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Buddhist “soldier monks” in Thailand’s southern Muslim provinces

Royal Thai Army Thailand at Wat Benchamabophit Dusitwanaram Ratchaworawihan (2006)

By Adam Tebbe

In Thailand’s southern provinces — some of the poorest areas in all of Thailand — a bloody insurgency, comprising separatist ethnic Malay Muslims, has been under way since early 2004. The violence has involved an almost daily occurrence of bombings and killings; on March 31 alone, coordinated bombings in two provinces claimed the lives of fourteen people and injured hundreds more.

Brendan Brady of Newsweek writes that “since 2004, drive-by shootings, IED bombings, and point-blank assassinations have claimed some 5,000 lives in the country’s three restive southernmost provinces that border Malaysia, making the insurgency one of the world’s deadliest.” Read More »

Thai insurgents continue attacks, targeting Buddhists as well as Muslims

Associated Press, Bangkok—”Islamic insurgents shot dead a villager and then detonated a car bomb as a crowd gathered, killing one and wounding 19 in Thailand’s restive south on Sunday, police said. … An Islamic insurgency launched in 2004 has killed more than 3,400 in southern Thailand. The insurgents target Buddhists as well as Muslims whom they believe have collaborated with the Thai government.”

Insurgency in Thailand takes toll on Buddhists, Muslims

The Associated Press: “Islamic radicals are fighting for a separate state in Buddhist-majority Thailand. And a rift is widening between Buddhists and Muslims — communities that had lived harmoniously for generations and now share equally in the suffering.”

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.

Read More »

Buddhist extremists causing unrest in Sri Lanka

Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, a cofounder of Sri Lanka's Bodu Bala Sena, or "Buddhist Power Force"

ABC News, over the weekend, published an AP story about the upsurge in popular support over the past year for “hardline Buddhist monks” in Sri Lanka. The spearhead group is called Bodu Bala Sena (“Buddhist Power Force”). Their stated aim is to establish Sri Lanka as a Sinhalese Buddhist country and, as in certain states in Myanmar, the country’s Muslim minority has been identified as the primary threat to this nationalistic goal.

While the article documents monk-led anti-Muslim protests that have often devolved into attacks on Muslim mosques and businesses, and alleges the government’s “tacit approval” of such actions, a separate story on Sunday accused a different Buddhist extremist group of ransacking two Christian prayer centers in the Sri Lankan city of Hikkaduwa. The monks called for a protest, claiming the centers were “operating illegally.” Another story, published in the Colombo Gazette yesterday, quoted monks who had been at the protest as saying “the media had distorted what actually took place”: Read More »

Burmese monks issue call for official apology on Saffron Revolution anniversary

Burmese monks leading protests during 2007's Saffron Revolution

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 »

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.

Sri Lankan Buddhist mob attacks mosque in Colombo

A Buddhist monk walks by a police cordon around a vandalized mosque in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo

Buddhist-led violence erupted in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, this past weekend. According to a Reuters report, “A mob of Buddhists, who are mainly ethnic Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, threw stones at a three-storey mosque and nearby houses in a central Colombo neighbourhood during evening prayers on Saturday, residents said. Later, hundreds of Muslim residents took to the streets, some clutching sticks, to prevent any further attacks on their community, witnesses said.” At least twelve people were injured in the ensuing melee until police locked down the area under curfew. At issue seemed to be the location of the brand new mosque, which had drawn protests by Buddhist monks after its opening a month ago. Read More »

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.

Burmese monks promoting peaceful initiatives to quell tensions (Updated)

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 »

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 »

Burma: Two-child limit on Rohingya families opposed by Aung San Suu Kyi

As Reuters reports today: “Myanmar opposition leader and pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi condemned on Monday a policy by a district government to limit Muslim Rohingya families to two children in an effort to curb their population growth.” “This is against human rights,” declared Suu Kyi. Read the full Reuters report here, or see the recent New York Times coverage provided by the Associated Press, here.

Video: The monk who calls himself “the Burmese Bin Laden”

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 »