Introduction to World Religion MWF
Conflict Between Muslims and Buddhists in Southeast Asia
For around two years now, ongoing conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in Southeast Asia has been ravaging several communities. The original conflict began in a gold shop when two Muslim employees assaulted a Buddhist customer over a gold hairpin. A mob formed and destroyed the shop. Reportedly, there were too many for the police to control. In response, a Buddhist who was not involved was pulled off his bike by Muslims and burned alive in front of a mosque.
This level of cruelty caused the situation to explode. Buddhists retaliated by destroying Mingalar Zayone Islamic Boarding School, killing many. Later, communal rioting targeting Muslims and Muslim households broke out in Othekone, Tatkone, and Yamethin. These events displaced over 9000 Muslims. When police found themselves outnumbered in these riots the government declared a state of emergency and issued military troops. Seeing as Buddhism and Islam are peaceful religions, this recent violence is rather uncharacteristic of the two religions.
These frequent attacks on Muslims from Buddhists and vice versa are fueled by bitterness that has resulted from the passing of legislation allowing Rohingya Muslims to vote. Rohingya Muslims, according to Aljazeera America, are one of the more persecuted religious groups in our world today. Controversial monk Ashin Wirathu is viewed as being the primary driving figure behind the nationalist group 969. This organization actively opposes the growth of Islam in Burma. Sri Lanka has also seen some conflict, albeit not as severe as that of Burma’s. Buddhists in Sri Lanka are actively holding rallies which call for the boycotting of Muslim businesses, and the limitation of the size of Muslim families.
Amidst the chaos, there has been progress. According to The Jakarta Post Muslim and Buddhist leaders from South and Southeast Asia have issued the Yogyakarta Statement, which refuses use of Islam and Buddhism in the politics of discrimination/violence. Since the initial conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma, media coverage of the events has exploded.
With media coverage comes many different opinions, some are fair overall, and others are quite jaded. For instance, Numerous sources refers to Ashin Wirathu as the ‘Burmese bin Laden’. This is a rather transparent hook meant to evoke strong emotions in westerners. They also frequently use the terms such as ‘terror’ or ‘terrorist’. To be fair to them, the violent Buddhists in Burma are using acts of terror in attempt to forcibly relocate the Muslim population, and have been moderately successful in doing so. In fact, Ahin Wirathu is documented to have actually referred to himself as the ‘Burmese bin Laden” in the past, according to BBC News
BBC news really uses these events to depict Buddhism as having fallen from grace as “the good guys of religion”. The article begins “Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks, the promise not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than any other major religion. So why have monks been using hate speech against Muslims and joining mobs that have left dozens dead?” This first passage is an intended hook, but really seems to relish the drama of the situation.
The photo included by the BBC headline displays protesting monks, one of which is holding up a sign that says “The world is not only for Muslims”, depicting the Buddhist population negatively. Also, they do not go into much detail at all as to the actual nature of Ashin Wirathu. He is mentioned in a brief passage as an inciter of religious hatred and a self-proclaimed “Burmese bin Laden” and nothing more. This really tells nothing about Ashin Wirathu whatsoever, and makes the situation harder to interpret from the Buddhist perspective. In fact, Ashin Wirathu is only mentioned once in the entire article.
BBC goes on to somewhat bad-mouth the religion of Buddhism. They attempt to depict Christianity as more peaceful by giving the example of a bible passage “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Overall, this comes off as an underhanded insult towards violent Buddhists in Burma. The rest of the article goes into the history of violence caused by Buddhists since Buddhism’s emergence as a religion. They make many good points, the main point being that Buddhists have been just as violent as any other religion overall, but the underlying theme of dethroning the Buddhists as “the good guys of religion” persists. I personally think this article was written by either from a Christian or Atheist perspective.
Each news source exhibits an obsession with violence and grizzly details such as body counts. BBC takes great care to document the exact body count of each event over the years. In this BBC article a brief outline of the conflict is given. In this outline, nearly every bullet point has the word ‘rape’, ‘murder’, etc., or some kind of body count listed. Other media sources such as TIME insist on including dramatic details for shock value such as “attacked to death with a sword” or “Armed to the teeth with swords and spears”. It would seem that most news websites are primarily interested in drama and creating opinions that reflect their own. The only articles that even so much as Mention Ashin Wirathu are TIME and BBC, and very little information regarding his background or motives is given.
Overall, the articles from The Jakarta Post and Huffington Post were the fairest. The articles they wrote involved people of both religions denouncing the strife. They then go on to say that both religious respect the sanctity of life and human dignity without discrimination of any kind. I personally think the Jakarta Post article is fairest of all because the Jakarta Post is based out of Indonesia, very close to the heart of the conflict. Quotes from both Buddhist and Islamic major figures are given in opposition to the ongoing violence. This helps one see just how alien extremists are to the infinitely larger majority of peaceful practitioners.
Blumberg, Antonia. “Buddhist, Muslim Leaders Push For Peace In Conflict Areas.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Mar. 15. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/20/yogyakarta-statement-peace_n_6896576.html
Campbell, Charlie. “Once Again, Racial Tensions in Burma Turn Deadly.” Time. Time, 4 July 2014. Web. 01 May 2015. http://time.com/2956180/burma-mandalay-race-riots-sectarian-violence-buddhist-muslim/
Mohan, Rohini. “Sri Lanka’s Violent Buddhists.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Jan. 2015. Web. 01 May 2015.
Muryanto, Bambang. “Muslim, Buddhist Leaders Denounce Religious Strife.” Muslim, Buddhist Leaders Denounce Religious Strife. Jakarta Post, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
Siddiqui, Ussad. “Myanmar’s Buddhist Terrorism Problem | Al Jazeera America.” Myanmar’s Buddhist Terrorism Problem. Aljazeera, 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2015. http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/2/myanmars-buddhist-terrorism-problem.html
Strathern, Alan. “Why Are Buddhist Monks Attacking Muslims? – BBC News.” BBC News. Oxford University, 2 May 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22356306
“Why Is There Communal Violence in Myanmar? – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC News, 3 July 2014. Web. 01 May 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-18395788