The global media has recently been focusing on radical Buddhism. And rightly so. The words ‘radical Buddhism’ would have been unthinkable a few years ago, because Buddhism is a religion which has been known for love and harmony and insistence on peaceful coexistence. But the proponents of this religion, like the followers of other religions, deviated from the teachings, distorted them, and became as bigoted and extremist as others. Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka were in the forefront of campaigns against minorities in that country – be they Tamils or Muslims – and the monks in Myanmar have been directly responsible for the violence against Rohingya Muslims. The US-based Time magazine recently ran a cover story on Buddhism’s degeneration under the title: The Face of Buddhist Terror. The article created fury and furore in Buddhist countries, especially Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and the specific issue of the magazine was banned.
It’s true that Buddhism has nothing to do with what’s happening in Myanmar, but the fact is that the monks are not working sincerely to disassociate their religion from the ghastly goings on, and some have been accused of fanning the flames. Monks associated with the 969 movement — named after the attributes of the Buddha and Buddhism — have called for a boycott of Muslim businesses and a ban on interfaith marriages. Some have been accused of egging on followers as they torched Muslim homes and shops. Wirathu, a monk who has called himself the Osama Bin Laden of Myanmar, has actively promoted violence against Muslims. In hugely popular sermons distributed through the social media, the monk warns that Muslims have a secret plan to destroy Buddhism in Myanmar.
The international community needs to act hastily to protect Muslims in Myanmar. Two years into its transition from dictatorship to democracy, Myanmar is finding out how dangerous freedom can be. Since June 2012, when fighting broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in the Arakan state, attacks against Muslins in the country have spread like wildfire. Hundreds of Muslims have been killed and more than 150,000 have been made homeless. The remaining Muslims are living in a state of fear and no serious efforts are being made to stop the mayhem.
The communal polarization in the country is also a sad statement on the new-found freedom in the country. Some Myanmarese think that former regime figures are stoking the attacks against Muslims, hoping to create an excuse for the military to reassert its influence. If that’s true, leaders like Suu Kyi need to speak up. Also, Western and regional leaders need to exert pressure on the military leadership.
Continued violence will not only undermine democracy and progress Myanmar, it will also create chaos in the region, where anti-Buddhist violence is going up.