Myanmar's Buddhists are one of the most violent people on earth, or so it seems. Buddhism is usually held as a non-violent religion, while the facts are quite contrary to such assumptions. Buddhism by no means has a spotless history. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), for example, Buddhists have engaged in whole sale killing and displacement of the Muslim Rohingya. Such persecution also happens in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Cambodia. We also know of reported arrests for hurting Buddhist sentiments, as in the case of three people jailed for wearing an ad for a disco depicting Buddha wearing headphones.
Buddhists, then, occasionally play the “offense card,” and it’s pretty dire when they do.
Here’s one example of the kind of religiously-based harassment and persecution that Burma has perpetrated. According to the New York Times, a trivial “offense” to Buddhism can reap a stiff prison sentence (reported June 2013):
A court in Myanmar has found two Muslim women guilty of setting off a recent outbreak of sectarian violence, one of them by bumping into a Buddhist novice monk. Myint Thein of the pro-government National Unity Party, who attended their trial, said Wednesday that the two women in the central township of Okkan were convicted of “insulting religion.” Both were sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor. A police officer in Okkan, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the news media, confirmed the sentences.Even if the Muslim women did that on purpose, it doesn’t merit two years of hard labor. The sentence for bumping into a Buddhist monk is simply too harsh. One can only shudder to think what “hard labor” means in Burma!
. . . The two women’s trial was related to an April 30 episode in Okkan that culminated with Buddhist mobs destroying shops and homes in several villages. Myint Thein said the court heard that one of the women bumped into the monk as he was collecting alms and the other grabbed the monk by his shoulders. It is considered inappropriate in Buddhism for women to have any physical contact with monks.
By the way, such persecution of non-Buddhists is quite common in places like Myanmar. In the past we have seen how Buddhist monks had gouged eyes out of Muslims in the Rakhine state who did not pay obeisance to them while encountering them (Buddhists are required to do so to their monks). That is the height of religious intolerance practiced by monks!
The latest incident, reported in yesterday’s New York Times, involves Klaas Haijtema, a 30-year-old Dutch tourist who, while visiting Myanmar, was staying at a Mandalay hostel near a Buddhist center. On the night of September 23, the center began broadcasting Buddhist chants over a loudspeaker, disturbing Haijtema’s sleep.
After asking the Buddhists to lower the volume (they probably didn’t understand him), he then pulled the plug on the amplifier. BIG mistake. He was arrested and sentenced to—get this—three years at hard labor for “causing a disturbance to an assembly engaged in religious worship.”
As the NYT reports:
There are reports, however, that the Buddhist center was itself violating the law by broadcasting over a loudspeaker without a permit.Mr. Haijtema wept after the prison sentence was announced. He was also fined the equivalent of $80 for violating the terms of his entry visa, which require visitors to obey Myanmar’s laws and customs. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, and Mandalay is a relatively conservative city.