[Buddha-l] comment on illustration in Zarni's Todays Thoughts

Richard Hayes richard.hayes.unm at gmail.com
Tue Apr 2 04:51:51 MDT 2013

On Apr 2, 2013, at 4:04 AM, Christopher Fynn <chris.fynn at gmail.com> wrote:

> I wonder - Is there any relation between last year's attacks on
> Buddhists by Muslims in neighbouring Bangladesh - and the recent
> attacks on Muslims by Buddhists in Burma?

In the 1980s Amnesty International was drawing attention to Buddhist attacks on Muslims in Burma; their concern at the time was that the attacks were condoned by the government and represented a systematic policy of marginalizing Muslims. What was unclear, and perhaps still is, was whether the the attacks were primarily racially motivated or religiously motivated. Of course, any attacks on anyone for any reason are objectionable, so there's a sense in which it doesn't matter whether it was a case of ethnic Bamans making life difficult for ethnic Bangla people or whether it was Buddhists pushing Muslims around. Ethnic tension in Burma has always existed, and the British both exploited it using the old divide-and-conquer strategy and cited ethnic tension among the colonized natives as a justification for imposing British rule. When the British quit Burma, all hell broke loose. Memories of the ugly violence among Burma's thirty-some ethnic groups in the 1950s have fueled the totalitarian governments ever since. The feeling seems to be that anything but a strong military government will set up the conditions for an ethnic bloodbath. For much of Burma's recent history, the Buddhist bhikkhu-sangha has had a pretty cozy relationship with the military regimes, although there have been times when relations have not been so cordial. When Buddhists are benefitting from the policies of the military regime, it tends not to make the news in the West. When the military is cracking Buddhist heads, it makes the front pages, and the default assumption is that peace-loving Buddhists are being persecuted by power-hungry generals. When the military is cracking Muslim heads, on the other hand, the default assumption is that rambunctious jihadis have gotten out of control, and the nice generals are trying to restore peace. The reality seems to be considerably more messy than the stereotypes that Western newspapers foist off on their readers would suggest. As in most human situations, it's hard to distinguish the heroes from the villains in Myanmar.

Richard Hayes

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