is the wrong actions. The international community should use their weight to have independent observers to accurately and in an unbiased way see what is actually happening. In addition, the condition of non-Rohingya’s must also be taken into context for a complete picture. One sided reports on either side are an issue in any dispute, and the international community is literally pushing Burmese into a corner which can result in more backlash. Isn’t our goal to prevent backlashes and violence in the first place? As I mentioned before, humanitarian relief is always important, but it is also always a bandage. Healing takes a lot more work that most don’t want to do.
- Majority of Buddhist Monks Think Differently: While a small minority of Buddhist monks in Burma have been outspoken against the Rohingya, many other Buddhist monks are saying that Buddhists should come together and can live in peace with the Rohingya (in-fact, other Muslim ethnic groups in Burma do live with Buddhists without violence). Why are Buddhist monks so outspoken on both sides of this issue? What may surprise many westerners is that many in Southeast Asian Buddhist countries go into monkhood only for a short time (much like ‘college’ if you will), and are also very involved in politics (a research paper entitled The Role of Monkhood in Contemporary Myanmar Society can offer a thorough overview of how monks behave and live in Burma). I think this is a very important part, because it is so easy to malign an entire group of people (especially by the international community and groups), and that only goes to “push” them into a corner. This is done to Muslims, and other religions and ethnic groups, in other countries with similar or mixed results. While intentions may be noble to these governments and groups, they only further reinforce the divide. True diplomacy, negotiation, and most importantly leadership is needed. That is sorely lacking on every side I see.
- Aung San Suu Kyi: The opposition leader for democracy, Auung San Suu Kyi, has been heavily condemned for what is occurring. But should she? Here is another example of how complicated this entire conflict has become. She has stated that her party wants nonviolence for everyone in Burma, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Will she follow-up with actions, or is this just words? I don’t know. As some experts have stated she is in a precarious situation where she may not have a lot of power in the fragile new democratic government which is made up of the military (the same ones that had oppressed Muslims and Buddhists alike). In addition, the Burmese constitution does not allow her to actually control the armed forces of Burma, which is something Westerners assume she has control over. This results in a very tight rope she has to walk to prevent the military from taking over the country in a dictatorship again. However, despite claims that she has made anti-muslim comments, she has stated:
“My party is totally dedicated to nonviolence. Violence has been committed against us repeatedly … over nearly 20 years but we never retaliated with violence. So I’m unhappy that there are those in my country who think differences can be settled by violence.”
“Without rule of law we cannot expect our people to settle their differences peacefully,”
“I have always defended those whose human rights have been attacked, but what people want is not defence but condemnation. I am not condemning because I have not found that condemnation brings good results. I want to achieve national reconciliation.”
In 2017 she stated to Turkish President Erdogan:
“We know very well, more than most, what it means to be deprived of human rights and democratic protection. So we make sure that all the people in our country are entitled to protection of their rights as well as, the right to, and not just political but social and humanitarian defence.”
I’m not alone in the assertion that this has nothing to do with religion:
- Pakistani Author Ayesha Siddiqa posted two full articles (first and second) in the Pakistani Express Tribune about the history of this conflict, and agrees that this has nothing to do with religion. I highly recommend you read them by clicking those links.
“However, it is not certain if those flagging the issue are really seriously concerned about the atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims, which represent one of the four groups of Muslims in Myanmar and have been in trouble since the 1940s. The real problem between this religious-ethnic group and the military-political leadership in Myanmar is not based on religion but national contestation as the Rohingyas have never really accepted being part of Myanmar and vice versa. In fact, in 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had discouraged them from harbouring any secessionist ideas and instead advised them to sort out matters with their state.”
He continued that the relationship between Pakistan and Burma has been rocky:
“Although successive governments in Pakistan claim to have stuck with Jinnah’s advice, Burma accused Islamabad of fuelling insurgency during the 1950s. Despite trying to improve relations by signing of a friendship treaty in 1952, which probably led to the arrest in 1954 by Pakistan of the head of the Mujahid Movement of Burma, relations didn’t improve substantially.”
- Another Pakistani author, Asif Nawaz, posted an article entitled “Burma killings: Keep religion out of it!“, which was well written and explained how religion in general becomes an easy scapegoat during violence, and it shouldn’t be. A good point raised by Asif:
“To all those who are saying “I thought Budhistst [sic] were a peaceful bunch,” I would like to say that it is wrong to stereotype. The actions of a handful shouldn’t malign an entire religion. But Buddhism, in all fairness, isn’t the exclusive member of this club. There are always individuals who are eager to judge an entire creed based only on the acts of an individual or a group of individuals.”
- In Afghanistan of 2012, a woman was murdered for “adultery” by the Taliban and cheered by men watching. This has nothing to do with Islam, and was murder and pure violence. Even the villagers were upset as well that the fundamentalist “religious” Taliban did this violence. Despite the Taliban’s stance as defenders of Islam, they are nothing of the sort. Just like we should not accept the Taliban as true Muslims living the life of Islam, we should not accept those in Burma as Buddhists if they are not following the teachings of the Buddha if they are violent.
This is the stance we need to take with what is happening in Burma. The violence has nothing to do with Buddhism or Islam, but is actually the anger, tension, fear, suspicion, and hate that all humans have inside them. The Buddha would never condone such violence.
- To bring this point home, Barbara O’Brien on About.com’s Buddhism section wrote an article about Buddhism and Violence, and Bodhipaksa also wrote an article (that Barbara referenced) about Buddhism and Violence especially as it relates to Burma. Both are worth a read.
- You can also read my article about Buddhism and Violence here: Buddhism: Peaceful or Violent Religion?
An excellent documentary video by The Guardian is something to watch (you can watch it below, or click here). You are able to see that this is not an easy and clear cut situation as some might want to make it out to be. You can also clearly see the human element, on both sides. For example, you can see the sadness and frustration from a Muslim activist. And you can also see the attachment to views by a monastic, with another monastic trying to bring the two sides together to start healing and resolving. Remember what I said at the beginning of this section of the article and you can see those who are trapped by the “Three Poisons”, and those who are not.
What Can Be Done?
Together we can solve any situation, not against. This is always the way of the world. Right action and right thinking is needed here. Let us all pray, and write, to get the weight of the world involved to help and find longstanding solutions and not temporary ones. Balanced reporting without agendas, a full understanding of the issues (which are complex), and help for all sides is the best way this can move forward.
- Burma has been undergoing massive political and economic change in just the year and a half since democracy. They want to become a bigger part of the world stage and economy, and not less. While this can be somewhat instrumental in achieving peace, it cannot be used heavy handed as it would only create a possible backlash. The one thing nobody wants is for Burma to return to a military dictatorship where the conflict will only escalate.
- Author Shehlah Zahiruddin posted in the Express Tribune that a wider look at the situation, not just in Burma but everywhere, should give some added clarity: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/12825/burma-killings-think-before-you-point-fingers/
- The book “Common Ground Between Islam & Buddhism” (translations in Arabic, Malaysian, and Persian can be found here) is a great place for all sides to start and grow from. Although designed for a Muslim audience, it is meant for interfaith understanding and communication.
The Buddha never advocated violence, hatred, or war even against enemies or people who want to harm us. For instance, he said:
In times of war give rise in yourself to the mind of compassion, helping living beings, abandon the will to fight.
Even if thieves carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, if you make your mind hostile you are not following my teaching.
The following story comes from one of my favorite teachers, the world famous Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh who led non-violent protests during the Vietnam war:
A Vietnam veteran was overheard rebuking the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, about his unswerving dedication to non-violence.
“You’re a fool,” said the veteran – “what if someone had wiped out all the Buddhists in the world and you were the last one left. Would you not try to kill the person who was trying to kill you, and in doing so save Buddhism?!”
Thich Nhat Hanh answered patiently “It would be better to let him kill me. If there is any truth to Buddhism and the Dharma it will not disappear from the face of the earth, but will reappear when seekers of truth are ready to rediscover it.
“In killing I would be betraying and abandoning the very teachings I would be seeking to preserve. So it would be better to let him kill me and remain true to the spirit of the Dharma.”
Thich Nhat Hanh is not saying that he believes it is ok for an entire group of people to be killed, but as a Buddhist monk (not the laity) he would allow allow himself to be killed (instead of fighting to save himself) just to save “Buddhism” because he is a deep practitioner of the Dharma (and fighting to save “Buddhism”, is completely against the point of Buddhism).
Buddhists around the world want this violence to stop. Muslims around the world want this violence to stop. On that, we will always agree. We are all human beings and want peace.
Are All Buddhists Violent in Burma?
Just like the Time cover story, showing “Buddhists” as violent (based on their religious affiliation, rather than individuals) gathers attention, and money. For example, if all you read was from the news and other things on the internet, you may believe that Buddhist monks everywhere in Burma were killing and attacking Muslims. Yet, those that are the “face” of this “violent Buddhism” in Burma, are actually the small minority. So seeing a video like the one below (from Al Jazeera) gives a different perspective. Yet you’ve probably never even heard or seen this video promoted on social media, and that is sadly no surprise. It does not fit the narrative that is being pushed.
According to Al Jazeera:
More than 1,000 Muslims in Myanmar have taken shelter at a Buddhist monastery after violence in the north targeted followers of the Islamic faith. Those offering a home have distanced themselves from what they see as a small but radical group of Buddhists who are inflaming a religious divide.
Original article page: http://www.aljazeera.com/video/asia-pacific/2013/05/2013531193133115210.html. However, here is another copy of that video placed on YouTube:
The Al Jazeera reporter in Lashio, Burma stated (emphasis added):
The violence is being fanned by an anti-muslim movement led by a small group of radical Buddhist monks that have long been paranoid about the spread of Islam threatening Buddhist dominance. It is also suspected the movement is being encouraged by some in the government and military for their own political gain. But armed with their anti-Muslim messages, they are in the minority and others in the monkhood say they are tarnishing the religion.
According to the Muslim Imam in Lashio, Burma:
If the attacks were based on Buddhism then we would not have been allowed to shelter in a Buddhist monastery. These monks have provided shelter and food to Muslims. That support was offered to us as soon as the violence started. No religion teaches violence. ~ Enaamol Hasan, Imam
According to the Buddhist Abbot in Lashio, Burma:
Those individuals making hate speeches are ignorant of the truth. They are religious extremists. ~ Punya Nanda, Abbot
Major Buddhist monk leaders in Burma have also called out for a stop to the violence, and against groups and campaigns, such as “969”, which are using the peaceful symbol to create hate and division:
“I felt sorry for both Muslims and Buddhists,” said [Buddhist Monk] Venerable Ashin Sandadika. “If people from different religious groups show loving kindness to each other, the country will get peace. True compassionate love isn’t based on religion and race – we all need to spread such kindness and compassion to all different faiths.”
I agree completely with Venerable Ashin Sandadika, and that is the right message (and action) of true Buddhism. Kindness and compassion for everyone in Burma, to include safety and security for all, is the path that will lead to peace and prosperity.
- To learn about “Violence in Buddhism”, click here to read my article.
- This article was updated in 2013, 2014, and 2017 with some new information and hyperlinks. While a good portion of the 2013 article remains in-tact, I have updated it in September 2017 due to the increase in recognition worldwide to this situation. However, this article is not being updated based on every single situation or claim that occurs.
- This article is based on my research of the issue after reading reports by journalists, opinion writers, and others about this situation and issue. As mentioned above, I have found the reporting on this issue to be heavily lopsided and lacking any thorough research or balanced reporting. Therefore, this article was written to help bring perspective to the issue. I have no political or religious objective with this article (despite being a writer on Buddhism), but believe a serious issue such as this needs to have more information brought into the light and for you the reader to decide which is right, or wrong. In-fact, I have often tried to help free people of other faiths from believing misunderstandings and lies about Islam, and feel the same is needed here. The majority of people in this world, regardless of what religion they follow, are good people. Yet it is always the few that stray from the true teachings of their religion that cause violence and hatred, and in turn entire religions are blamed (often with the most innocent being hurt in the process).