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Burma’s blindness to Islamophobia

(Photo: Facebook)

July 5, 2014

The Islamophobic violence in Burma that erupted with murderous attacks on the country’s Rohingya Muslims has now spread to Mandalay, where Buddhist thugs this week attacked a mosque and a Muslim-owned tea shop.

Two people were killed in the riot in which local Muslims fought back against a crowd led by radical monks. The cause of this latest outrage was exactly the same sort of rumor that triggered the deadly aggression against the Rohingya almost two years ago - the claim that a Buddhist woman had been raped by a Muslim.

This allegation was published on the Facebook page of the leader of the notorious 969 Buddhist extremist group, the monk Ashin Wirathu. The post identified the “rapist” as being the brother of a tea shop owner and encouraged followers to punish the family. Although there have been some reports of the arrest of a Muslim in connection with the alleged rape, these have not been substantiated. The accusation, however, contains echoes of the “rape” allegation of 2013, which was never proved and indeed, at various times, two different Buddhist women apparently claimed to have been the victim in the supposed attack.

But bigots like Wirathu would never let firm facts stand in the way of their evil agitation. It is clear that the 969 leader is intent on expanding his campaign against the Rohingya to all Burmese Muslims of whom some 200,000 live in Mandalay. 

It is time for the Burmese authorities to act against the thugs of this hate-filled movement and their leader, who has styled himself as “the Buddhist Osama Bin Laden”. Officials reported that 600 police were on hand during this week’s bloody riot in Mandalay. Given that this meant that the police presence was double the size of the Buddhist mob, it must be wondered why the violence was not contained from the beginning. The suspicion has to be that, as with the Rohingya, the police were reluctant to interfere, though no evidence has yet appeared that law officers actually joined in the thuggery, as has happened frequently with savagery against the unfortunate Rohingya. 

It remains deeply disturbing that the government of President Thein Sein remains as impassive in the face of extremist Buddhist violence as his fellow generals of the former governing junta did in 2008, when the coastal area of the country was devastated by a catastrophic cyclone. Moreover, the limited protests against the activities of the 969 movement from Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi are troubling. Supporters say that she has been loathe to condemn the extremists and by extension the government because she does not want to jeopardize a return to full democracy.

But if Burma’s politics really are so fragile - generals still hold the key portfolios of defense, interior and border controls - then why is the international community behaving as if the country’s long-time pariah status is over and as a consequence piling in with substantial investments? This May, Washington effectively admitted that there were still serious problems when it kept in place a limited range of sanctions. 

This, however, is simply not good enough. As long as chauvinistic bullyboys like Ashin Wirathu and his wicked 969 movement are allowed to flourish and pursue their bloody anti-Muslim campaign without penalty, Burma will not have proved that it has really changed for the better and deserves international support.

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