Myanmar’s Religious Violence against the Muslims Is Military-Backed and Buddhist Order-Organzied
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 25 Mar 2013
The violence against Muslims in Burma is not SIMPLY sectarian or communal as is typically and incorrectly framed by the mainstream media. It is mobilized by the skin-head elements within the Buddhist Sangha and tacitly backed by the military state, both working in close collaboration and in a symbiosis.
Min Ko Naing, the prominent former student leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Group called attention to the fact that only the Burmese generals (and the military) stand to gain from the unfolding anti-Muslim violence in Meikhtila, an upcountry town with a sizable military presence 90-miles south of Mandalay.
Cleverly, the sinister elements in the military leadership are using their proxies in the Buddhist Order such as the skin-head monk Ven. Wirathu, a notorious Buddhist monk from Mandalay who was jailed for his involvement in the massacre of Muslim families in Kyaukhse, the hometown of the (retired) Senior General Than Shwe, Burma’s aging despot. Wirathu has been made a Buddhist nationalist cult figure and is often seen rubbing shoulders with ex- and in-service high ranking Burmese generals including the former head of the military intelligence ex-General Khin Nyunt.
No other institution in Burma is more centrally involved in de-stabilizing different religious communities than the military. According to a journal article published in the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs several years ago by Kyaw Yin Hlaing, the Secretary of the Presidential Inquiry Commission on the Violence in Rakhine State, the military intelligence was known to be involved in spreading rumors about a rape incident in upper Burma where a Buddhist woman was raped by a Muslim man. He implied that the military intelligence has a pattern of using religious prejudices in order to create religious riots and thereby divert popular attention from the generals’ policy and leadership failures. (See “Challenging the Authoritatian State: Buddhist Monks and Peaceful Protests in Burma”, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 32:I., Winter 2008).
Historically, since 1962, the year General Ne Win and his deputies took over the government and established a variety of military rule in various disguises, the racist Burmese generals of Ne Win’s ilks have, as a matter of policy, pursued first of the cleansing of the Muslim officers from the Burmese Armed Forces. Today, there is not a single ranking military officer who is Muslim. Later, the Burmese military leadership began purging the Armed Forces of Christian officers as well as ethnic non-Bama officers. Christian officers who are forced to retired or moved to marginal postings are jokingly referred to as those who succumb to “C-Disease”, along side those officers who are purged or forced to take early retirement on grounds of their health, most specifically ‘Hep-B’.
The Burmese military, initially founded by the Japanese fascists, Naval Intelligence, in 1942, has become a neo-Fascist armed organization which draws inspiration from not just Tojo’s WWII-era fascist Japan but also from Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The Burmese military officers who were introduced to visiting Germans post-WWII, or visiting Germany on a state visit are known to have expressed their (genuine) admiration for Adolf Hilter, to the dismay and shock of their German visitors (and hosts).
A retired high ranking military official told me face to face last year that he and his generals just don’t like the Mus (code word for Muslims in Burma), but his/their dilemma is, as he put it, ‘we can’t kill them all’. At the time, he was referring to the Muslims in Western Burma, especially the Rohingya.
This very same institution has reportedly been involved in exploiting ethnic and religious prejudices that ‘naturally’ exist among different communities of ethnic and religious diversity. For divided communities are easy to ‘rule’ over than mutually appreciative and understanding multicultural communities.
Instability, fearful public and seemingly ‘communal’ conflicts are perfect justification for slowing down any process of democratization and re-asserting the military’s role in administration – and society. As one leading dissident in exile, Moe Thee Zun, put it, “One of the major rationales behind these racial/religious conflicts is to keep the Burmese public in fear of chaos so that they would want the strong hand of the military in society”.
Equally important, it is another brilliant strategy on the part of the sinister Burmese generals in Naypyidaw to discredit, both internationally and locally, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has remained silent, unwisely and without principles, when the country goes up in flame, ethnic and religious communities destroyed, wars waged, lives lost and a genocide committed.
Violence among different communities in Burma serves the generals’ and military’s interests, and gives them the justificatory pretext to keep their grip on power and society as long as they possibly can.
Dr. Maung Zarni is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, founder and director of the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004), and a visiting fellow (2011-13) at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, Department of International Development, London School of Economics. His forthcoming book on Burma will be published by Yale University Press. He was educated in the US where he lived and worked for 17 years. Visit his website www.maungzarni.com.
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