Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Burma's Buddhist Chauvinism

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi extols Buddhism as a source of personal strength, allowing her to endure 15 years of house arrest at the hands of Burma's generals. Buddhist precepts such as loving kindness and compassion can also guide Burma's democratic transition, she says, by fostering reconciliation with the military.

 Yet Burma's Buddhist tradition also has a nationalistic and at times hateful side, as the violence since June against Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine demonstrates. A sense of racial and religious superiority among majority Burman Buddhists has poisoned relations with the 40% of the population made up of non-Burman minorities.

 The anti-Rohingya violence, some of it committed by Buddhist mobs and some by the Buddhist-dominated security forces, led to scores of deaths, the burning of settlements and a refugee exodus of 90,000 into neighboring Bangladesh. There, up to 300,000 Rohingya refugees still languish in makeshift camps from the last anti-Rohingya pogrom 20 years ago—part of what the United Nations calls "one of the world's largest and most prominent groups of stateless people."

According to the U.N., the Rohingyas, who number about 800,000, are "virtually friendless," subject to forced labor, extortion, police harassment, restrictions on freedom of movement, land confiscation, inequitable marriage regulations, a de facto "one child" family policy, and limited access to jobs, education, and healthcare. A 1982 law denies them citizenship, based on the presumption that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Burma for generations....

Read the full article at the WSJ here. 

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