By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Last week the Myanmar Post on its front page reported about a meeting of Karen Religious Protection Organization that was held on October 14 in Mae Baung Monastery, Pha-an. The meeting was attended by more than 100 Buddhists including the Chief Administrators from all the nine quarters except the two from the Pha-an Township.
Under ordinary circumstances such meetings should not have raised eyebrows of anyone except that the meeting highlighted what is wrong with the Burmese society these days. The so-called Protection Organization announced four sets of Rules epitomizing intolerance against the Muslims of Myanmar. Zwe Kapin Taung Abbot U Widaza announced the four rules: (1) Prohibiting selling and renting of Buddhist-owned houses, land, farming land, and orchard to Muslims of Myanmar; (2) Prohibiting Buddhist women to marry with Muslims; (3) Buddhists should patronize the Buddhist shops only; (4) Prohibiting Buddhists from allowing themselves to use their names from buying or renting Buddhist-owned houses, land, farming land, and orchard for Muslims. It was also announced that anyone who would disobey the above rules would be punished severely.
These Rules were distributed in the entire Pha-an town the next day after the meeting. It is worth noting here that just before that meeting Karen Prime Minister U Zaw Min had visited the Zwe Kapin Taung Abbot U Widaza. Copies of the Rules were sent to the Karen Prime Minister, Karen State Parliament Chairmen, Karen State Security and Border Affairs Ministry and other Government Officials. The publication of such bigotry-ridden announcement in the front page of a newspaper clearly shows that the so-called reform government of Thein Sein is not serious about peaceful coexistence of all religious communities, esp. when it comes to the Muslim community. Its kowtowing with the chauvinist and terrorist Buddhist monks only proves its hideous character.
Thanks to the smiling image of the Dalai Lama, for decades the West took little notice of Buddhist terrorism that has terrorized millions of people in the South and Southeast Asia where a sizable Buddhist population lives. This, in spite of the fact that half the Cham Muslim population in Cambodia was massacred, and half the Rohingya Muslims had to flee from their ancestral homes in Arakan (Rakhine) state of Myanmar for horrendous crimes of the Buddhist government and population against them. The Khmer Rouge, which killed millions, in Cambodia wanted a Buddhist state, with Norodom Sihanouk as the vicegerent of God and Buddha. Buddhist monks were also accused of inciting violence against Tamil Hindus and Muslims in Sri Lanka. In Thailand, violence against the Thai Muslims by Buddhist vigilantes is a recurring event. Nor should one forget the horrendous crimes of the Buddhist Japanese Army in places like Malaysia and Burma during Second World War against the Muslim populations there [note: Emperor Hirohito considered himself the head of all Buddhists and Taoists]. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims died because of policies that led to mass starvation in the occupied territories.
[The interested readers may like to read the book – Buddhist Warfare, co-edited by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, Oxford University Press (2009), which examines Buddhist military action in Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.]
As I have noted earlier, ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims of Arakan, in particular, and religious persecution and intolerance against the Muslims of Burma, in general, have become a national project that is participated by all Buddhists inside Myanmar. So, the latest news above about the Karen Buddhists should not come as a surprise. During the military rule of the SPDC, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) – a government ally – was known for its unfathomable hate crimes and persecution of non-Buddhists, esp. Muslims.
In its May 2002 report, the Karen Human Rights Group had reported that when the DKBA formed [in 1994-95] they came and destroyed all the Muslim homes in the Papun district of the Karen State. They then forced Muslims to pay for and construct new Buddhist homes in places that once belonged to Muslims. The DKBA committed similar types of destructions of homes and mosques almost everywhere inside the Karen state.
A Muslim male from the Pa’an district was heard complaining, “When we built our mosque it was 50 or 60 feet [long]. It was very large. It was very big and had two floors. They [the DKBA] destroyed it. We felt very sorry when they destroyed our big worshipping place. They carried concrete and sand when they passed us sitting in front of our houses and swore, ‘Ma Aye Loh Ka La’ [‘Indian mother f__ers’]. They swore like that. They [DKBA soldiers] didn’t put their clothes on when the [Muslim] women went to carry water from the well. They made a lot of problems. They told us, ‘You don’t have a country. You can’t stay here; go to the Ka La country.'” He continued, “They built one pagoda in the middle of the village. They destroyed the mosque first and built a pagoda in place of the mosque. They destroyed it with a bulldozer and built a pagoda instead. They told us, ‘You have to worship our god first.’ Then our mosque teacher told them, ‘It doesn’t concern us.’ The religions are opposite. Then they said, ‘You can’t stay.’ … They built a Buddhist pagoda. That pagoda wasn’t our affair, but they forced us to carry bricks and sand for it. They made offerings to the Buddha and they ordered us to go and build it ourselves. We then told them that it did not concern us Muslims. They said, ‘No, you can’t stay.’ Then they asked for money for a donation at that very hour and second [immediately]. … They asked for 200,000 Kyat at four o’clock. They were going to kill us if we didn’t give it. There was one monk who said he had a sword, and that if he took it out he couldn’t put it back until he had killed someone. We were afraid of that. The village is a poor people’s village. We asked around here and there to find enough money until we got 200,000 Kyat, and we sent it to them.”
Another Muslim man was heard saying, “On Monday, April 10th 2000, in the evening, there were 500 Muslim houses in T’Kweh Po village to the east of the Salween River. It is to the east and south of Myaing Gyi Ngu [DKBA headquarters]. There is a DKBA camp beside it. They stay there. … They drove the religious scholars out of the mosque. They ploughed and destroyed the mosque with a big bulldozer. A lot of men, women and children were really upset and crying at that time. Then the DKBA leader Lieutenant Pya pointed a gun at the villagers’ heads and said, ‘Tomorrow you have to leave this village. I don’t want to see your faces here tomorrow. This place is not Ka La [Indian] country. The Ka La can’t stay here. The God that you worship is in my hand. You should learn that I am the God that you worship.’ They also ordered the villagers to be vegetarian and to make worship shelves [Buddhist home altars]. The last thing they said was, ‘Are you going to make worship shelves or will you leave this village?’ They demanded for the last time, ‘If you don’t want to leave this village and if you want to stay in this village you have to make a worship shelf and eat as vegetarians.’ They forced them like that. The villagers couldn’t abandon their religion, so they left the village and went to stay in another place. … They forced the Muslims from that village to build a pagoda. They forced them to carry sand and rocks and other things. They only forced the Muslims to do it. After they finished they asked, ‘Are you going to stay in this village and make offerings to the Buddha and eat as vegetarians?’ They asked them to do that. Then the villagers pleaded, ‘Don’t make us do that kind of thing and don’t make us worship like that.’ Then they [the DKBA officer] said, ‘You have requested to worship your religion freely so your religion is in my hands. You should know that your Allah is just me.’ So the villagers felt upset and left the village.”
Another Muslim was heard saying in 2001, “There is nothing in our village. The [DKBA] Army has built a barrack and an Army camp. They built their monastery. They took the land and the flat fields and now they work them for food. We had land and a flat field. We didn’t even have time to go and take the sugar cane and the paddy. They took it all. … There is a mosque in Shwegun village. The mosque is in front of the monastery. There are about 100 Muslim houses in front of the mosque. Those 100 houses were destroyed by a bulldozer. They couldn’t take all of their things. They couldn’t even take their pots and cups. They [DKBA] built a road there after they destroyed the houses. They hit and punched the people who went to go and take their pots and cups. They destroyed all the houses, pots and cups with a bulldozer and made their road. There were two Muslim schools which were also destroyed. … They could have made the road 100 feet wide, but they ploughed down everything, made the road in the middle and now they keep the area around it clear. They don’t allow people to make houses beside the road. They only did that to the place where the Muslim people live. They didn’t do it in any other places. This was in Shwegun at a place where there was no road. … Now they have to stay in other people’s houses. Some of them have made tents to stay in behind the road. They moved there and stay there. They went to stay beside other people’s houses. Some people who had money went to buy land outside [the village]. Some of them moved to Pa’an. The people without money just stayed like that. If they had relatives they just shared their rooms and lived with each other.”
Those Muslims in the Karen state of Burma (now Myanmar) faced hate crimes, religious persecution and coercion on a daily basis. They are fined 5,000 Kyat if they are caught eating meat, and 10,000 or 50,000 Kyat for each goat or cow they are caught slaughtering. They have been forbidden in some areas from even raising animals. Muslims are also fined for fishing. In one instance a Muslim man from T’Kweh Po village was fined by a monk who caught him fishing and then forced to worship the monk.
The KHRG Report quoted a Muslim saying, “We couldn’t find and catch fish in the river. We couldn’t breed chickens. We couldn’t raise animals. The DKBA forbade us. We couldn’t breed anything… We could only raise cows. It was because they [the DKBA] are vegetarian. For example, we went around to find fish in the nighttime and caught some fish. Their monk also went around by himself and if he could catch us he would hit us, punch us and order us to worship him. He didn’t look whether it was a man or a woman. He hit us and punched us and ordered us to worship him. We told him we are not his concern, our religion is Islam. Our Islam says that even if they hit us and kill us, we will worship only Islam. They hit us. For example, if we go and find fish and they catch us with one fish, they fine us 5,000 Kyat. We have to give it. They would have killed us if we didn’t give it. We couldn’t bear this anymore so we came to this side [to the refugee camp].”
Another Muslim was heard saying, “The other thing was that they forced the Muslims who stayed there [T’Kweh Po village] to become vegetarian. Since that time [in 2000], if they saw any people eating animals or if they saw anyone kill a cow, they fined them 100,000 Kyat. They fined anyone who killed a goat 50,000 Kyat. They threatened us. They are going to fine the Muslim people for every animal they eat. There are some villagers who face that kind of problem. There was one Muslim man who went to find fish. A monk arrested him and ordered him to worship him. He was fined 30,000 Kyat because he wouldn’t worship the monk.” [Note: Islam prohibits a Muslim from worshipping anyone but God the Almighty (Allah).]
The SPDC government was well aware of such regular incidents of violence and persecution of the vulnerable Muslims in the Karen state because most of such crimes were committed in front of their officers. They never punished those DKBA criminals who terrorized Muslim lives, nor did they punish the Buddhist monks for their bigotry. As a matter of fact, just as in the neighboring Thailand, Buddhist soldiers routinely carry out their duties undercover, as fully ordained monks armed with guns.
The Buddhist monks inside Myanmar have long been known for their sheer bigotry against the non-Buddhists. In Toungoo on May 16, 2001, a Muslim mosque teacher had his eyes cut out after he refused to worship the monks. He later died. On the same day a Muslim family was burned to death when their house was set on fire by the mob. As we have recently witnessed during lynching death of the ten Tablighi Muslims on June 3 of this year, the police simply stood by and did not held back the Buddhist mob.
The KHRG Report of 2002 also quoted a Muslim living in the Pegu Division, “The monks. They came in the daytime and entered the mosques and destroyed them. But the people [Muslims] there didn’t do anything against them to make them do it. We felt hurt. We felt hurt by the government. Why? Because the government is the administration, so why can’t they control this kind of problem?”
While a new government has come to power, claiming disingenuously to be reform minded to fool the world community, nothing has changed when it comes to hate crimes and religious persecution of the non-Buddhists inside Myanmar. The Buddhist-majority country of Myanmar continues to epitomize racism and bigotry. In this, it has no match in our time!
In recent months, since the massacre of Muslims in Arakan state of Myanmar, thousands of Buddhist monks have been seen marching in Myanmar’s major cities demanding forced eviction of Muslims from this Buddhist majority country. Their monasteries were not only used during the pogrom to store arms and ammunitions to kill Rohingya Muslims and burn their homes, they were even seen leading such raids. They have stopped humanitarian aids to reach Muslim victims of the latest pogrom. They have advised fellow Buddhists not to sell any food items so as to starve the Rohingya people to death. By condoning terrorism against others and participating in such acts, they have become terrorists themselves. Through such acts of intolerance, bigotry and hateful incitement, they have essentially soiled their religion.
Myanmar government wants to keep the Arakan state sealed from the outside world so that its latest genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas can be hidden from public scrutiny. The lucky few foreign journalists who had visited the troubled area in recent weeks were closely monitored and couldn’t conduct their investigations of the latest pogrom freely. Nor does the regime want the presence of international NGOs and human rights groups to provide humanitarian aids to reach the Rohingya victims or monitor the region. Instead, it is stage managing protests by racist monks and their partners in crime – the marauding blood-thirsty Buddhists both inside and outside Arakan – against efforts by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), world’s largest Islamic body, to help Rohingya Muslims.
The monks denounced plans by the 57-member organization to set up a liaison office in northwest Rakhine state. Just hours after the monks dispersed, President Thein Sein’s office announced it would not permit an OIC representation in Myanmar. “The government will not allow the opening of an OIC office as it is not in accordance with the desire of people,” said a statement posted on its website.
The monks were joined by ordinary citizens in Yangon and Mandalay. Some carried placards with the words “get out OIC”, and “no OIC” and said they would hold demonstrations until the government agreed to their demands.
There is little doubt that the entire Buddhist population is playing its criminal role as active participants in this latest campaign to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya Muslims. In a report in August, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had found evidence of “state-sponsored persecution and discrimination” against the Rohingyas in the weeks after the violence. The latest announcement from Thein Sein’s office gives further credence to the government cover-ups and its evil plan.
It is high time that the U.N. takes a serious look at what is going on inside Myanmar and stops the criminal regime and its partners for crimes against humanity. Silence of the UN on this matter would be a grave sin and is simply criminal.