Myanmar is a hotbed of sectarian violence right now, with – of all religious groups – Buddhists responsible for the vast majority of the death and destruction that’s taken place over the last year and a half. I wrote about some of this back in July , after the radicalization got so bad that calls to violence stopped requiring the official declaration of anyone in a position of power; it just happened on its own if enough Buddhists were around and one of them saw something that set them off. Combine this with the completely inadequate response on the part of the secular government, and you have a recipe for genocide on your hands.
The first of the two most recent incidents took place on Monday in the town of Thanwe, in the northwest part of Myanmar. What started over a trivial disagreement eventually attracted a torch wielding mob of about 200 angry Buddhists. Eventually, the police arrived to break things up before anyone was killed. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as well on Wednesday, where five Muslims, including a 94-year old woman, were killed in the violence, and dozens of homes were burned to the ground.
In Thabyuchaing, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Thandwe, more than 700 rioters, some swinging swords, took to the streets, police officer Kyaw Naing said. A 94-year-old Muslim woman died from stab wounds in the clashes that followed, the officer said, adding that between 70 and 80 houses were set on fire. Another officer, however, said only 19 homes were burned.
The state of Rakhine is the hardest hit region in the country for anti-Muslim violence at the hands Buddhist radicals.
In April, the government said 192 people were killed in June and October 2012 clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, most of whom Myanmar regards as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite roots going back generations.
The United Nations has described the Rohingya as “virtually friendless”.
Clashes between Rohingya and Rakhines in June 2012 led to unrest elsewhere in the country, where other groups of Muslims have been targeted, including Kamans, who are of different ethnicity from Rohingyas.
The one part that stuck out in the first article was the part where one Muslim politician found himself personally involved in one of these outbreaks. It apparently started when he was accused of “insulting Buddhism” after he found one of their motorcycles in front of his house and asked them to move it. I don’t think I’m generalizing when I say that pulling the “OMG you’re insulting my religion” card sounds like a typical Middle Eastern / Southwest Asian Muslim thing to pull on someone. I mean, it works … nothing whips people with blind faith into a frenzy more effectively than the thought of someone insulting their God or their faith as a whole.
Still, this serves as a useful reminder that the religion itself isn’t quite as important as the harm that can be done with it.