Burmese Buddhist Monks and Discrimination Against Rohingya Muslims

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As reported in the Democratic Voice of Burma various Buddhist groups lead by U Wirathu have threatened to boycott the upcoming census. The Buddhist groups, lead by monks, have taken issue with the term ‘Rohingya’ being used to signify ethnic affiliation. They want the term ‘Bengali’ to be used for the ethnic group.

As Shwe Aung in the Democratic Voice of Burma explains:

‘The forthcoming census has caused controversy in many of Burma’s ethnic states and regions, especially the restive western state of Arakan, where an estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship and referred to as illegal Bengali immigrants, though many claim to have lived in Burma for several generations and in some areas constitute a majority of the population.’

On 16 March U Wirathu joined thousands of others in a protest against the use of the term ‘Rohingya’ being used in the state capital Sittwe, as pictured above.

In further developments it has been reported that monks in Rakhine State are urging Rakhine families to fly the so-called ‘sasana flags’ (Buddhist flags) in their homes to show their commitment to the defense of their race and religion.

I have previously described the notion of discrimination in Buddhism.

Burma’s census, anti-Muslim violence and ethnocentric Buddhism

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In an article titled Myanmar’s upcoming census could spark anti-Muslim violence Patrick Winn makes some interesting points in The Global Post.

The authorities in Burma intend to hold the first census in March for more than thirty years.The census could reveal that Burma’s Muslim population is far larger than is usually supposed:

‘Given waves of anti-Muslim violence and a pervasive suspicion of Muslim groups in Myanmar — even from politicians celebrated in the West — there is a real concern that revealing the truth could fuel dangerous fanaticism.’

The Muslim population is usually considered to be around 4 percent of the population. The real figure could be closer to 12 percent. However, these figures are misleading. The last census was conducted under Ne Win in 1983. Some groups now believe that the 4 percent figure given at the time was far too low and was given as such by the military for political reasons. In fact, the figure in 1983 was likely to have been closer to 10 percent of the total population. However, now the problem is that it will appear that the Muslim population has rapidly expanded, playing into the hands of ethnocentric Buddhists like U Wirathu.

As Patrick Winn continues:

‘Proving that more than 1-in-10 inhabitants of Myanmar are Muslim would indeed play into the delusions of hyper-nationalist Buddhist vigilantes, who are personified by a movement known as 969. Its leading voice, a monk named Wirathu, told GlobalPost last year that “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.”

In recent years, many Buddhists have grown obsessed with fears of Muslim takeover. Conspiracy theories are rampant. Wirathu propagates bizarre rumors that oil-rich Arabian Gulf states finance secret Islamic plots to overrun and outbreed Buddhists.’

A recent article has followed this story. In the Asian Review, David I. Steinberg has published ‘Counting Myanmar: clarification, obfuscation or provocation?’ (7 March 2014).