News / Asia

Religious Unrest Threatens Reform, Warns Burma

A police officer mans a roadside checkpoint in Rangoon, Burma, March 26, 2013. The government is warning that religious violence could threaten democratic reforms after anti-Muslim mobs rampaged through three Buddhist towns.
A police officer mans a roadside checkpoint in Rangoon, Burma, March 26, 2013. The government is warning that religious violence could threaten democratic reforms after anti-Muslim mobs rampaged through three Buddhist towns.
Daniel Schearf
The Burmese governent as publically acknowlegded that spreading tensions between Buddhists and Muslims are threatening democratic reforms.

The warning, broadcast on national television late Monday, came after a week of deadly clashes between Buddhists and Muslims spread from central Burma, raising fears of a wider religious conflict. On Friday, President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency Friday in Meiktila and nearby townships south of Mandalay, asking the army to help quell the violence.  
 
The military restored order to Meiktila, but Buddhist mobs later burned mosques and homes in towns further south. Fears of unrest spreading to the former capital, Rangoon, prompted some shop owners to close their doors early.
 
Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political advisor to the president of Burma, acknowledged problems with Buddhist extremists in Burma in an interview with VOA.
 
"Yes, there's some very extremist elements in the Buddhist societies," he said. "But, now many prominent Buddhists, senior monks they are coming to the sites of the events and, along with the religious leaders from the Muslim communities, to settle this dispute peacefully."
 
  • A crowd in Meikhitla, Burma is looting merchandise from a shop, March 22, 2013. The shop owner is pleading for the crowd to not set fire to his store, telling them instead to take whatever they want. 
  • Muslims carry their belongings as they arrive at a stadium that offers them a safe haven amid riots in Meikhtila March 22, 2013.
  • People ride their mopeds past the remains of two persons killed in clashes in Meikhtila March 22, 2013. 
  • Policemen are deployed to provide security amid riots in Meikhtila March 22, 2013. 
  • Firemen attempt to extinguish fires during riots in Meikhtila March 22, 2013. 
  • Muslims emerge from their homes after a senior Buddhist monk and police arrived to protect them amid riots in Meikhtila March 22, 2013.

The bloodshed began last week with a dispute in Meiktila between a Muslim gold shop owner and a Buddhist customer that escalated into street fighting and looting.
 
Authorities initially downplayed the religious divisions and portrayed the incident as rioting and looting.  But after a monk was killed, mobs of Buddhists, armed with knives and clubs, ransacked Muslim neighborhoods, set fire to mosques, and burned homes.  
 
Some journalists who attempted to video tape and photograph the violence were threatened by monks wielding knives.
 
Too few of Burma's majority Buddhists are willing to challenge extremist views from some religious leaders, said Matthew Walton, professor of political science at George Washington University.
 
"Particularly when monks are out and leading, it can be very hard for people to resist or to criticize this argument that you have to protect Buddhism and, that to do it, you have to commit some sort of violence or discriminate against a certain community."
 
Walton added Muslims are one group that has historically been targeted as scapegoats in Burma when feelings of insecurity arise. And, with the country's dramatic changes, he said many are uncertain about the future and looking for someone to blame.
 
"We can see their lack of awareness in the fact that they give credence to these rumors or fears of, you know, a sort of Muslim expansion or Islamic extremism in the country where we really see virtually not evidence of any of that," Walton said. "And, the idea that Islam poses a threat to Buddhism in Myanmar, you know, seems almost laughable to most of us who have spent a lot of time in the country."
 
The anti-Muslim rioting follows communal violence last year in western Rakhine state.  Fighting between Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists left close to 200 dead and 120,000 displaced, the vast majority of them stateless Rohingya Muslims.
 
Since last year's clashes, extremists on both sides have been spreading propaganda and encouraging divisions mostly through online campaigns.  
 
Min Zaw Oo, with the Myanmar Peace Center, said authorities are struggling with how to deal with hate speech as there are no specific laws against it.
 
"From the government perspective, it… has become a real hard choice: Whether to tackle these groups and be accused as suppressing freedom of expression.  But, at the same time, letting them do what they are doing may somewhat incite the religious and ethnic animosity. "
 
Despite the religious tensions, there have been some signs of goodwill between Buddhist and Muslim communities. Some senior monks have called for religious tolerance and have actively helped Muslims displaced by the recent violence.
 
Burma authorities have also pledged to hold talks to try to rebuild trust between the communities.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: BurmeseDaze from: Yangon
March 26, 2013 9:44 PM
Thanks to the Buddhist tradition of tolerance and compassion you will find mosques, churches, temples, joss houses, and other places of worship across Myanmar.

The *outsiders* for generations have co-existed with the Burmese, known for their ever-loving kindness. This is the foundation of our culture because *Buddhism has affected the Burmese like no other people*.

In the past – and even today -- the despicable extremists, including former communists and ultra-nationalists, tend to sacrifice the docile and non-political Muslims in their ugly bid for power. The radicals conveniently ignore the fact that Muslims loyally served in the government and military since ancient times.

A Muslim *freedom fighter* in Burma's struggle for independence, U Razak, was assassinated along with General Aung San in 1947. No one can question his love for the country.

Beware of political agitators disguised as monks, inciting violence and hatred.

The riots are more an assault on the venerable Buddhist monastic order – the Sangha.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid