image as a peaceful, humanistic religious doctrine immune todogma contradicts a long history of violent Buddhist empires—from Emperor Ashoka’s on the old Indian subcontinent to theBuddhist monarchies of precolonial Sri Lanka and Siam, andthe Khmer and Burmese kingdoms—some of whom sanctioned war with recourse to the dharma. The oppression carried outunder Burmese President Thein Sein and his Sri Lankan coun-terpart, President Rajapaksa, is just the latest from a long line of violent Buddhist regimes.
rejudice arises wherever communities of different faiths,classes, and ethnicities coexist and interact. But genocideis not an inevitable outcome of group prejudice; therehave to be institutional mechanisms and an organized harness-ing of forces, generally enacted by the state. Burma’s lay publicand political society, while supposedly informed by the world- wide ideals of human rights and democracy that spread acrossformerly closed leftist polities, have evidently failed to undergo what Aung San Suu Kyi famously called “the revolution of thespirit.” Instead, they have chosen to pursue a destructive nation-alism that is rooted in the fear of losing property, land, andracial and religious purity.The Burmese state has mobilized its society’s Islamaphobia through various institutional mechanisms, including the statemedia outlets and social media sites, the presidential office’sFacebook page among them. Burmese-language social media sites, which thrive out of the purview of international media watchdogs, are littered with hate speech. Postings of graphicimages of Muslim victims, including Rohingyas, on Facebook—easily the most popular social media website in the newly opened Burma—have been greeted with approving responsesfrom the country’s Buddhist netizens, both within the country and throughout the diaspora. The few Burmese and foreignhuman rights activists and journalists who dare to speak outagainst this rising tide of racist, fascist tendencies in Buddhistsociety have been increasingly subjected to slander, cyber-threats, and hate speech. Journalists have repeatedly expresseddismay over the volume of angry hate email they receive from
OVER THE COURSE OF THE PAST FEW YEARS AN EXTREMELYPOTENT AND DANGEROUS STRAIN OF RACISM HAS EMERGEDAMONG BURMA’S THERAVADA BUDDHISTS.
Rakhine men and a Buddhist monk hold handmade spears and watch as a re burns in Sittwe, capital city of Rakhine State. Two weeks of clashes between RohingyaMuslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists left an ofcial death toll at 50, with 58 injured and more than 2,500 houses burned down.Rakhine Buddhist monks pray in Langon, Burma, in June 2012. Several thousand monks took to the streets of Mandalay to protest against a world Islamicbody’s efforts to help Muslim Rohingya in strife-hit Rakhine State.
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attempts to erase Rohingya ethnic identity, which was officially recognized as a distinct ethnic group in 1954 by the democraticgovernment of Prime Minister U Nu. Indeed, in the pastmonths of violent conflict, beginning in June 2012, theRohingya have suffered over 90 percent of the total death tolland property destruction, including the devastation of entirevillages and city neighborhoods. Following the initial eruptionof violence in western Burma, several waves of killing, arson,and rampage have been directed at the Rohingya, backed by Burma’s security forces.Over the course of the past few years an extremely potentand dangerous strain of racism has emerged among Burma’sTheravada Buddhists, who have participated in the destructionand expulsion of the entire population of Rohingya Muslims.The atrocities occurring in the name of Buddhist nationalism inBurma are impossible to reconcile with the ideal of
.Buddhist Rakhine throw young Rohingya children into theflames of their own homes before the eyes of family members.On June 3,
10 out-of-province Muslim pilgrims were pulled off a bus in the Rakhine town of Taunggoke, about 200 miles westof the former capital, Rangoon, and beaten to death by a mob of more than 100 Buddhist men. The crime occurred in broaddaylight and in full view of both the public and local law enforcement officials.One of the most shocking aspects of anti-Rohingya racism isthat the overwhelming majority of Burmese, especially in theheartland of upper Burma, have never met a single Rohingya inperson, as most Rohingya live in the Rakhine State of westernBurma adjacent to Bangladesh.Physical appearance—aside from language, religion, culture,and class—is an integral marker in a community of nationalists.The importance of complexion is often overlooked when exam-ining racism across Asia. Rohingya are categorically darker-skinned people—sometimes called by the slur “Bengali
.”Indeed, the lighter-skinned Buddhists of Burma are not alone intheir fear of dark-skinned people and belief that the paler theskin, the more desirable, respectable, and protected one is.The virulent hatred and oppression directed at Muslimsextends to any Buddhists who are considered to have helpedthem. In October 2012, local Rakhine Buddhist men werenamed, degraded, punished, and paraded around public places wearing handwritten signs that said, “I am a traitor.” Theircrimes? Selling groceries to a Rohingya.The rose-tinted Orientalist take on Buddhism is so hege-monic that Westerners are often shocked when they hear of theatrocities carried out by militarized Buddhist masses and thepolitical states that have adopted or manipulated Buddhism aspart of the state ideological apparatus. Buddhism’s popular
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