Monday, June 18, 2012

What's going on in Myanmar?

I think it's important as a guy who calls himself Buddhist to try to make sure that nasty things that are done in the name of this religion are not swept under the rug. It's no more appropriate for Buddhists to remain silent when Buddhists are perpetrators of nasty acts than it is to remain silent when some other group's members are perpetrators of horrific acts.  And this time it seems the persecuted group is the Rohingya, a primarily Muslim minority living near Bangladesh.

And so there's been news lately about Myanmar, and it's not been pretty.  Although Aung San Suu Kyi is being treated like a pop star while she's on tour,  tensions between Buddhists and Muslims is increasing, according to this article published June 10th.

Tensions in the area had been building for several months, said Chris Lewa, an expert on the Rohingya who has championed their cause. Myanmar’s government has not proposed a solution for the 800,000 Rohingya, who live in desperate conditions that resemble refugee camps and make up one of the largest groups of stateless people in Asia. There are fears inside Myanmar that the clashes could widen into a broader religious conflict. In recent days, Buddhist and Muslim groups have held relatively small separate protests in Myanmar’s main city, Yangon. In one sign that passions are running high, the Web site of the Eleven Media Group, a publisher of one of the country’s leading weekly newspapers, displayed a string of hateful comments about Muslims from readers. “Terrorist is terrorist,” wrote one reader who signed in as Maungpho. “Just kill them.” U Ko Ko Gyi, a former political prisoner who is helping lead efforts to ease religious tensions, said he was concerned by the “emotional response” to the clashes. “We have to calm down and find an intellectual solution to the problem,” he said. Muslims leaders have urged calm in recent days, and the National League for Democracy, the party of the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, issued a statement on Saturday calling on the government to restore order. About 90 percent of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist; Muslims account for about 4 percent.

Another disturbing article appeared two days ago:

In online forums, Rohingya are referred to as dogs, thieves, terrorists and various expletives. Commenters urge the government to “make them disappear” and seem particularly enraged that Western countries and the United Nations are highlighting their plight. 
The violence in Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh, has left 29 people dead and more than 2,500 houses burned during the past week, according to officials quoted in the Burmese news media. About 30,000 people have been displaced by the violence, according to the United Nations. 
Harder to measure has been damage to Myanmar’s complex multiethnic fabric as the government of President Thein Sein tries to steer the country toward reconciliation between the military and the people, and between the Bamar majority and the dozens of smaller ethnic groups. 
So far, the violence has been limited to Rakhine, which is relatively isolated from the rest of the country by a mountain range. But many among those who have posted angry comments on Internet sites have equated the Rohingya with other Muslims scattered around Myanmar. In Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, worshipers at mosques reported that prayer services left out traditional Friday sermons as a precaution against widening the sectarian conflict. 
The issue of the Rohingya is so delicate that even Myanmar’s leading defender of human rights and democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been oblique and evasive about the situation. Asked at a news conference on Thursday whether the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar should be given citizenship, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was equivocal. “We have to be very clear about what the laws of citizenship are and who are entitled to them,” she said in Geneva, which she was visiting as part of a European tour. “All those who are entitled to citizenship should be treated as full citizens deserving all the rights that must be given to them.”

While I haven't been a guy favoring distraction by causes in quite a while, and haven't been a big fan of the Dalai Lama, I was never in doubt about the nastiness of the dictatorship in Myanmar. I'm glad Aung San Suu Kyi is out of prison and running the country and getting a Nobel prize and all that. But this racist hatred must be spoken against; the perpetrators of such violence, regardless of their class or religion, are still perpetrators of violence, and achieve no merit from doing so as Buddhists.


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