When I saw the Time’s cover photo with words of “Buddhism + Terror” shared by Myanmar people on facebook, I was quite shocked and initially I got sensitive with the way how Time’s editor or media in general portrayed the story about Buddhist Muslim riots without approaching from both sides. But then, I tried to calm down and tried to see through the fog. Then, that led me to write this blog post.
Usually I do not want to participate in talking about riots happening in Myanmar as a rebuttal to a religious debate. Because you do not want to be embroiled in never-ending, useless tit and tat religious debate or fight. That’s why I stayed away. However, now I think it is time to speak up or at least share what I think, before things getting worse or Myanmar sliding into wrong directions, not to take side or join in back-and-forth debate.
First and foremost important thing for Myanmar that is in transition and young in its path to democracy, is stability, stability, stability . Because stability is for growth that is in dire need for this generation of the country. These days, there are a lot of noises in Myanmar, main headlines have been about Rohingya and Buddhist-Muslim riots and then push for constitutional changes, peace talks between government and rebels among frequent but small clashes, labor protests, protests against Chinese mining projects and so on. Among them, the most prominent thing has been about religious riots. So let’s break down the problem and finding ways out.
It all started with the event in Rakhine state, where two “Rohingya” Muslim men raped a local Buddhist woman and killed her brutally. Then, this news spread among Buddhist people in the state and some angry Buddhist mob took a revenge by killing muslim travelers on the bus. Before that event, there was a fierce debate among Myanmar people about how western media such as BBC promoting “Rohingya” as indigenous people in Rakhine state, which most of us know most of them are recent immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh illegally or left over from colonial era when under British rule like many other Indian or Chinese decedents in other parts of the country. I used to participate in online debate about “Rohingya” issue because initially it was an immigration issue and it should be the way how the issue should be treated and handled, not to make it as a religious conflict. Later, this turning into religious riots is regrettable because focus on real problem is lost and it makes international community to think of it as religious one. Therefore, to prevent this from further sliding Myanmar into chaos and lost decades we need to stop the on-going religious conflicts and turn our discussion back to immigration policy or the real problem.
Stopping the religious riots requires efforts by all sides. By which, I mean as follow:
Government – Myanmar government needs to crack down the religious riots as an example to people on how rule of law works and how reliably they can resort to it instead of violent reaction when faced with provocation. Then, prevent riots before it happens through intelligence units to crack down violent mobs, preventing inflammatory speech and movements, monitoring the media coverage including by foreign corespondents not to incite further riots, educate the people about available judiciary resources for resolving conflicts.
People – Myanmar people especially Buddhists need to respond to any provocation for riots through use of rule and judiciary system. After many years of living under ineffective judiciary system, people tend to resort to violent reactions in their own ways to take justice. To some Buddhist enthusiasts, it is not protecting Buddhism or this is not how you protect your religion by participating in violent reaction whenever there is perceived provocations by the other side. Buddhism will be best protected from rise of any extremist religions through education, open society but through sound immigration policy, and economic growth.
To the Muslim community, they need to stop any actions that could be provocative and conducive to further riots and most importantly they need to examine themselves why their specific community has religious problem with local Buddhist majority when Christians, Hindus and others get along well at people to people level.
Monks – First of all, I respect you as member of Sangha Order who help in perpetuating the teachings of Buddha. In the times of religious conflicts, it is best to advice Buddhist followers for restraints and show of compassion. Instead, pushing for laws on inter-faith marriage is not at right time, and it is something to be discussed and debated by laymen people. Even then, this should be brought into debate after heated religious conflicts are over.
Media – When I read the news from local media I can see images of Buddhists people being injured or killed in these riots. When I go to international media it is the pictures of crying muslims or their properties being burned. The point I want to make is media needs to present the problem fairly from both sides.
These days, international media such as Time or New York Times when they write about on-going religious conflicts in Myanmar, they only mention about plight of Muslim minority without ever mentioning the fact that every single riot case is started by some kind of provocations by some irresponsible Muslims. For example, in Meikhtila riot case the small fight at jewelry shop turned into a religious riot after a Muslim mob grabbed an innocent monk from a motorbike who is traveling for a visit from his village to the town, and got killed by beheading in a very inhumane and cruel way. Here I am not arguing as an apologist for Buddhist mobs or joining the meaningless religious debate. But because unfair media coverage have a serious consequences for further increasing religious conflict. When media renders religious conflict in Myanmar as one-sided bully by majority Buddhists and often as “genocide”, of course Muslim people in other part of the world or in the region will be enraged. Just look at the recent example of events in Malaysia where several innocent Myanmar migrant workers are attacked and killed by local Muslim people and in Indonesia where some Indonesian extremists are planning a terrorist attack on Myanmar embassy and threatening jihad. When you asked who killed Myanmar migrants in Malaysia, I think it is right to say partly killed by some irresponsible foreign media.
So, media please stop further escalating religious conflicts! You have right to present news but do it with purpose of reconciliation and solutions, without only finger pointing to one side or another.
International Community – Here referring to foreign governments and international agencies, please have patience and support the Myanmar government and civil society with capacity building and education for rule of law and resurrection of judiciary system. Most importantly, they need to drop sanctions and encourage speedy push for Myanmar from a stagnant economy to a functioning economy because many people in Myanmar without jobs they will be easily persuaded into religious conflicts, instead of being busy at work for their family or learning in classroom for new skills and jobs.
After all, every country or every individuals like ourselves face tumulus events at some point or another in history. The difference between those who succeeded and those who get caught is how you respond to crisis whether in a focused and moving forward manner or easily emotional and embroiled in never-ending fight.
It reminds me of recent Will Smith’s movie: The danger is real but fear is your choice. Here, the crisis is real but how we respond is our choice. So Myanmar, stay focused and keep moving!