Can Myanmar government end the anti-Muslim violence in the country? Or, to put it more bluntly, does the government want to end the violence? The second question appears more suitable and plausible. Because, ethnic riots in the country are continuing unabated, and the government is performing the role of a spectator, if not an abettor. In the latest incident, five Muslims were killed in four days of violence in Thandwe, a township in western Rakhine State. Shockingly, the bloodshed coincided with the President Thein Sein’s two-day tour in the violence-racked area as part of his first official visit to Rakhine state since a wave of violence erupted there last year. During his visit, the president said his country’s international reputation was damaged by the violence and said “we shouldn’t allow these things to happen again.” But his words were like writing in water. If Thein Sein’s warning had so little impact, and went unheeded, it speaks of the dark future that awaits Myanmar.
According to reports, since June last year at least 240 people have been killed in the fighting between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, and around 140,000 people have been displaced from their homes. Rohingya Muslims have been described by the United Nations as ‘virtually friendless’. Foreign countries, including Western, regional and Islamic, have exerted varying kinds of pressure on Thein Sein’s government to stop the massacre, but nothing has worked so far. Myanmar remains stuck in lethal spiral of violence and the minority Rohingya Muslims, as the UN said, are friendless.
The only reason for the continuation of ethnic tension in Myanmar is a lack of will on the part of the government to crack down on Buddhist rioters. The government insists it has a zero tolerance approach to religious violence, but it has been accused of not doing enough to stop such violence that has left hundreds dead and thousands displaced. The violence enjoys the support and is even led by the Buddhist monks, which is making government’s preventive efforts more difficult.
Muslims account for just four percent of Myanmar’s 60 million population. But many of them are thought of as illegal immigrants by the government and some of them do not hold citizenship. Such a miniscule minority poses no threat to the majority Buddhists, but those who indulge in massacres don’t look at figures. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Myanmarese society, which needs to be identified and treated if the current bloodshed is to end.
Attacks against Muslims are now overshadowing the widely praised political reforms that led to the end of the military rule in 2011. And the country is going through an economic transition, with foreign countries willing to help its battered economy. If Thein Sein’s government fails to stop the violence, one way to make it listen could be by imposing sanctions•