Burma’s Time Bomb

Police patrol the streets of Mandalay after an outbreak of inter-communal violence. (Photo: Teza Hleing / The Irrawaddy)

Police patrol the streets of Mandalay after an outbreak of inter-communal violence. (Photo: Teza Hleing / The Irrawaddy)

Religious prejudice continues to endanger Burma. Recently, deadly clashes of Muslim and Buddhist mobs in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, showed once again just how explosive the tensions between both faiths have become.

In Burma, which was ruled by manipulative military regimes for about five decades, people have a tendency to suspect the government of using religious prejudice as a tool to divert anti-government activities. In the past, religious clashes would often break out when pro-democracy movements were emerging. As an example, take the 1988 uprising against Gen. Ne Win’s regime. Soon after anti-government protests began in cities across the country, religious clashes erupted in towns such as Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, and Prome, central Burma.

But those flames of religious unrest were extinguished immediately, and although many people believed the government had truly instigated the problem, we lacked evidence to prove our suspicions. Describing the unrest as state sponsored was a dangerous accusation.

Three years into the term of reformist President Thein Sein, the clashes in Mandalay this month left at least two people dead and 14 others injured. Religious riots have broken out across the country several times in recent years, but this was the first time it has reached such a major city.

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a Burmese-language book with a shocking title: “If You Marry a Man of Another Evil Race and Religion.” The book is believed to have been written by a Buddhist monk under the pen name Pho Pa Nyaw, and it was published with permission from the Religious Affairs Ministry in January 2010, back when no book could be printed and distributed without government approval. It includes 11 stories about Buddhist women who were sexually abused, raped or forced to marry members of another “evil” religion.”

After reading some of the stories, I am convinced that the book was intended to plant seeds of hatred against Islam among the country’s Buddhist majority, although the author never specifically referred to Muslims. One story was about a Buddhist woman named Su Su Lat. She married a man of another faith, and her husband and his family prohibited her from worshipping the Buddha. In 2000, when they discovered that she was continuing to practice Buddhism, they beat her to death. The entire family was later arrested and sentenced to life in prison. Similar outcomes were described in the other stories, with the Buddhists always referred to as victims.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is editor (English Edition) of
the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

This book seems to be based solely upon hearsay, lacking detailed references to places, names or specific incidents. But even if the stories are true, I wonder why the Religious Affairs Ministry approved their publication. The writing is racist and provocative, and assuming that government officials actually read it themselves, they must have known it would stir up tension.

I do not know how many similar books were published with approval from the previous government. But in 2012, just two years after this one was published, riots broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State, leaving hundreds dead and about 140,000 people homeless. Most of the displaced people were Muslims who continue to live in squalid shelters.

Since then, an anti-Muslim movement known as 969 has grown elsewhere in the country, led by nationalist monks such as U Wirathu. Once again, roots of this movement can be found in writing. In 1997, a book titled “969” appeared in Moulmein and some other cities, written under the name of U Kyaw Lwin. It was a manifesto, urging Buddhists to display the numbers 969 on their homes, businesses and vehicles.

At the time of the book’s publication, there was no visible impact in public. But last year, as anti-Muslim riots spread to other cities around the country, we saw 969 stickers and emblems displayed prominently just where U Kyaw Lwin suggested, on the walls and windows of homes, businesses and vehicles.

I wonder whether the book my friend sent me recently contributed to our country’s current religious tensions. But the real question is, why did the government give its blessing? Is it state policy to encourage religious tension?

As my friend told me, “Religion is used as a time bomb here, all the time.”

6 Responses to Burma’s Time Bomb

  1. Religious violence is believed instigated by the regime. Violence against ethnic Kachins and Palaungs also is because of regime’s unwillingness to gain peace in the land. Soldiers keep raping ethnic women. So, time bombs are planted by regime in order to hold on to power.

  2. The more create hatred against the Muslims, the more the creator will back fire. Because, the truth cannot hide and impossible to hide.

    Just to prolong the power the dirty tricks using and killing, destroying the Muslims properties is temporary only, but in long run you cannot hide yourself from the wrong doings. Look at the Mandalay matter, where is the rule of law? Only Muslims are arresting how many Buddhists are arrested can authority publish in medias. I do not think so. It is a big shameful just inviting Muslims organizations and the puppet ex-Ambassador U Hla Maung and other Muslims puppets to a meeting at Mandalay cannot solve this problem. There are hidden agenda to work against Muslims through out the country so that middle of 2015 there can be another coup in Burma to prolong the power another4 over 20 years. This kind of cycle will generate from time to time until and unless peoples power throw in to the street or international communities have to give punishment via UN along with western power. Another option is that one best soldiers is in need by this time to act for and on behalf of the peoples to make prevail of democracy within a short period.

    Why authority cannot stop invading Chinese at upper Burma? Especially Mandalay, the second largest city in Burma. The authority only wants to pinch only Muslims, because Muslims has no arms struggle fighting against the government.

    • Oo Maung Gyi
      You are the dangerous person to instigate Bama and Chinese clash in Burma again.
      Rely on Border trade:
      Poor ordinary Burmese people are now survive or depended on Chinese/Thai border trades as Burma is now on partial sanctioned by EU, US and etc due to cruelty and suppressive ruling from your bama military thugs. If there is no economical sanction, ordinary Burmese also no chance to get benefit from all kinds of economy, unfairly manipulated by bama army for their own sake.You and your military generals are rich enough to enjoy at your homes by all means.

      Poor and low status of local Muslim in Burma all along until now:

      Local Muslim are poorer than bama mostly and Pakistan-Muslim dominated country is not super power at present time. Most of the Muslim countries are killed by Israel with their super weapons, supported by US, UK. The clash between Muslim and Israel-supported by US, UK is not our problem/issue because we, ordinary Burmese never try to suck those Muslim’s bloody oils from their lands in history. Muslim is not our ordinary Burmese enemy. In Rangoon, Kalars only workers to collect rubbish (your shits) more or less daily.

      Giant China:

      If there is a clash between Chinese and bama, the loser is not China, the great loser is bama, easily and effectively overrun by Wa and all other ethnics armies, with the support of Chinese army. I can say that within one hour, bama army will surrender to them.
      For Burmese independence, Chinese nationalist army was in the crucial role to fight and won brave Japan Imperial army in Myinkyina battle ( please, learn the Burmese history)which was the road to “Burmese independence”, helped by Chinese, not initially by general aung san who declared to revolve Japan after this successful Myinkyina battle. Chinese army never tried to occupy the whole Burma in history. In history, Chinese Nationalist army, supported by US invaded upper Burma, Shan state was for the only purpose of regaining to Main land China from Communist occupation in U nu’s (Psedo-Buddhist mania) time. If you, with the support of Aung Thaung or USDP to instigate the hate Chinese speech from out of your jealousy, you are the most historical dangerous person for all ordinary Burmese. You with than shwe looks down China, like Ne win’s time. Today China is not yesterday China. Today Burma is still yesterday Burma with very very the world poorest country.

  3. If bama military men (ex-generals or ex-military) take flight to oversea, the airline should inform the other passengers that the plane has a great great risk for Muslim terrorist act on that plane. It is fair enough for all passengers to take that plane or not by knowing this dangerous traveling abroad. I am not sure bama military men have own private plane or jet by themselves for going oversea. Those rich thugs should buy those own planes or jets by their corrupted/robbed money. It should not be from poor ordinary Burmese money.

  4. So far Muslim in DEFENSE Mode
    Muslim in OFFENSIVE Mode
    As per Malcolm X and Farra Khan
    Nation of Islam
    O ye Muslim fight for your Right…..

  5. During 5 decades of brutal repressive rule, the junta has mastered and perfected the art of divide and rule. Only when there is turmoil, they’ll be able to project the notion that the military is indispensible.

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