Nearly 60 people have been killed in the latest series of clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Burma. The violence broke out over the weekend and has spread to several towns, including the commercially important Kyaukpyu. How many homes and other buildings have been destroyed is unclear, but Reuters reports that the number is in the hundreds. Security forces are in Rakhine, trying to stop the unrest and imposing curfews in some towns. Read More
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Writing in Foreign Policy, William McGowan reflects this week on what he terms “Burma’s Buddhist chauvinism.” In discussing the plight of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority in the Rakhine state, McGowan sees “a nationalistic and at times hateful side” of Buddhism there. You can read the entire piece here.
In addition, the Bangkok Post‘s Assistant Editor, Sanitsuda Ekachai, offers an even more strongly worded editorial, “This is Racism, Not Buddhism.” The opinion focuses on the disparity between Buddhist teachings and Burmese monks’ leadership in anti-Rohingya demonstrations. Read More »
The Independent reports that Buddhist monks in Burma are urging people not to associate with Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state in the west of the country, and are trying to block humanitarian aid from reaching the Rohingya community. The news comes after weeks of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine that have left at least 80 people dead and displaced tens of thousands. Read More »
The critically acclaimed and award-winning documentary Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country is set to premiere on HBO, April 20th at 9:30pm EDT.Filmmaker Anders Østergaard, with the help of Burmese VJs (video journalists), was able to capture the chaotic violence and brutality of the oppressive Burmese government and military during what has come to be known as the Saffron Revolution (named for the color of the robes worn by the monks who, along with thousands of others, marched the streets of Burma in nonviolent protest of the devastating policies of the government). As the Burma VJ website states, “The film offers a unique insight into high-risk journalism and dissidence in a police state, while at the same time providing a thorough documentation of the historical and dramatic days of September 2007, when the Buddhist monks started marching.” The footage was shot secretly, at great risk to the VJs, and later smuggled out of the country. The Austin Chronicle calls the film “a masterpiece…Utterly gripping, Burma VJ will rock you to the core…One of the most powerful documentary films I have ever seen, period.”
In a sign of further emboldening among the people of Burma following recent democratic reforms, more than 100 Buddhist monks gathered this week to mark the sixth anniversary of the military junta’s brutal crackdown on 2007’s monk-led Saffron Revolution and to demand a formal apology from those responsible for the violence.
Burmese monks have refused any interaction with the military since 2007. As Radio Free Asia explains,
“[Burmese] Buddhists have a longstanding practice of donating food and other necessities to monks, but the clergy boycotted alms from the army in 1990 when the government refused to hand over power to Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party despite a decisive victory at the polls.
“They declared a similar boycott in 2007 following the anti-junta Saffron Revolution, which started as a protest in Yangon led by tens of thousands of monks against high fuel prices, but ended in a military crackdown which left at least 31 people dead and saw hundreds of monks arrested.” Read More »
News has steadily been seeping out of Burma (Myanmar) about occasionally deadly ethnic conflict between the country’s majority Buddhist population and its Muslim minorities. (See our ongoing Burma coverage here.)
Most unusual have been reports that schemes aiming to isolate Muslims economically and socially, such as the “969 Campaign,” as well as street violence, have in some cases been directly organized or instigated by some of the country’s revered Buddhist monks themselves. This news, combined with other reports of certain monks involving themselves in communal conflict in Sri Lanka and Thailand, sometimes in alleged collusion with Buddhist-majority governments, is now garnering major international media attention. Read More »
Among the many unsavory details of the occasionally violent, decade-long conflict between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya, now beginning to spread beyond Burma’s western Rakhine state, is the involvement of so-called “nationalist monks” in fomenting anti-Muslim bigotry and even directly inciting the violence. Some of these monks have organized around the “969 campaign” (the name derives from a particular way to categorize the qualities of the Three Jewels — Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha — and is supposed to indicate the “pure following” of these). Originally pushing an initiative to encourage Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses, the “969 monks” made the news again last week, after a conference at which they issued a call for the Burmese government to implement a law to restrict Buddhist women from marrying Muslim men.
But welcome news emerged from Burma, over the past week, that the greater majority of the country’s revered ordained sangha are vigorously promoting peaceful initiatives to quell the ethnic tensions and engaging in hands-on actions of compassionate charity. Read More »
Mobs of Buddhists torched a mosque, a Muslim school, and Muslim-owned shops in the northern Burmese city of Lashio on Tuesday. On Wednesday, bands of young Buddhist men were reportedly still roaming the city on motorcycles, throwing rocks and wielding sticks and metal rods.
A government spokesman said he did not yet have any information about casualties. Read More »
Over the past year, fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma has intensified, with the Muslim Rohingya being persecuted in the country’s Western Rakhine state and dozens killed in sectarian riots last month in the central city of Meiktila. Some of the violence has been incited by Buddhist monks. The Guardian has a video interview with Wirathu, a monk who calls himself “the Burmese Bin Laden.” Wirathu and his controversial 969 movement have been inciting violence throughout Burma by spreading rumors and racist stereotypes about Muslims.
Burmese writer Swe Win also reports on Burma’s radicalized monks in the New York Times, noting the corruption present in many of Burma’s monasteries. Many other Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, have spoken out against the violence and condemned the Burmese monks. Watch a new interview with His Holiness after the jump. Read More »
In response to ongoing sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine state, several prominent Buddhist teachers — including Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, Bhikkhu Bodhi, and Norman Fischer, among others — have signed their names to a message that will appear in Burmese newspapers this week. The letter urges Burmese Buddhists to practice non-harming, compassion, and mutual respect toward Muslims.
“Buddhist teaching is based on the precepts of refraining from killing and causing harm,” the letter says in part. “Buddhist teaching is based on compassion and mutual care. Buddhist teaching offers respect to all, regardless of class, caste, race or creed.” You can read the rest of the letter here: Read More »
By Danny Fisher
Last week, I had the great honor and pleasure of attending Amnesty International’s town hall event with Burma’s Nobel Peace laureate and engaged Buddhist icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Held at the Newseum in Washington, DC, and moderated by MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, the event came only a day after “Daw Suu” met with President Barack Obama and received the US Congress’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
Suu Kyi is the leader of Burma’s National League for Democracy and currently sits in the lower house of the country’s parliament. Her election came after she had spent 15 of the 21 years between 1989 and 2010 under house arrest. During that time, she became the symbol for Burma’s struggle for democracy and freedom from the repressive ruling junta. In addition, she became the world’s most recognized prisoner of conscience during that time — thanks not only to her Nobel Prize and the international media, but also to the efforts of Amnesty International. The town hall, then, celebrated a special relationship between guest and host. Read More »