The country formerly known as Burma

An e-mail friend of mine who lives in Thailand sent me a link to an editorial in the Bangkok Post about a visit by President Thein Sein of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to President Obama in the White House.  That country has been ruled by a military dictatorship and is slowly transitioning back to an elected government.

map_of_myanmarAccording to the editorial, Obama and Thein Sein discussed American business investment in the former Burma, but ignored the country’s role as a center of heroin and methamphetamine trafficking.   It is interesting how the U.S. government wages low-intensity war against the Mexican and Colombian cocaine cartels, but cares little about the opium and heroin cartels of south and southeast Asia.

The editorial writers regret that Obama did not bring up the persecution of a minority group called the Rohingya, which I’d never heard of.   A little Google research told me that they are a Muslim ethnic group terrorized by the Buddhist majority, and that many are refugees in neighboring countries.  I always thought of Buddhism as a contemplative, tolerant religion. It goes to show how misleading stereotypes can bethat Buddhists, like other people, do not necessarily follow the best teachings of their religion, and to show how little knowing the name of the religion to which someone pays lip service will tell you about that person’s behavior.

The two things I get from the editorial are an indication of the U.S. government’s priorities in foreign policy, and an indication of how some foreigners still look to Americans to champion human rights.

Click on Myanmar, US Waste a Chance to read the editorial.

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3 Responses to “The country formerly known as Burma”

  1. Shira Coffee Says:

    As a Buddhist, I am deeply shamed by the behavior of Buddhists — sometimes including Buddhist monks — toward the Rohingya. I was also happy to see that HH the Dalai Lama recently spoke out against this shameful behavior.

    Nonetheless, I would like to offer some perspective to counter your idea that Buddhism is somehow not a tolerant religion.

    It is hard to put together a good picture of what is happening in Myanmar, because the government does its best to keep foreigners, including both journalists and aid NGOs, out of the country. However, by reading as much as possible, I have put together this picture of what went wrong there.

    It seems that the ongoing vendetta between Rakhine and Rohingya tribespeople in western Myanmar does not seem to be an ancient one. Many writers point out that the Rakhine and Rohingya lived in peace for centuries, even sharing governing power, until the disruption of the region caused by British colonial rule. At that time, the British took two actions that continue to bear ill fruit today. First, they confiscated lands owned by Rakhine and brought in Rohingya workers who had not lived in that area to work those lands. Second, they made every effort to destroy Buddhist institutions, including Buddhist repositories of teaching and knowledge.

    Eventually, a revolutionary movement threw out the Brits and formed the military government that has ruled Myanmar for the past fifty years. When the Brits pulled out, Rakhine turned on the “imported” Rohingya, and the military government backed the Rakhine. This, as you can well imagine, made the conflict even bloodier and more uneven than it would otherwise have been. You can also understand, in this context, the assertion that the Rohingya are “not Burmese”. This is the rhetoric of nation-states, not Buddhism.

    To their credit, SOME Buddhist monks have tried to prevent the bloodshed. But unfortunately, not all of them have, and some have even taken up arms against the Rohingya. I cannot express to you how wrong this is, and the only explanation I can think of for why such monks are not dismissed by their superiors is that Buddhist teaching has been disrupted, just as the British intended.

    I would also point out — not as an excuse, but simply to make the picture clearer — that on the other side of the border, in Bangladesh, the putatively Muslim government is backing Rohingyas who are driving hill tribes, including Rakine, off their traditional lands. Of course the border itself is a product of British colonial line-drawing; there has traditionally been a more fluid and local notion of government that allowed for more peaceful coexistence.

    It is a painful truth that when wrongdoing leads to revenge and then vendetta, no religion has a good track record of cooling the emotions of the feuding groups and restoring good relations. The fact that Buddhist teaching has been interrupted adds to what is already a difficult problem.

    I hope you will join me in trying to bring attention to this situation. Probably the best hope of resolution is if the attention of the world is focused on the tragedy.


  2. philebersole Says:

    Thank you very much for your informative comment. I expressed myself badly. I do not believe that Buddhism teaches intolerance. I do note that not everyone who calls themselves Buddhist (or Christian or Muslim or anything else) lives up to the best teachings of their religion. I edited the post to clarify this.


  3. tiffany267 Says:

    Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
    Nothing like hypocrisy and total lack of concern about human rights from the U.S. Foreign policy as usual.


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