On race, religion and gender: A progressive Burmese Buddhist perspective

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Opinion: An article by May Oo Lwin

‘Our Burmese people should think about political, religious and social issues in a progressive, modern and sympathetic way. It is disturbing to see abusive, homophobic and racist news and comments that have recently been circulated and shared, mainly through social media.

There are some heated arguments concerning the controversial issues to do with so called ‘illegal immigrants’ inside just one particular part of Burma because of their race, religion and ethnicity.

It make me wonder how ‘Internally Displaced People’ (IDPs), refugees, and (so called) ‘illegal immigrants’ of our own ethnic Burmese people around the boarders of Burma are being treated in the bordering countries. Are they also being labeled and abused as ‘illegal immigrants’?  I hope they are being treated with dignity and I wish we could treat our IDPs in a similar way.

The most ironic thing is that some of these strong, discriminatory opinions come from people themselves who are expats, immigrants in other countries, people who were once either refugees or asylum seekers in their adopted countries.

I would also like to make some comments regarding the proposed inter-racial, inter-faith laws and bills which ‘supposedly’ have the aim of protecting Burmese women and Burmese Buddhism. I hope people realize just how much more our Burmese women will be oppressed lacking a voice, indeed lacking any freedom and in turn being deprived of any basic rights to chose their future.

Finally, there was an outpouring of condemnation, verbal abuse and extremely disturbing comments on the first ever public celebration of the 10 year anniversary of a gay couple in Burma. Soon after this news was reported, lots of people are happy that the couple are being investigated and calling for the ancient colonial-era law to be used to imprison the poor couple. They are a couple who are in love with each other, wanting to celebrate their commitment publicly in front of friends and family. They want to empower the ‘silenced and shamed’ members of our population. Just because they are both men it doesn’t mean they should be condemned, cursed and be treated with hostility and contempt. It is a fact that homosexuality exists everywhere, and that includes Burma. People from countries all over the world have been trying to change such discriminatory attitudes. When we talk about these dramatic changes going on in Burma towards democratic culture, it is essential to also change, adapt and make progress with our mental culture. Our attitudes on ethnicity, racial and religious discrimination (particularly Islamophobia), gender and homosexuality must be examined and changed.

Racism, homophobia and religious intolerance cannot be part of a new, democratic Burma. If we really want our country to move forward and to transform into a democratic Burma we do not simply need material progress but psychological adaptation as well. Political change will mean nothing if we do not also change our attitudes and educate our people. We are not in any way going forward when some of us are encouraging any kind of ‘hate speech’ whether directed at other peoples religious beliefs, race, gender or sexuality.’

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