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Barbara O'Brien

That Old Dark Road

By January 16, 2014

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I regret that there are new reports of violence in Burma. News stories (unconfirmed by the government) say that just a few hours ago a Buddhist mob attacked an isolated village and killed at least a dozen Muslims, including children.

There are also reports that a large faction of monks, including leaders of the anti-Muslim movement, have formed a new group called Organization for the Protection of Race, Religion, and Belief.  I notice they put "race" first, which doesn't surprise me. One of the planks in their platform is to prevent Buddhist-Muslim intermarriage, for example.

People, this is creepy.

I occasionally get emails or comments telling me I don't understand the situation in Burma, and that the Muslim threat must be put down because it is threatening Buddhism. That's nonsense on its face. First, Buddhism itself does not depend on being the majority religion in Burma, even were that majority status threatened, and I can't see that it is. I see data all over the place saying that the population of Burma is 90 percent Buddhist and maybe 4 t 8 percent Muslim. Get real.

What seems to have happened is that the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma was long scapegoated by the government and other powerful figures for whatever was going wrong in Burma, and they've been treated as non-citizens in Burma even if they were born there, and they've been subjected to all manner of violations of their rights.  Any problems coming from the Rohingya population no doubt resulted from the long-standing discrimination against them.

How many times have we seen this same scenario in other countries with other majority-minority issues? Can we not learn anything from each other?

It's obvious that animosities rooted in racism and nationalism are being dressed up in Buddhist robes to make them respectable. I doubt the Burmese Buddhists involved in the violence are fooling anyone but themselves.

The Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project recently released a report saying that religious violence around the globe reached a six-year high in 2012. And religious violence tends to be higher where the government is actively involved in keeping religion under control or even repressed. This begs a chicken-and-egg question -- which came first, the violence or the control? In the case of Burma, it seems the violence came second.

January 16, 2014 at 3:15 pm
(1) Mila says:

“This begs a chicken-and-egg question — which came first, the violence or the control?”

– which pretty much mirrors the Buddhist Three-Poisons question: which came first, aggression or attachment?

& in both cases, ignorance is the root …. sigh

January 16, 2014 at 3:22 pm
(2) Mila says:

sweet talk here, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, on “exercise of freedom” –


– how, thankfully, internal freedom can always be cultivated, regardless of external circumstances :)

January 17, 2014 at 4:41 pm
(3) Nofo says:

Buddhist monks become the source of suffering for other sentient beings; then, what dark irony it is!

January 18, 2014 at 10:26 am
(4) bullet bob says:

A Buddhist Monk is in charge of the north Bangkok section
“yellow shirt” protest against the current Thai govt .

January 27, 2014 at 1:59 am
(5) Bodhi says:

I think Barbara, you must first understand how Islam Terrorism works. If you have a keen look at the history of Middle East, South an Eastern Asia, you can find that in most of the ancient Buddhist countries no Buddhist can be found now. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh (last few Buddhists are being killed nowadays at Chicagoan) etc. That is why Buddhists are struggling to to protect themselves. “Majority factor” is nothing in this regard. Within 50 years all Buddhist world will be so small in Asia. You may please come, live and find the reality in these countries.

January 27, 2014 at 6:40 pm
(6) Barbara O'Brien says:

Sorry, Bodhi, but this is nonsense. Most of the places you mention have either had no Buddhists or only a token population for several centuries. The conditions that caused those populations to wither away no longer exist. The world has changed.

Every racist country that suddenly finds some long-marginalized minority a “problem” suddenly decides it has to “defend itself.” And it’s always just racism. When 90 percent of the people of Burma are Buddhist, a 4 to 8 percent of Muslims is no threat — unless the Buddhists start a war and make it one.

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