Buddhism’s Grip on Myanmar

Posted on December 11, 2015 by




Myanmar or more commonly know as Burma has been under Military rule for the later half of the 20th century.  Those militant tendencies in some sense have seemed to carry over to the Buddhists mindset.  Understandably so Muslims have been persecuted since around 1962, it is hard to change the mindsets of the majority of people in such a short time.  Then in 1997 there were Anti-Muslim riots between the majoral Buddhists and the minoral Muslims. The state of violence still continues till this day maybe not in the major cases of the 60s and 70s but in other diplomatic ways as of the recent past.  Although with these recent trend things may cause an eruption of violence.


Buddhists in Control


The first thing that I noticed when was comparing the likenesses and differences in all of these articles was.  Why in all of these articles mentioned the Muslim religion and the Islamic people as a whole.  Almost as if in hushed tones and as to report on the actions that the Buddhist monks were taking.  Terms like Muslim Minority being the first article that I noticed it amongst others upon further inspection of the articles.  Understandably so being that in Myanmar(Burma) it is believed that 90% of the country is Buddhist, yet a few Buddhists say that Buddhism is in danger.  While Muslims only make up somewhere around 4%.


Trends tend to occur with this type of media with the most common trend being to not show the Muslim side of the issue and dive deeper into why there is conflict.  Potentially it could be because almost all of the articles I found were reporting what Buddhist Monks were doing.  Only a few articles ever told both sides of the story the only one that sticks out to me being “Radical Buddhist monks target Muslims in Myanmar”.  This short 3 minute and 22 second clip dove deeper into the issues, but still not quite deep enough if you ask me.  But it was a step in the right direction, by actually talking to persons of the Muslim faith and seeing their side of the story.  On top of all of that speaking with monks of than the “Radical” monks that seem to be common place.


This topic is truly an interesting one to say the least with most if not close to all people believing that monks are solely a peaceful people.  Yet in the case of Myanmar more and more “Radical” monks seem to be popping up every day.  Many articles speak of how they flex their numbers in showing support for more anti-Muslim laws.  Tom Malinowski, assistant U.S. secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, said there were two narratives in the election.  “There is the narrative of democracy vs. dictatorship and then a competing narrative which aims to convince voters this is an election about protecting the vast majority of Burmese who are Buddhists against what has been characterized as an existential threat from a tiny minority that is Muslim,” Malinowski said. “That gives rise to worries many people have about potential violence down the road. You can’t invent such a narrative for an election and then forget about it the day after.”  This speak volumes to me and instils faith that the media isn’t just repeating what they are told but further investigating possible issues down the road. ­ It seems to me that if the path they are on continues we could see violence between Buddhists and Muslims escalate to a new level.  Possibly and attempt to completely eradicate the Muslims from Myanmar, more riots, more destruction, more killings, and lastly more hate.


Truthfully I thought that at the beginning of this semester I thought monks were locked away in some Monastery in the hills praying.  Yet after reading these articles and seeing that thing I heard about Buddhists being “Radical” in a place like this, my preconceived notions are completely shattered. Flexing their Muscles was the most common and in the same sense most over used cliché of the day with all of these articles.  Perhaps it is a whisper of what is to come in the future if they continue to “Flex their Muscles” maybe they will escalate to using them on the minority of “Dangerous”  Muslims threatening Myanmar’s Buddhists.  With a number around 4% I don’t see the Muslims as a problem for the Buddhists of Myanmar, then again I am getting all my information from these news articles which could quite possibly be inherently biased.


Its something to think about what if for a moment the media is biased towards Muslims as well and don’t want to share their story.  Maybe they are being attacked for no reason other than the threat of nationalism.  After being in a country that was under Militant rule for so long one can understand that there are things that you have to do to stay alive and live well.  Speaking ill of the party in control could not only result in prison time but in extreme cases death.  These monks might be scared of the unknown, that unknown being Democracy.  Which is a frightful thing to think of when I have lived in a place with Democracy my whole life, not knowing the hardships of Monarchical of Militant rule.  Its hard to me to say who thinks what, but both the Buddhists and the Muslims are scared of what the future has to hold.




The conclusion being where can the country of Myanmar go from where with things looking less like a Democracy and much more like Militant Monks trying to gain power and control of the country.  Which in its new infancy could be an easy power grab for a majority of a number around 90% or so.  I guess we will have to see where things go from here, if they escalate or if they simmer.  In both cases an eruption of violence could still occur but lets hope that a peaceful resolution is reached and that a country with such potential isn’t squandered by its troubles of the past.  There are many things that this world needs and the last thing it needs it more violence.  Hopefully the Buddhist monks of Myanmar see that before its too late.




Joshua Carroll, Buddhist monks in Myanmar celebrate repressive laws, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/09/buddhist-monks-myanmar-celebrate-repressive-laws-150922111750765.html

23 Sep 2015


Annie Gowen, Hard-line Buddhist monks threaten Burma’s hopes for democracy, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/hardline-buddhist-monks-threaten-burmas-hopes-for-democracy/2015/11/04/8d5e5296-78ee-11e5-a5e2-40d6b2ad18dd_story.html

5 Nov 2015


James Hookway and Shibani Mahtani, Myanmar’s Buddhist Monks Flex Muscle Ahead of Election, http://www.wsj.com/articles/myanmars-buddhist-monks-flex-muscle-ahead-of-election-1444795200

14 Oct 2015


Ivan Watson, Anti-Muslim tension simmers ahead of Myanmar election,


3 Nov 2015


Peter Popham, Burma elections: Buddhist monks warm to military in face of perceived Muslim threat, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/burma-elections-buddhist-monks-warm-to-military-in-face-of-perceived-muslim-threat-a6725781.html

7 Nov 2015


Annie Gowen, ‘Muslims are dangerous’: Myanmar Buddhist monks threaten democray with support for anti-Muslim laws, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/muslims-are-dangerous-myanmar-buddhist-monks-threaten-democracy-with-support-for-anti-muslim-laws/

7 Nov 2015


Jonah Fisher, Myanmar’s Ma Ba Tha monks flex their political muscle, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34463455

8 Oct 2015


Ivan Watson, Radical Buddhist monks target Muslims in Myanmar, http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/11/02/radical-buddhist-monks-target-myanmar-muslims-watson-pkg.cnn

2 Nov 2015


Philip Sherwell, Burma’s radical monks pray for holy intervention in historic election,


4 Oct 2015


Hnin Yadana Zaw and Antoni Slodkowski, Myanmar’s radical monks shaping historic election,


3 Nov 2015