Buddhist Extremism Rises in Myanmar

Myanmar Extremism
Image by Steve Evans

Recurring Tensions

After decades of a military dictatorship, the south east Asian state of Myanmar is facing today a significant religious crisis that opposes Buddhists, who represent a consistent majority in the country with nearly 90% of adepts, versus Muslims who are minority and are now considered by Buddhists extremists as "enemy" according to Ashin Wirathu, a leading extremist Buddhist monk, as recently published by the New York Times.

Painful Transition

Worldly known as a country that used to strive for democracy, through the famous non violent struggle of the 1991 Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar is now facing a fragile political transition, with the escalation of violence among religious communities, especially between Muslim and Buddhists. Tension has been increasing in the country since last year with the spreading of virulent teachings from extremists monks, leading many Buddhist militias to launch intimidation attacks, killing nearly 200 Muslims and forcing an estimated number of 150,000 of them out of their homes.

Neighboring Buddhist states concerns

Despite the Dalai Lama's thoughts on that sensible matter, regretting that killing in the name of religion could even be considered by Buddhists, hate speeches and riots on Muslims have been increasing, raising questions about the ability of the new government to handle the situation, most of the politician leaders being Buddhists as well. Weekly programs such as Sunday schools are used to teach almost 60,000 children, initiative that may lead to an unstable state within years to come. Seen as the spiritual leader of this movement, Ashin Wirathu considers these acts as a strong signal to Muslims, warning them about the supremacy of Buddhism in the Burmese society. He insists on the fact that if they (Buddhists) are weak, their land will become Muslim. His radical views toward Muslims have raised concerns in neighboring countries, such as Thailand, yet nothing seems to stop the extremism of Ashin Wirathu, who portrays Muslims as "troublemakers".

A Fragile State

While this state of events seems to be a major issue for the international community, Ashin Wirathu gains more and more popularity in Myanmar, encouraging boycotting of Muslim businesses and stirring up nationalism among his followers, thus creating fear among the minority of Muslims. Clearly, it appears that Burmese extremists want to make clear the fact that Myanmar is and will always be a country lead by Buddhism beliefs. Unfortunately, it would seem that no measure is being taken by the government in order to restore a safe environment in religious communities. Now Myanmar is on its way to join Nigeria along, with regards to countries where religious tensions are a major concern.

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