Myanmar Struggling With Newfound Freedom

In a July 10 speech to the Group of Friends on Myanmar, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon praised some of the reforms implemented by the government of Myanmar since its independence two years ago. But, he also expressed concern about a “dangerous polarization taking place” within the nation.

“If it is not addressed urgently and firmly, underlying tensions could provoke more upheaval, undermining the reform process and triggering negative regional repercussions,” said Ban. He did announce his intention to write Myanmar’s three key leaders to urge them to address the increasing violence by the Buddhist majority against the Muslim minority and to “take necessary steps to address the legitimate grievances of minority communities, including the citizenship demands of the Muslim/Rohingya in Rakhine.”

What is concerning to Ban and Myanmar’s neighbors is the rise of radical Buddhism and incidences of violence against Muslims.

While Muslims constitute approximately 4 percent of Myanmar’s population, the government has not been proactive in speaking out against Wirathu or the violence which his virulent rhetoric has inspired.

According to a recent Bloomberg News editorial, more than 200 people have been killed since fighting broke out in June 2012, and more than 150,000 have been left homeless.

Radicalization Of Buddhist Monks Creating Tensions
When most people think of Buddhist monks, they imagine men adorned in orange robes, shaved heads and peaceful demeanors. They think of the Dalai Lama. In Myanmar, that image has been shattered with the rise of radical Buddhism and the anti-Muslim 969 movement.

The name derives from Buddhism’s Three Jewels (Tiratana), which comprise 24 attributes: nine special attributes of Lord Buddha, six core Buddhist teachings, and nine attributes of monkhood.

“The turmoil in Myanmar is already metastasizing dangerously through the region. On July 7, assailants bombed the temple at Bodh Gaya in India, where the Buddha is thought to have gained enlightenment. Muslims angry about the attacks in Myanmar are thought to have been responsible; a young Burmese monk was badly injured in the attack,” reports Bloomberg.

Ashin Wirathu, the de facto leader of the movement, told The Diplomat in an interview: “If Myanmar wants to live in peace, Buddhists and Muslims have to live separately.”

Openness And Social Media Being Used To Spread Anti-Muslim Messages
After decades of living under Chinese repression, Myanmar held its first democratic elections in 2010. In a cruel irony, the freedom and openness that come with democracy is feeding Wirathu’s anti-Muslim message, who is proving adept at using social media to promote his beliefs.

“His racist rants are widely spread on YouTube and social media websites where they are watched by thousands. In 2003, Wirathu was sentenced to 25 years in jail for inciting anti‐Muslim hatred. He was released in 2010 following a general amnesty of political prisoners. With the landmark political reforms implemented by the semi-civilian government that has been in power since March 2011, he is now free to move, speak, and even hold rallies,” reports The Diplomat.

Buddhist-Muslim Divide Not Confined To Myanmar
The strife between Buddhists and Muslims is not confined to Myanmar. It was only a few weeks ago that five Myanmar Buddhists were killed outside the capital of Malaysia

The Bangkok Post reports that the Malaysian government has attempted to stem the violence in its nation by detaining more than 1,000 Myanmar nationals, who now face deportation.



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