There has been a worrying rise of anti-Muslim attacks and discrimination in Asia. Buddhist nationalism has been on the increase since the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority by the Myanmar government and has seen a concerning escalation into countries such as Sri Lanka where there is an uproar of hardline mobs, targeting Muslim civilians, their homes and businesses. Followers of hardline Myanmar monk, Ashin Wirathu who formed the 969 group, collaborating with Sri Lanka’s extremist monk Galabode atthe Gnanasara hold an extreme ideology that believes in “struggling to protect Buddhism in Asia from Muslims”.
It is such extreme ideologies that have influenced the rise of anti-Muslim attacks and have spurred discrimination against Muslims and other minority groups. There has been over 620,000 Rohingya Muslims, more than half their total number, who have fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh since August as a result of violence described by the UN as a text book example of ethnic cleansing. However, many world leaders continue to remain tight lipped on the issue and the escalating situation and plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma continues to go unheard.
Sri Lanka is also facing a spike of anti-Muslim hate crimes with impending mass riots following an attack by hardline mobs against Muslims. Reports from the ground state that a series of Muslim families have been targeted and their homes and businesses heavily attacked. Sri Lanka’s special task police force were sent to the ground on November 17th 2017 following a large scale mob attack and petrol bombs that were thrown at Muslim houses and mosques.
Tensions had been flaring up earlier this year in May 2017 when the hard-line group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General-Secretary Galagoda Atte Gnanasara had been encouraging his supporters to lead another campaign against Muslims following the deadly Aluthgama riots in June 2014, which attempted to create disunity between Buddhists and Muslims.
President Maithripala Siresena had vowed to investigate anti-Muslim hate crimes, however, attacks have escalated yet again within the last few weeks and are spurring intense tensions amongst the Sri Lankan community with Gnanasara vowing to meet with Myanmar’s Ashin Wirathu to heighten the campaign against Muslims. Frustratingly, little is being done to calm the situation and restore peace within the country.
Dr Muang Zarni, a renowned Buddhist genocide scholar, stated that, “Buddhism nationalism has been on the rise in post-independent countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma where Theravada Buddhism is a mass religion. This strain of violent racism with a religious coating is the direct result of manipulation of tradition-bound public’s devotion to Buddhism by the post-colonial majoritarian elites, particularly in Sri Lanka and Myanmar”
In an attempt to restore press for peace and call for an end to the growing spate of discrimination against Muslims, the Pope will be visiting Myanmar and Bangladesh respectively this week, as per information released by by the Vatican, the pope will say two Masses in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and one in Bangladesh, which has a predominant Muslim population.
Richard Weir, Researcher at Human Rights Watch said, “The Pope’s visit presents an opportunity to promote the value of interfaith dialogue and for there to be a continued discussion about the persecution of religious minorities across Burma. But already there are some that are calling for unacceptable moderation. They want the Pope not to call the Rohingya population by their name. This would be a mistake. They Pope shouldn’t be driven to taking a position that only perpetuates the marginalisation and subjugation of one of the world’s most persecuted communities. The Pope should, beyond anything else, use his platform to communicate to Burma’s leaders that it is imperative that they promote and ensure the respect for human rights regardless of one’s chosen religion, be it Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity.”
Tensions continue to escalate and fear of a confrontations amidst the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in Asia are growing, but it is hoped that with more awareness of the situation more will be done to put an end to the discrimination and persecution of Muslims in Asia.