Ethnic cleansing in the name of Buddha

opinion September 14, 2017 01:00

By Nizamuddin Ahmed
The Daily Star
Asia News Network

Buddhism is a religion of peace; all religions are. Although most worshippers are born into a religion, many in the West have embraced Buddhism as a lifestyle, impressed by the philosophical teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha and the all-inclusive ideology.



Following his meditation under the Bodh Tree, the enlightened Gautama’s sermon at Benares marked the birth of Buddhism through the proclamation of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Now, since Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters could not abandon selfish desires (to unlawfully free their land of Rohingya Muslims), their sufferings will not end, and they will not attain Nirvana. They shall be endlessly reincarnated into lives governed by their karma of murder, rape, torture and ethnic cleansing. They have strayed from Siddhartha’s “madhyampratipad”, or middle path. 

This is not me talking, it is Buddhism.

The noble ascetic taught us to believe in the Truth. Buddha would be dismayed by Suu Kyi, who has spurned the truth, preferring to call it “fake news” in the manner of Donald Trump. The truth here is the many credible claims of rape, the bullet-riddled bodies of refugees, and the unidentified corpses floating on the River Naf in their dozens.

Nearly 380,000 Rohingya refugees, a stateless Muslim minority group, have fled to Bangladesh since August 25. Hundreds have been killed, following a brutal Myanmar army crackdown triggered by attacks by Rohingya insurgents in Buddhist-majority Rakhine State. The influx adds to the 500,000-plus Rohingyas who have sheltered in Bangladesh for decades, since Myanmar denies them citizenship. Are they unreal? Would Suu Kyi have us believe they are a figment of the United Nation and international media’s imagination?

Some Buddhist monks in west Myanmar have stepped off the Eightfold Path of “right intent” – and instigated rape, looting, torture, the setting alight of villages and killing. This is an incredible violation of the compassion and equanimity that lies at their religion’s core. The groundwork for this orgy of bloodletting was laid by extremist monks’ deviation from Right Speech – “avoid untruth, slander and swearing”. Years of incitement by Buddhist monks, led by the hate-filled figure of Wirathu – have fuelled an anti-Muslim nationalism that has found an easy target in the stateless Rohingya.

No one flees their home unless faced with extreme persecution. Muslim and even some Hindu refugees from Rakhine are arriving in Bangladesh with bullet and machete wounds. 

Buddhists in Bangladesh, a minority by far, have been lived in peace with their Muslim neighbours for centuries. Bangladesh and its people have good relations with the Buddhist-majority countries of Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Korea and Japan. The Bangladeshi Buddhist community here has publicly and vehemently protested Myanmar’s actions against the Rohingya.

Meanwhile in March this year, the Dalai Lama joined Pope Francis in calling for Myanmar Buddhists to end violence against Rohingya Muslims in what the United Nations now says amounts to ethnic cleansing. The Tibetan Buddhist leader revealed he had pleaded with Suu Kyi “to use her influence to bring about a peaceful resolution to this problem”. For whatever reason, that plea and others went unheeded. 

Last month Pope Francis decried persecution of the Rohingya and said he was praying they receive “full rights”.

As far back as November 2013, the United States Congress had urged Myanmar “to end the persecution of the Rohingya people and respect internationally recognised human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma”. Around the same time, the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee resolution also called on Myanmar to curb the increase in violence against Muslims since the end of military rule in March 2011.

Within Myanmar, counter-claims are rife that Rohingya Muslims are also killing their Buddhist neighbours and have been doing so for decades.

No side innocent

While it’s true that no side is innocent in this complicated crisis with deep historical roots, the numbers do not lie. More than a third of a million Rohingya have fled since August 25, while there have been no reports of refugees from the local Buddhist community escaping to Nay Pyi Taw or Yangon.

The humanitarian crisis is now being shifted to Bangladesh, as huge numbers of hungry and impoverished refugees arrive to little in the way of infrastructure or protection against disease. Dhaka must act to prevent the catastrophe from deepening. As Myanmar steps up atrocities against its civilian population, Bangladesh must apply more diplomatic pressure and consider severing economic and trade relations, meanwhile maintaining border forces on high alert to respond to any military aggression.

Dhaka’s diplomats could also quietly remind Suu Kyi of the inspirational words she once wrote while under house arrest: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” And she again said, “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” 

Suu Kyi has remained quiet in the face of the Rohingyas’ catastrophe because of fear. She remains a prisoner.