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Published by Jutta Pflueg
An opinion piece in FOREIGN POLICY that I responded to.
My response follows the article:
Leadership failure in the latest wave of religious violence in Burma 26.MARCH 2013
An opinion piece in FOREIGN POLICY that I responded to.
My response follows the article:
Leadership failure in the latest wave of religious violence in Burma 26.MARCH 2013

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Published by: Jutta Pflueg on Apr 05, 2013
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An opinion piece in FOREIGN POLICY that I responded to.

My response follows the article: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Posted By Min Zin Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 11:14 AM

Leadership failure in the latest wave of religious violence in Burma
Tensions between Burma's Buddhists and Muslims have flared up again, this time in Meiktila, a town in central Burma. A brawl between a customer and a seller in a local market on March 20 triggered a fight that broadened into a full-fledged sectarian riot. State-run media reported that 32 people died in the violence. The government announced a curfew for Meiktila and two nearby towns. For the moment, the situation in Meiktila appears to be under control. It should come as no surprise that most of the lives and property destroyed so far belong to Muslim residents of the community. Independent observers said that the damages -- including the death toll -- are likely higher than the government's report. There are some credible reports that security forces have been slow in constraining the violence, and the police special branch seems to have done little besides recording video footage of the scene. Firetrucks ignored Muslim homes that were burned down by the mob. Meanwhile, rumors of the anti-Muslim attack spread to other major cities, including Rangoon, where a major commercial area was shut down on Monday due to fears of attacks. Although the government probably isn't responsible for causing the violence, several observers say that members of the ruling elite -- either hardliner elements in the military or the ruling political party -- have instigated and effectively exploited it to their own ends. In fact, the latest religious bloodshed should not be seen as an isolated incident, but as part of a recurrent pattern of violence that started in June 2012 in Burma's western Arakan (Rakhine) State. So far the conflict there between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have killed about 200 people and displaced 120,000 villagers, mostly Muslims. Since then, an anti-Muslim campaign has spread to other cities, including a neighborhood in Rangoon. Some extreme elements within the Buddhist community have called for boycotts against Muslim-run businesses; others have organized anti-Muslim groups, such as the ironically-named "969 Movement," after the nine qualities of Buddha, the six qualities of Buddha's teaching, and the nine qualities of the monastic order. Anti-Muslim propaganda, including pamphlets, religious sermons, DVDs, and Facebook posts, is abound. Some elements in the local media and political parties have been active in promoting antiMuslim sentiment. For instance, a powerful Arakan ethnic party, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), wrote in its news bulletin that some inhumane actions, such as the Holocaust or the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, can be justified by imperatives of racial survival and national sovereignty. At first, such attitudes were mostly restricted to the margins of the public sphere. But the fringe has now seized the mainstream thanks to the failure of the country's political leaders

-- both the ruling military as well as the pro-democracy movement -- to take a clear moral and political position against the violence. President Thein Sein, an ex-general, proposed that the Rohingya problem be solved by deporting them en masse: "We will send them away if any third country would accept them." When asked if the Rohingyas are Burmese citizens, Aung San Suu Kyi, the moral exemplar of the pro-democracy movement, simply said that she did not know. Aung San Suu Kyi shifted the blame to Bangladesh, saying that illegal immigration from that country lies at the root of the problem. Most of Burma's Muslims have lived in the country for generations, and understandably reject such a position as sheer demagoguery. Aung San Suu Kyi has even said that she will refrain from applying any kind of "moral leadership" by taking sides in the communal unrest. In this respect, her actions reveal quite a bit of continuity with the ruling military. Both sides prefer to concentrate on security solutions to what is, in fact, a fundamentally political and moral problem. Regarding the ongoing religious flare-up in central Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi preaches the virtues of expediency. According to one of her aides, Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the regional police chief to act decisively. "Don't sit by and watch," she told him, according to an account published by The Irrawaddy magazine. "Act in accordance with the law." (To be fair to the pro-democracy movement, one of its other leaders, the former student activist Min Ko Naing, has played an extraordinarily positive role, releasing a statement calling for an  end to the violence and blaming those who instigated the riots. Members of his organization, the 88 Generation Group, contacted Buddhist monks and community leaders and made an immediate trip to Meiktila to give material and moral support to the local population.) What Burma needs right now, in fact, is leadership along the lines of what then-Senator Barack Obama displayed during his presidential campaign in 2008, when he gave a speech  on race at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The presidential candidate refused to be a political opportunist, saying: "I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork." Instead, he went on to observe that "race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now." Obama took on his own base and even his own pastor, Reverend Wright, who had spoken sympathetically of anti-white resentment within the African-American community: "Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong, but divisive. Divisive at a time when we need unity; racially-charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems  that confront us all." Obama posited that the nation can be "perfected" only if people concentrate on the goals that unite them rather than the grievances that divide them. Of course, no one would ever expect that one speech by one leader is enough to solve problems deeply rooted in history. But, as Obama's example demonstrates, you cannot make progress without frank and honest discussion of stubborn societal problems. This kind of moral and political leadership is precisely what Burma urgently needs.

History shows us that the process of liberalization can lead to populism and nationalistic violence in societies where institutions are weak. Burma currently displays a range of such weaknesses: widespread poverty, deeply entrenched elite interests, and irresponsible use of freedom of speech. Such challenges can be overcome only with strong leadership from those in power as well as those who aspire to it. As things stand now, however, Burma's elites are failing the country. Min Zin is the Burma blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.

Rick Heizman responds:
It would have been another ordinary day in Meiktila, but then there were two violent acts that sparked the fighting and destruction which followed. And, in both cases it was extreme violence inflicted upon Buddhists.  First, in the morning a Buddhist family came to the Muslim owned New Weint Sein Gold Shop where the wife, Daw Aye Aye Naing, intended to sell a gold comb for cash. The Muslim shop owner, Daw Myint Myint Aye, broke the comb in half (thereby ensnaring the customer to this shop) and only offered half the commonly accepted value. The husband and wife protested that it was not fair, and asked that the comb be joined together again. The Muslim shop owners attacked the Buddhist family (which included two young children) and shouted to the bystanders that this family was robbing the store. More Muslims poured into the shop to join the violent assault. Min Zin, when I read what you wrote, "A brawl between a customer and a seller in a local market on March 20 triggered a fight that broadened into a full-fledged sectarian riot." it seems that real events with real people are intentionally reduced to vague non-entities - "a brawl" sounds like two drunks fighting over the last bottle of beer, and "a customer and a seller" gives no face to the people involved - one who was violent and one who was violated - and instead makes them appear to be the same non-eventful pedestrians. But, Daw Aye Aye Naing is hospitalized with serious head injuries. It is clear that the violent actions in the shop, by Muslims, towards Buddhists, triggered the beginning of the ensuing violence. If this event was not followed by the 2nd violent act, the morning violence would probably have been finished with the trashing of the New Weint Sein Gold Shop, and others around it, and most likely would not have intensified to mosques being burned, or people killed. The following event - the 2nd violent (in this case horrendously violent) event that shaped the fighting to come, would bring this to uncontrollable levels and international attention - and astonishingly, Min Zin, you inexplicably, but intentionally make no mention of this!

Shortly after the Gold Shop violence, coincidently, and unfortunately, a Buddhist monk was coming into Meiktila town as a passenger on a motorbike, and they entered the large Da-hart-tan Muslim ward. The monk would become the first person killed in this violence. Already-agitated Muslims, some armed with swords, saw the monk and he was hit in the back of the head with a sword and fell off the motorbike. He had a long deep gash on the back of his head. He was still alive at that point. Despite desperate pleas for mercy, Muslims pulled his Buddhist robe off and brutally dragged the desperately-wounded naked monk into the nearby Myo-ma Mosque. Inside the mosque they poured acid on him, and then with petrol they set him on fire and the Buddhist monk was executed - in the 'holy' Muslim mosque! Min Zin, you claim that "Firetrucks ignored Muslim homes that were burned down by the mob”. First, if the houses were burned down already, the firetrucks should ignore them and seek the fires. But perhaps you meant houses just torched. Your claim may have some truth, or not, but most of the firefighters fight fires. I have photos and video of firefighters racing up to a row of houses and fighting the fires as quickly as possible, and they seem to have no time to determine the religious leanings of the occupants of each home. Imagine if a house was determined to have more than one religion practiced within it's walls? Now, this sentence really annoys me: "Meanwhile, rumors of the anti-Muslim attack……." So, cheating, falsely accusing, violently attacking, and encouraging others to join the beating of a Buddhist family with two young kids……..and……… the horrific, brutal, and vicious, attack, torture and execution of a Buddhist monk are now insidiously relabeled as an "anti-Muslim attack" and an "anti-Muslim campaign"?  In much of the world the Muslim populations are troubled, and troubling, and usually the acknowledged aggressor: Bangladesh against it’s Buddhists and Hindus, Thailand’s southern Muslims against the Thai Buddhists, Indonesian Muslims against Christians, etc.    Those of you who know the Burmese people and culture, and the history, you will know that it takes quite a lot to make Burmese people rise up and destroy things or fight, but there is contempt, violence and intolerance from the Muslims that has been rising to the boiling point. The Burmese Buddhists are annoyed by the mosques in many places - noisy loud speakers broadcasting calls to prayer, horrible sermons of hate and bigotry, newly funded super mosques built to tower over the quiet and peaceful Buddhist temples and monasteries, stockpiles of weapons found in mosques (mostly in Rakhine State), and the fact that mosques are closed to nonMuslims which is so different then the open doors of the Buddhist temples. And, the Buddhists see more and more Islamic madrassa schools being built (in which the children are easily indoctrinated into a mentality of supremacy and intolerance of others) and the Buddhists are appaled that the schools - and the new huge mosques

- are most often established with money and agenda from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. For Buddhists, killing a monk is the most horrible offense that a person could do. And, especially the extra brutal and torturous way that those Muslims did it, and the fact that they did it INSIDE a MOSQUE is enough to incite a furious reaction from the Buddhists. And this kind of heinous contempt and horrific violence is what makes the Buddhists dislike the Muslims and question whether the faith of the Muslims has any spiritual qualities at all, or is it a force that is going to destroy the Burmese culture, land and people. This is how many Burmese people feel. And, in this case, the badly wounded monk was dragged - alive - INTO a MOSQUE - and tortured, brutalized, burned and executed.  Min Zin, your article intentionally tries to misled people into seeing the Buddhists as crazed extremists, able to riot and kill for no reason. And, as in your other articles, the Muslims are always the innocent victims of warrantless bigotry. Look at the nonMuslims - around the world for that matter - who are suffering terribly. And that is why it was not another ordinary day in Meiktila.

Rick Heizman March 31, 2013, San Francisco

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