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The Fire This Time: A look at the religious violence in Burma, by Hozan Alan Senauke

Burma Conflict 1

Buddhadharma  recently asked Hozan Alan Senauke, Soto Zen priest and longtime peace activist, to offer some insight on the current conflict between Buddhist and Muslim ethnic groups in Burma. Below is his response — an excellent explanation not only of the conflict itself but of how we, as Western Buddhists, might try to make a difference.

 

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world; by non-hatred only is hatred appeased.  This is an unending truth.  — Dhammapada, 5

On February 27, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was ordered to close all its long-established clinics in Myanmar/Burma. They were accused of giving preferential treatment to Muslim Rohingya people. This was in response to statements by MSF about what they saw as ongoing and systematic attacks on Rohingyas in vulnerable communities of Burma’s western Rakhine state. According to UN documents, the latest of these attacks — in Du Chee Yar Tan village this January — left forty-eight Rohingya dead, mostly women and children, at the hands of Buddhist-based rioters and state security forces. MSF, with numerous clinics in the area, publicly reported that they had treated at least twenty-two victims.  The government of Myanmar has denied claims of these abuses, asserting that the UN’s and MSF’s facts and figures were “totally wrong.”

After negotiations, the government stepped back a little, allowing MSF to continue its HIV/AIDS work and other activities in Kachin and Shan states, as well as in the Yangon region. Rakhine state remains off-limits to MSF, despite the pressing needs of thousands from all religions and ethnicities who depend on their clinics.

Before going much further, I should say that nothing I write can convey the complexity of issues or the passion and fear that fire both sides. From my distant vantage point in the United States, I know that I can’t see the whole picture, which includes colonial history and geopolitics, along with regional and ethnic tensions within modern Myanmar.

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Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi address Buddhist violence in Burma

The Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi, after their private meeting September 15 at Forum 2000 in Prague

Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi and HH the Dalai Lama, together at the 17th Annual Forum 2000 conference in Prague this week, have both weighed in on the recent violence in Burma by Buddhists — stoked by some monks’ nationalist rhetoric — against ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

Agence France-Presse reports that in answering a question at a post-Forum press conference, the Dalai Lama said, “Those Burmese monks, please, when they develop some kind of anger towards Muslim brothers and sisters, please, remember the Buddhist faith. I am sure…that would protect those Muslim brothers and sisters who are becoming victims.”

Suu Kyi addressed the issue in a more circumspect way prior to the conference. She stated that the country needed fundamental revisions to its constitution, and that “we need rule of law in order that our people may feel secure, and only secure people can talk to one another and try to establish the kind of relationship that will assure harmony for the future of our nation.”

Read the full Agence France-Presse story here.

United Nations warns Burma regarding religious violence

Via Thomas Fuller of the New York Times today: “The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, warned the Myanmar government on Wednesday of ‘dangerous polarization’ between Buddhists and Muslims and urged the leaders of the Buddhist-majority country to resolve the question of citizenship for the nearly one million stateless Muslims near the border with Bangladesh.”

Read Fuller’s full story here.

Dalai Lama speaks out against anti-Muslim violence in Burma

Speaking to an audience of 15,000 at the University of Maryland on Tuesday, the Dalai Lama spoke out against religiously motivated attacks against Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka. Over the past year, violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have killed hundreds and displaced over 100,000 people, with some Buddhist monks inciting and participating in the attacks. In Sri Lanka, Buddhists have recently attacked Muslim-owned businesses.

Killing in the name of religion, His Holiness said, is “really very sad, unthinkable.” He said he sometimes counsels Buddhists to think of the face of the Buddha when they feel any negative emotions toward Muslims. Read the full story in the Washington Post.

His Holiness is continuing his US tour throughout May, with stops scheduled in Oregon, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Kentucky. Click here for his full tour schedule.

International Network of Engaged Buddhists issues statement on violence in Burma’s Rakhine state

At its Executive and Advisory Board meeting this month, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists ratified a statement condemning ongoing violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine state, and calling for the Burmese government and religious leaders to work toward a resolution.

“We hope that it expresses the concerns of Buddhists around the world who are witness to the communal conflict and violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state,” said Hozan Alan Senauke. “Clearly this conflict must be resolved by the Burmese peoples themselves, but this statement affirms that INEB and Buddhists everywhere care about the well-being of Burma’s emerging democracy and of all its peoples. We send our encouragement and faith in the Buddha’s great way.”

Read the statement after the jump. Read More »

Aung San Suu Kyi urges Burma to use troops to end violence between Buddhists and Muslims

In a joint statement with lawmakers and ethnic leaders, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has called on the Burmese government to send troops to the violence-stricken Rakhine State to bring peace to the area. She also asked for a statement from the newly elected government regarding its policies toward the Rohingya Muslims and a review of the country’s strict citizenship laws. The majority of Rohingya Muslims in Burma are technically refugees.

You can read the full article from David Eimer at the Telegraph.

Buddhist and Muslim leaders jointly condemn violence in Burma

American Buddhist and Muslim leaders have issued a joint statement condemning recent violence between the two religious communities in Myanmar. The letter, written by William Aiken of Soka Gakkai International and signed by several other representatives of Buddhist and Muslim groups, condemns the recent sectarian clashes between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Burma, which have killed more than 80 people and displaced thousands more since June. Read More »

UN staff sentenced in Burma for alleged involvement in Rakhine violence

Photo: Bernard Jaspers-Fajer, EU/ECHO. There is a heavy security presence in displaced-persons camps in Rakhine.

Voice of America reports today that two staff members with the United Nations and one United Nations partner have been sentenced to prison terms in Burma for their alleged involvement in the violence between Muslims and Buddhists in the Rakhine state. According to CNN, one is from the UN refugee agency, one is from the UN food program, and one is from a nongovernmental organization that works with the refugee agency.

Aye Win, a UN spokesperson in Burma, said the sentences were handed down on Friday, although the UN was never notified of the trial and the accused were denied legal counsel. Read More »

Violence and unrest in Burma continue, UN reports 90,000 displaced

Monks in Rakhine during less violent times

We reported on the violence and unrest in Burma’s Rakhine state about a week and a half ago—clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims began after a Buddhist woman was reportedly raped and murdered by three Muslims. At that time, there were about 17 reported deaths, but that number has now risen to around 50.

According to the BBC, a United Nations body reports that approximately 90,000 people in the western region have now been displaced due to the violence. Read More »

Violence in Burma’s Rakhine state results in a state of emergency

Monks in Rakhine during less violent times

A state of emergency was declared in the northwestern Burmese state of Rakhine on Sunday after violence between Buddhists and Muslims left at least 17 dead. The clashes are between Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship in Burma, and Rakhine Buddhists, the state’s largest minority group. According to Voice of America, “The riots began after 10 ethnic-Rohingya Muslims were mobbed and murdered by ethnic Rakhines, in retaliation for the gang-rape of a Rakhine girl. ” Read More »

Burma’s anti-Muslim “969″ movement banned by official Buddhist monk committee

The symbol of Burma's controversial "969" nationalist movement of Buddhist monks, now banned by the country's official monastic committee

Burma’s official organizing body for Buddhist monks has firmly rejected the “969” movement, an effort by some Burmese monks to maintain the integrity of race and the Buddhist religion in the country, but whose anti-Muslim sentiments have been blamed for stirring up communal violence that has left hundreds dead and many more displaced. The most recent incident occurred in late August.

The Irawaddy reports that the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee issued an order August 14 “that it is illegal to form monk networks organized around the principles of the 969 movement, and bars linking the 969 emblem to the Buddhist religion.” (“969” refers to the 9 special qualities of the Buddha, the 6 of the dharma, and the 9 of the sangha.) Read More »

Commentary: “Burma Unbound”

By Hozan Alan Senauke of the Clear View Project

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world; by non-hatred only is hatred appeased. This is an unending truth. Dhammapada, 5

Religious and ethnic confrontation in Burma challenge cherished ideas of Buddhism and religious tolerance. This week, two days of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Lashio — the largest town in Burma’s Shan State, near the Chinese border — have left a mosque, an orphanage, and many shops destroyed by Buddhist-identified mobs roaming the streets on motorcycles. Three hundred Muslims have taken refuge in a local Buddhist temple, thousands have fled, and the count of dead and injured is still not clear. Read More »

Burmese sectarian violence spreads; at least 20 dead

As we reported yesterday, violence has broken out between Buddhists and Muslims in the city of Meiktili, central Burma. The fighting has now spread to neighboring villages, and the death toll is estimated to be at least 20. The New York Times has the full story.