The Rohingya, Buddhism, and anti-Muslim sentiment

I’ve been constantly checking my twitter feed lately. #RohingyaNOW Why? Because it’s almost the only place I can find news about what appears to be a straight-up genocidal attempt by some Burmese fascists. I’m not using that word metaphorically or rhetorically; I believe they qualify as fascists under most standard definitions of the word. These people are attempting to provoke a mass movement to expel or murder all non-Burmese and non-Buddhists from the country. Facing its own long-running Muslim minority problems in the South, Buddhist Thailand is doing its bit, too. Long the cooperative beneficiary of human trafficking from Burma into Thailand, security forces from both Thailand and Burma have attacked boats full of Muslim refugees fleeing the violence, sometimes drowning all those on board, other times pushing them away from Thailand’s coastlines, refusing them the obligatory offerings to refugees under International Law.

I do not have time at the moment for an extensive commentary on these issues, but want to add my voice to those who are pleading with the media, the United Nations, and others, to increase coverage, stand up for the victims of communal violence, and begin a process of restoration for victims of genocidal violence. A few points:

1. These are indeed “Burmese Buddhist Fascists.” They are opposed, apparently, first to the Rohingya, an ethnic minority and Muslim group largely in Western Burma.  The fascists consider them illegal immigrants, though they have been in the area for many generations. They are not opposed to the Rohingya solely for reasons of ethnic difference, either: they are explicitly opposed to Muslims in general. Moreover, much of the most vocal leadership, and according to pictures from the most recent riots and murders, much of the on-the-ground leadership, is by Buddhist monks. Here’s Buddhist monk Wirathu, founder of the newly-formed Buddhist Fascist group “969”, sermonizing against Muslims and encouraging a financial boycott of Muslim enterprises, while stoking fears of a Muslim takeover of Burma. It’s chilling:

Additionally, while the violence against Burma’s Rohingya and Muslims existed prior to the recent steps toward democratization indicated by the new participation of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD in politics (so lambasted in the monk’s speech, above), it seems to have worsened significantly since then. I do not have enough knowledge of the situation first-hand to confirm this, and am basing my perception here on discussions I had with various people who study Burma (both Burmese and non-Burmese) recently. If correct, it would be interesting to read Burma’s current case against the recent work of sociologist Michael Mann, Democracy’s Dark Side: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. In that book, Mann (whose companion volume on Fascists is also compelling) argues that sudden democratization, mediated by a number of other necessary preconditions, can actually drive ethnic cleansing. I don’t necessarily endorse his views in either book, though I have found much of them compelling and very “good to think with.”

Regardless, Aung San Suu Kyi has been almost completely silent about the multi-year attack on Burmese Muslims. Some reports point out the great overlap between the primary sources of her political support (Buddhist monks) and the primary sources of these anti-Muslim fascists (Buddhist monks), such as this article, headlined, Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Saffron Monks” Stalk Streets With Machetes – Mass Slaughtering Refugees.

2. This is a political conflict about ethnicity and religion, not a religious conflict that has become political. This is a key distinction. When it is presented as ‘ethnic violence,’ or ‘communal violence,’ in the international media, or by UN officers, we imagine different lines than may actually exist.  Watch the following video, which covers the aftermath of the anti-Muslim pogrom that took place in Meiktila on March 22. You’ll see two Burmese Buddhist laypeople interviewed. Continue reading

comment, religous studies

The so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque,’ and my letter to the Catholic Archdiocese of OKC

The furor surrounding Park51, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (not at Ground Zero, not a mosque, etc.), shows no sign of abating.  Even some of my liberal acquaintances are joining in the game of religious intolerance, and playing games with the aspirations and lives of American Muslims.  I won’t spend any time refuting the Islamophobia, because from I can see, there is no talking to these people.

I have, however, written to the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church in Oklahoma City, and to St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral.  St. Joseph’s actually is a neighbor to the bombed Alfred P. Murrah building, destroyed by Christian Identity movement member, White Supremacist, and life-long Catholic, Timothy McVeigh, America’s most famous home-grown terrorist.  St. Joseph’s was permitted not only to repair and rebuild its beautiful Cathedral, but was even permitted to contribute a statue of a ‘Weeping Jesus’ to the memorial garden.  If that is acceptable, and I believe strongly that it is, and indeed is a positive thing, then the Catholic Church should stand up and make its voice heard in defense of Park 51.  Now.

Jesus Wept.

After the jump, you can read my letter to the diocese and the Church. I encourage all readers to send similar letters to them.  Please be polite.

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SOUNDING for Week Ending 1/9/2010


Dead Body Politics in the Aftermath of Mumbai Attacks

A great example of the sort of dead body politics I’ve been discussing with my students in my “How To Do Things With Dead People” class this semester, the Muslim Council Trust of India has announced that the Mumbai attackers should not be allowed to be buried as muslims.

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US Ambassador Claims Cambodian Chams Receiving Massive Influx of Cash from "Outside Extremists"

Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli was in Washington, D.C. last week, where he described Cambodian Cham Muslims as a “very peaceful and tolerant group,” and then immediately went on to discuss the serious concerns he had regarding their potential radicalization from “outside extremists.” Reported in Voice of America: (via KI-Media)

A lot of money was coming into Cambodia’s Chams from groups spreading a violent, intolerant form of Islam, which have a lot of resources and are attracted to poor communities.

I thought of saying something snarky about this, such as identifying a few other groups which “have a lot of resources and are attracted to poor communities,” such as USAID. Instead, I’ll attempt to be more mature on this page: I asked my friend Alberto Perez-Pereiro, currently doing research in Cambodia on the Cham, to contribute a short piece in response to the Ambassador’s comments. His judicious and thoughtful piece is below; I think it deserves serious attention. Alberto begins after the jump: Continue reading