When Buddhist kills: Myanmar Genocide of Rohingya Muslims
by Maung Zarni and Alice Cowley
Events in Myanmar, the largest Theraveda Buddhist country in the world, are fundamentally challenging the rose-tinted view of Buddhists as a uniquely peaceful, compassionate group of people vis-a-vis other faith-based communities, as news of violent racism towards Myanmar's Muslims in general and the slow genocide of its largest Muslim minority group - Rohingya - hits the international headlines. All systems of religious thought exist as organized polities, influencing and being influenced by the external milieu; the Theraveda school of Buddhism is no exception. This essay traces the linkages between the state in Myanmar and its predominant religion - Buddhism - since independence in 1948. Further, it intends to shed light on the question of how this relationship has shaped and been shaped by the country's military leaders in the last 55 years. In so doing, the essay will elaborate on the specific ways in which the ruling military has systematically and successfully transformed the Buddhist Order, from one of its most signficant opponents during the early years of the military rule in the 1960's to its most crucial strategic proxy in fermenting Buddhist nationalism amongst the laity with its dormant xenophobias, particularly against Muslims. Importantly, the essay will look at the military-controlled state's uses of Buddhist nationalism to meet three broad objectives in contemporary Myanmar: firstly, to control the pace and scope of the military-managed transition to a quasi-civilian polity - or "discipline flourishing democracy" to use the generals officially language; secondly, to control ethnic Buddhist minority Rakhines with their nationalist demands for equitable revenue sharing and greater political autonomy that emerged in the context of commercial opening; and thirdly, to continue its decades-old national security mission of cleansing the strategically important coastal and land border areas where the Rohingya Muslim minority resides, with their bi-cultural ties to both Bangladesh and Myanmar. The essay will also assess the role of Aung San Suu Kyi in Rohingya genocide and the marked rise of anti-Muslim racism, highlighting her use of Buddhist discourses to push her own version of majoritarian Buddhist nationalism, to garner votes and support from the anti-Muslim electorate.