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Reuters wins Pulitzer for reporting on Myanmar’s Buddhist/Muslim conflict; signs of hope appear amid ongoing violence

Youth activists with Myanmar's new "Flower Speech Movement" spreading their anti-hate speech message at the recent Water Festival

Youth activists with Myanmar’s new Flower Speech Movement spreading their anti-hate-speech message at the recent Water Festival

This past Monday, Reuters reporters Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for their two-year series of articles from Myanmar — whose inhabitants mostly self-identify as Buddhist — raising international awareness of the sometimes violent persecution of that country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, as well as their susceptibility to human trafficking in their desperation to escape these conditions. For an example of Szep and Marshall’s reporting, see “Apartheid tactics separate Myanmar’s minority Muslims from majority Buddhists” from May 2013.

Other news from Myanmar this week draws attention to a more positive trend. Read More »

Buddhists, Muslims, other faiths united in prayer for missing Malaysia Airlines flight

Penang Police Prayer

Muslim members of the Penang, Malaysia, police force kneel in prayer for missing Flight 370

In contrast to the many media stories appearing lately about Buddhist-Muslim conflict in south Asia, the anxiety surrounding still-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has united the two faith groups, along with Christians and Hindus, in prayer for the passengers and their loved ones, reports USA Today. Mass prayer services were held in Malay mosques, temples, and churches, including one for more than 1,500 members of the Penang police force. Shopping malls in the cities have also become outlets for people’s feelings: Read More »

Myanmar Buddhist mob kills scores of Muslims as monks call for “safeguarding religion”

Early news that a mob of Buddhist villagers rampaged through a Muslim township in the Arakan state of Myanmar has been confirmed, with the casualty numbers worse than originally reported. According to this AP report, a UN probe into the incident “has confirmed that at least 48 Muslims appear to have been killed” in the violence that took place over several days in mid-January. The Myanmar government has “vehemently denied” the reports, which are difficult to verify as the troubled areas have been sealed off to foreign journalists.

In related news, more than 30,000 Buddhist monks in Myanmar met on January 15 and announced the “Nationality and Religion Safeguarding Association,” urging their parliament to enact their nine-point plan.

VICE Underground also spoke with U Wirathu—the outspoken Burmese monk whose image recently appeared on the cover of Time with the provocative headline, “The Face of Buddhist Terror”— and posted an extensive profile on him and his 969 movement on January 24.

Restoring Buddhist/Muslim harmony the concluding goal of Engaged Buddhists conference

Participants in the 2013 International Network of Engaged Buddhists conference

Restoring harmony between Muslim and Buddhist communities where they coexist in Asia, and particularly in Myanmar, proved a focal point for action as the International Network of Engaged Buddhists concluded its conference last month in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. An INEB press release stated:

“At the close of the conference, a special session brought together Buddhist monks and laypeople, Muslims, and concerned friends from inside and outside Myanmar to consider conflicts and violence that have taken place inside that country over the last two years. Participants in this session, including people of four religions and from interfaith partners inside Myanmar, called upon this interfaith forum to establish a fact-finding commission to examine relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar.”

No timeline for the commission’s activity was mentioned, but the intention is to “offer advice and support for the restoration of inter-religious and inter-ethnic stability” in the affected Myanmar regions.

Visit the INEB website for more information about the conference and other INEB activities.

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 »

Buddhist-Muslim conflicts in Asia garnering major media attention

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 »

Burmese Buddhist mobs torch mosque, Muslim school

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 »

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.

Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in central Burma kill at least five

At least five people have been killed in fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in the city of Meiktila, in central Burma. The New York Times reports that a mob of Buddhists, including monks, led a rampage through a Muslim neighborhood on Thursday, apparently to retaliate for the death of a monk the day before. A hospital official said children were among those killed. Read More »

Buddhist teachers release letter encouraging Burmese Buddhists to treat Muslims with compassion

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 »

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 »

Report: Buddhist monks in Burma shunning Muslims, blocking humanitarian aid

Monks in Rakhine during less violent times

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 »