The other day I was reading a recent report by the Human Rights Watch on sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls committed by military officials in Burma. Though these men may not have been ‘Buddhist’, they live and come from a culture that adheres fairly strongly to Theravada Buddhist values. The actions committed by these men - although horrific and devastating in nature - are not necessarily surprising, as the Burmese have persecuted the Rohingya for decades. In one article by the Guardian, the author dubs the perpetrators of such crimes as “nationalist Buddhists,” a term that suggests a correlation between fierce national loyalty and commitment to the “Dhamma.” Bear in mind that Burma once jailed a man for three months for unplugging a loud-speaker blasting Buddhist chants.
We often hear and talk about Islamic extremism in recent times, but very little do we talk about Buddhist extremism. On this very forum, in fact, we have had problems in the past with Buddhist anti-Semitics, which seems so contradictory in nature that it’s almost laughable. One such person had (at least in part) maintained that their ‘Buddhism’ was separate from their ‘anti-Semitism’, and that they were separate ‘interests’. Thus, on one hand you could argue that the Buddhist values present in Burma are separate from Islamophobia, but I’m inclined to think that a kind of unwavering and fierce loyalty to Buddhism is what inspired their hatred in the first place.
This is indeed the case with monastic groups such as the Ma Ba Tha, whose name literally (I kid you not) translates to “Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.” There is thus a powerful desire to maintain not only Buddhism as the dominant religion in Burma, but also to maintain a ‘pure’ (i.e. non-Arab) ethnicity. I am often simultaneously intrigued and confused as to how the Dhamma can exist in tandem with such violence and religious/ethnic hatred. On one hand, I know that any kind of Dhamma practiced by one who advocates hatred is illegitimate, but on the other hand I am aware that people such as the Ma Ba Tha believe that they are Buddhist.
So how do we, as Buddhists, help condemn those who discredit the Dhamma through acts of violence? Is it as simple as not supporting the sangha in Burma who practice and teach Islamophobia? How do we educate people on other religions who believe that all other religious practices are blameworthy?
(I’m so sorry for bringing up another sad/miserable topic - here is a picture of my dog when he was a puppy):