July 25, 2012

I believe in the rights of Rohingya Muslims

Two readers of my blog reached out to me and asked my thoughts about the oppression and killings of Rohingyas in Arakan State. I wish I had more time to write about this and share my perspective, but my spare time is little and my perspective probably would not be at all illuminating. After all, I condemn the violence against the Rohingya community in Burma, and I believe that they should be recognized as citizens of the Burmese state and guaranteed the same protections that every citizen is due.

Many people are shocked that a predominantly Buddhist nation, such as Burma, would have such violent and ethnocentric responses to the Rohingya community. Though I am incredibly saddened, I am not as surprised or indignant as the rest of the Western Buddhist blogosphere perhaps because this is a situation that I have been aware of my entire life. This is not the first time that Rohingya Muslims have been violently targeted in Burma, and this is not the first time that some of the Burmese public have reacted with violent force. Just as I felt powerless to do much in the past, I feel powerless today. After all, what else can I do but express my support for those oppressed and condemn the violent injustices levied against them?

In general I do not write about these complex issues on this blog because my audience here are predominantly white middle-class Western Buddhists who know very little about either Burma or Islam. The discussions and even arguments I have with individuals of the Burmese expatriate community are of a completely different nature than the ones I have with most Western Buddhists on this blog simply because with the former I do not have to waste a thousand words explaining why I write “Arakan” instead of “Rakhine” or why I make the effort to specify Rohingya Muslims rather than use a more general term such as, Burmese Muslims.

I believe in the rights of Rohingya Muslims in Burma just as I believe in the rights of Jumma Buddhists in Bangladesh. I condemn the violence against both groups, and I condemn the history of persecution and oppression which cannot simply be washed away overnight. I furthermore condemn the simplification of political and socio-economic conflicts into religious terms of “Buddhist” versus “Muslim.” But I also try to cultivate understanding and compassions toward all involved in this conflict, I recognize that I have neither answers for nor a complete understanding of this conflict, and I don’t believe I can do anything of more substantive consequence on this blog than make this statement of my support for their rights and condemnation of their persecution.

What more I do say and do, I do offline. So my apologies in advance if I neglect your comment.

1 comment :

  1. I only a few days ago even read about this, and made a commitment as a Buddhist to raise my voice. I certainly know that one person can only do so much etc., but I do think we in the US have things we can do. I had a good friend who was an American Jew who worked for Palestinian liberation. As a Jew, her denunciation of Israel as a colonial enterprise resonated much more deeply than mine. As Buddhists we can at least start a conversation, pen a letter to editor, and write congresspeople. At least they will know we know what's going on.

    I also am aware that there is a huge danger of white American Buddhists raising their voice as a way to point a finger at bad Brown people. There is a certain thrill in this kind of thing for white people that Buddhism as you well know doesn't necessarily cure. Treading clearly but cautiously with self-examination is a good idea.

    You are right that lots of social complexities are oversimplified in the US media into religious groupings, or other ethnic groupings, and I am not sure how precise the Buddhist/Muslim distinction is in this case. I also know that the function of media representation of ethnic conflict in the world is to normalize ethnic conflict--it's inevitable, the message is--and so ease white conscience. At the same time, something is clearly going on, it clearly isn't good, and clearly the language of religious difference has merged with social inequality.

    I am not so naive to imagine that the Burmese gov't will buckle under the pressure of my letter to the editors of Tricycle, but bit by bit bits add up.

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