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Buddhist Extremism

March 21, 2018

In western countries, we often consider Buddhism as the religion of peace, tolerance and harmony. But like every religious belief, an extremist way can be developed. Therefore in some Asian countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, or India  some nationalist and fundamentalist monks incite racial hatred and violence against Muslim communities. Nowadays, Myanmar has become the strongest example of this new form of extremism. Rohingyas, a Muslim community who live in Myanmar, are actually considered as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Let’s see the causes and the development of this process of exclusion and persecution.

A plethora of old causes can explain this hatred against Muslims in Myanmar. One of the main reasons is that during World War II, Muslims and Buddhists weren’t in the same camp : Muslims fought with the British army whereas Buddhists fought with the Japenese.  With the independence of Myanmar in 1947, Muslims asked to be attached to eastern Pakistan, but their request wasn’t honored. These events show us the ancient and severe dispute there is between the two populations.

In 1962, the Army took power, that led to an increase of the tensions between communities. This dicrimination was established as an institution by the government in 1982 : a new law gave  citizenship to some ethnic groups but not to all of them.

Then, the Rohingyas became the biggest stateless community in the world. At that moment, a long series of forced movings and exclusion started for this population, who have been facing persecutions for decades. Such as the Jewish population during World War II, we can observe a progressive abolition of Muslims’ rights. They have no access to the labour market, schools and hospitals. Many violences happened, such as vandalism or boycott of Muslims’ shops, burning of  their mosques…

In Myanmar, Buddhists represent 90 % of the population, and this religion is deeply linked with their national identity : monks are indeed considered as the guardians of worship and nation. 969 Movement (which is a sacred number referring to the three Buddha’s jewels) was created in 1999. This Buddhist extremist anti-muslim movement, guided by the monk  Ashin Wirathu, aims to protect the Buddhist identity. 969 was forbidden in 2013, because of violent interracial riots. Then, Wirathu changed the name of his party to Ma Ba Tha in 2014 (Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion) in order to pursue his anti-Muslim crusade. This ultranationalist group knows a spectacular increase : today it counts more than 10 million sympathisers (out of 51 million  Burmese), and 300 regional offices. His financing sources are shady. A cult of personality is getting organized around the central figure of Wirathu. Ma Ba Tha also sponsored the first public and free further studies establisment of the country, which allows the movement to spread its influence among the young and its islamophobic ideology.

These are some exemples of ideas spread by Wirathu and his party :  Muslims ? ” Like catfish in Africa, they breed very fast and they eat each other.” Buddhism ? “an army where fighters are born. It must act like a battlement against Islam.” Rohingya ? “There has never been an ethnic Rohingya minority in History. Therefore, we know that it’s to get international aid that they’re burning their houses”.”It’s better to get married with a dog than with a Muslim.”

Violences against Muslims, and especially Rohingyas, have suddenly soared since August 2017. At that time soldiers started burning villages, raping women, killing people…  Now we can talk about an ethnic cleansing for the Rohingyas’s case, because there is the attempt of creating geographic areas characterised by their ethnic homogeneity (deportation of people, suppression of their monuments such as cemeteries…). It’s also a genocide.

The political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize  in 1991, is very criticized by foreign countries and international institutions for her lack of stance and compassion in the Rohingyas’ case. A lot of personalities such as 14th Daïla-Lama or the Pope stated loud and clear their disapproval of her attitude. But we have to take her delicate situation into account. She must indeed manage with a powerful army (which kept the power for more than 40 years) and a very xenophobic and anti-Muslim public opinion.

These horrible events explain the massive exodus of Rohingyas, who try to take refuge in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. It estimates that around 1 million refugees reached Bangladesh in the last 5 months. This event has became a humanitary urgency because people are living in bad conditions in those camps.

An agreement about the Rohingya’s repatriation in Myanmar « within two years» was signed on 16th January 2018 between Bengladesh and Myanmar, but the period won’t probably be respected.

If you want to learn more about the Monk Wirathu, you can read Time Magazine

or watch the documentary by Barbet Schroeder, Le vénérable W.


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