Much has been made of Buddhists monks, referred to as the 969, who have launched an extremist, anti-Muslim campaign in Myanmar in an attempt to decrease the growing influence of the minority religion in the region. Muslims, who make up only five-percent of the population, have been accused of fueling economic disparity and spreading Jihadist sentiments to the Burmese people. The Buddhist monks have, in response to an assault on a Buddhist woman, begun burning Muslim shops and Mosques in the province, which has also led to physical violence and death. The 969 are widely regarded as a hate group, their political inclination being linked to the current military regime which has embraced these anti-Muslin stances in order to rally support for upcoming elections. In response, the international community has been quick to condemn the 969 as genocidal fear-mongers who have instigated a religious war.
In such grisly acts of violence, it is easy to react harshly and condemn such actions, and while violence or killing is never justified, we must also resist the urge to do the same. To react quickly, with vitriol, is exactly the type of sentiment which fueled this conflict at its onset and exacerbated a political dispute into religious violence.
Shakyamuni Buddha once said, “Throw away your anger, or be quiet when you get angry. This is because anger harms others.”
Such a teaching is on full display in this Burmese conflict. The sense of vengeance exhibited by the Buddhist monks underlies tensions that have long been present and have been manipulated by military forces to coordinate a wide-scale hate-campaign. The hasty reaction and anxiety of many of the Burmese people has led to violence against Muslims. The violence against Muslims has led to quick international condemnation. The quick international condemnation has, in turn, paid unequal attention to the violence of the religious conflict and disregarded many of the political machinations at play, which only leads to animosity from other Muslim communities. In this sense, the quick reactions be all parties only lead to more anger and hate, all of which will result in harm to others.
Sadly, all of this can be avoided if we follow the Buddha’s words and throw away our anger. While this is, of course more difficult to perform than say, it is still an action to endeavor towards.
The attempt to assign blame toward both groups has been largely predicated on stereotypes and hasty assumptions. We are well aware that the actions of the 969 are not representative of all Buddhist sects, but the same attitude needs to applied toward the Muslim religion. As previously stated, the Muslim minority has been accused of driving economic disparity and preaching messages of violence, though little of this has been substantiated. Blaming the entirety of the Muslim religion for its extremist elements is no different from assuming that the Buddhists of the 969 are representative of Buddhists in all countries. Moreover, the military influence present within the 969 seems to largely be the driving force of this violence and it is that which must be addressed by the international community, not through the framing of a religious conflict.
It goes without saying that in order for us to better the situation, we must not react angrily, but quietly and patiently. It is easy to be galvanized to action, but it is perhaps better to sit and reflect, to consider the causes and conditions that have led to such awful circumstances. To act hastily is to treat a symptom, rather than the root of the illness itself.