By Maung Tha Hla
Myanmar has recently been subjected to media spin and unprecedented international attention consequent upon the consecutive outbreaks of inter-communal riots between the indigenous national races and the alien Muslims brought in by the British colonialist. Critics were tempted to attribute the crisis to religion and played on stereotype of religious persecution laying emphasis on the prejudice against the Buddhist religion and its adherents. Unfortunately whatever happened in Myanmar involving the natives and pugnacious Muslims it was portrayed as persecution of Muslims and affront to Islam. It is disgrace that Buddhism and its followers were vilified in a steam of vituperation notwithstanding what were the causes that led to the spasms of strife.
BLASPHEMY AGAINST BUDDHISM: Much has been voiced and written in open contempt of the Buddhist religion and denigration of its adherents including monks, having accused them of resorting to starling violence against the Muslims. Anti-Buddhism messages that dominated the media were largely spread by the Islamic nations and mainstream Western news service with the sinister object to tarnish Buddhism and to incur hatred of its followers. The absurdity underlined in the assertion that Buddhism was a religion of animosity and violence. On the contrary the principles of non-violence and loving-kindness are more central to Buddhism than Islam and Christianity. Buddhism, which advocates a gentle Middle Way to its goal, is pragmatic and peaceful. It is devoid of extremism, but in contrast Islam and Christianity have a fair share of it and went through dark ages. Violence has been instrumental in the success of Islam which has geographically expanded from a tiny place called Medina to the full extent of 57 nations in Asia, Africa and Europe, with a global population of over one billion.
Judgment was unwarrantedly passed against the conduct of Buddhists insidiously alluded them to being immoral; on the other hand moral value is the foundation of Buddhism. The critics are woefully ignorant about Buddhism which is a religion of self-redemption. Buddhism teaches that a person, doer, alone is responsible for the consequences of his moral and physical acts. High standard of morality may not be achieved without personal striving. Average Buddhist, either a monk or a layman, is not an Arhahant, a person who has achieved the highest stage of perfection in Theravada Buddhism. As a sentient being, an ordinary Buddhist is no exception from any follower of other religions, who is subject to five senses of what one sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches or thinks. A Buddhist in Myanmar attaches great importance to traditions, whose loyalty lies first with his family, then his nation and his religion which he is bound to protect conscientiously. An imperfect performance of a Buddhist should not be blamed on the religion. Rationalistically, the critics must come to terms with the harsh reality of the life of a Buddhist in Myanmar who had gone through humiliation and rage over the Western colonization and lived in anxiety and fear of the prospect of Islamization, which readily prompted him to put himself on the line of defence whenever his nation and religion came under external threat. A peaceable society has been influenced by low standards of international morality.
BUDDHISM AND NATIOALISM: Buddhism has been integral to the national identity of the people of Myanmar, having taken a leading role in the national movement. Buddhism plays an important role in social and political life of 90 per cent of the population. By traditions the political and social development was built on Buddhism under the power of monarchy which developed it as a state religion. Conceptually each king was defender of the faith and patron of the clergy that devolved from one monarch to the next. The demise of monarchy left the faith without defenders and the clergy without patrons. In the absence of monarchy the clergy came to play a crucial role in the development of national responsibilities to safeguard the religion.
Regrettably the Islamic and Christian sources made scathing remarks about Buddhist nationalism. Arguably, every religion has been a force in shaping the nation’s character and has influence on national politics and identity of the people. Buddhism which was once the bedrock identity of Asia now flourishes in many Asian countries and influences national politics. The age-old political and social role of Buddhism in Asia is confined to each individual country contributing to the development of its own national interests. However, Islamic nationalism having disposed of the Western colonialism consolidated into a pan-Islamic movement with a baleful impact on the international peace and security. The United States is a leading Christian nation where religion is supposed to be separated from politics, but religion has always been a major force in the American politics, policy, identity and culture. Religion shapes the nation’s character and influences how it responds to events across the globe.
THE ROLE OF CLERGY: The clergy who are guardians of the Buddha’s teachings are also regarded as teachers. The village education as well as social welfare has historically been centered round the monastery. The clergy who strive for the spiritual truth need the material support of the laity, and laymen depend on the community of monks for the guidance in their efforts to cultivate the Buddhist spirituality. One cannot enrich oneself without the other. The lay-monastic relationship as such involves mutual support and close cooperation. The interaction has brought the clergy in times of crisis to the aid of laity whose respect for the authority of senior monks comes before the acceptance of the law and regulations of the government.
Out of share ignorance the Muslim community, Human Rights groups and Western critics failed to recognize the political role of the monks in Myanmar. The British rule formed Buddhism as a political base, and the clergy were looked upon as the source for nationalist political inspiration, which stirred politically oriented younger monks who fostered nationalism in the struggle against colonialism demanding to redress social, economic and political grievances. The monks took an active part in the resistance against the British, which initially was sparked by the practice of Europeans wearing shoes while walking on pagoda grounds. In 1919 four monks were arrested in Mandalay for the attack on a group of Europeans who entered a pagoda with their shoes on, and consequently the leader was sentenced to life imprisonment. The religious issue became the symbol representing the grievances which had been festering for years.
U Ottama was the first and foremost politically motivated nationalist monk, who led the political movement to protest the British rule. He criticized the British for bringing the nation to slavery and debasing the Buddhist monk’s prestige. He was arrested in 1921 for urging non-payment of taxes and boycotts, and thenceforth served fragmental jail time for his anti-British activities until his death in 1939. Another prominent monk was U Wizara who was arrested for agitating against British restraints on Buddhist practices. He died in jail in 1929 after a hunger strike fighting for the right to wear his robe while in prison. Monks joined forces with nationalist Saya San in the uprising against the British in 1930-31 and took part in riots against the British in 1938. In the struggle for national independence monks were not only involved in the movement against the British colonialists but against the Japanese occupiers as well. The nationalist monks U Seinda and U Pyinnya Thiha were the vanguard in the resistance against the Japanese forces in the Rakhaing front during the Second World War. After national independence the monks continued political activities in the advancement of the welfare of people and the best example was The Saffron Revolution of 2007.
NATIONAL INTERESTS: The 969 Movement which has been gaining currency among the masses is by all means a significant national development to neutralize economic and social grievances in the face of growing threats of alien Muslims to the livelihood, culture and belief of the natives. U Wirathu who inspired people with awareness of nationalism urged them to patronize the Buddhist-owned businesses and shops with the view to lessening of economic dependent on the elements of Muslim community who thrived in urban commerce and businesses, which in some way projects a comparison with what Mahatama Gandhi did in British India. He boycotted imported cloth as he wanted his people to spin their own in an effort to become less dependent on imports. The 969 Movement, which becomes the object of international criticism, has just been put into operation but the public attention has squarely missed the Islamic numerical emblem 786 which has been in convenance for many decades conspicuously in display at the Muslim businesses, shops and homes so as to distinguish them from those owned by people of other faiths. Muslims generally boycott the non-Muslim business establishments. Moreover, the Muslim students who set for the matriculation examination were knavishly induced to mark the same Islamic symbol at the top of each answer paper with a view to seeking favour from the fellow Muslim examiners in virtue of religious affiliation. Thus was the Islamic loyalty maintained and through which was achieved solidarity among the Muslim community. Islamic religionism ran in all walks of life.
The proposal for restriction on transaction of the real estates is no less compatible with the Islamic law whereby the land and property acquired by the Muslims are not revertible to the infidels. Buying up the real estates in the traditionally predominant Buddhist neighbourhood has become a scenario throughout the country. Significantly, more and more Muslims have moved into previously exclusive Buddhist communities. The establishment of micro Muslim colonies was none other than the surgical implant of the Islamic cells into the body of Buddhist society, which evoked grave concern of the natives over their safety and the future of their way of life.
The proposed restriction on marriage between Buddhist women and Muslim men is exactly the same as inter-faith marriage policy being enforced in Malaysia, Singapore and Muslim countries around the world. There is a double standard of those who criticized the proposed Buddhist-Muslim marriage rule when they never utter a word about the practice that has all along been pursued by the Muslims. The critics may be reminded that young Bengali Muslim males were induced to migrate into Myanmar, the land of abundant food and pretty damsels; to marry the native maidens; to convert their wives and the offspring into Muslims; to translate the Koran into Burmese; to spread Islam in the community; to seek public and government offices; to secure the strategic positions in the military; and ultimately to overthrow the government. The cynical conspiracy abroad was complimented with an equally sneering scheme within the country that the Muslim youth were offered monetary incentives to venture into winning the hand of daughters of government officials, especially the military Generals; the higher the status the larger the award. The game plan was to stretch the boundary of acceptance of Islam along conversion consequent upon inter-faith marriages, and to assert influence on the elite in power through their loved ones.
A sharp growth in the Muslim population relative to the local Buddhists, particularly in Rakhaing state, roused the fears of the natives that their land would be taken over by the Muslims. The virtual increase of Muslim population was the sum total of mass immigration, expositional reproduction and devastating attrition of the natives, which resulted in a ratio of 97 to 3 per cent over local Rakhaings in the previously Buddhist dominated area of Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. Unless the modus operandi of having one to two dozen children in a Muslim family by polygamy is rescinded the risk of inter-racial violence will definitely be on the rise making the land a dangerous place. Myanmar has a legitimate reason to fear that an explosive growth of the Bengali Muslim population would lead to the endangerment of the national security and the territorial integrity given the internationally colluded scheme to establish a free Muslim state in the land of Rakhaing, which the Bengali secessionists planned to accede to their former homeland, what is now Bangladesh.
To the Muslims, demography is destiny. The critics of the West might recall that some prominent Muslim leaders had predicted that Muslims would conquer Europe by simple demography. Mohammed Ben Brahim Boukharonba, Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of Algeria proudly stated at the United Nations that “through the wombs of our women” the Muslims of the South would conquer Europe. Muammar al-Gaddafi, the Libyan President claimed, “There are signs that Allah will grant victory to Islam in Europe without swords, without guns, without conquest. We don’t need terrorists, we don’t need homicide bombs, 50 + million Muslims in Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” Gravely faced with the growing Muslim population the fear of demographic threat sounds the tocsin of alarm in the non-Muslim world.
THE HYPOCRISY: Sardonically the peevish Muslims put themselves on the moral high ground posturing as being compassionate and magnanimous despite the ongoing atrocities perpetrated against other religions and sectarian conflicts that torn the Muslim world. Irony is that the Muslims who hijacked democracy and human rights found cheap services of a host of predisposed Western media outlets to vilify Buddhism and its followers. It comes to no surprise that some liberal news services which having indulged in unethical reporting on Buddhist religion unwittingly degraded their publications to the level of super market tabloids for the contents which were riddled with factual errors and distortion. The atrocious reality, which should be known to the Western media community and their Muslim clients who immorally reached the deep pockets to insensately impose Islam on the non-Muslim nations and peaceful peoples, is that such outrageously vituperative presentation about Buddhism and development of nationally oriented measures only renders adverse effect on the inter-faith relationship which has already been on a precarious onset due to outside manipulation.