Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 29th 2013 Contents A40
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Though tension and mistrust have
long existed amidst the myriad of
ethnic and religious groups that com-
prise Myanmar s society, they erupt-
ed with uncommon severity during
the violence of last year.
In May 2012, following allegations
that a Muslim had raped and murdered
a Buddhist woman, a series of pro-
tracted riots rocked the western state
of Rakhine, home to a large commu-
nity of Muslim Rohingyas.
The riots, which persisted through
the summer of 2012 and reignited once
more in October, killed hundreds, dis-
placed thousands, and even prompted
an intervention by Myanmar s mili-
The Rohingyas were easy targets for
the Buddhist majority to rally against.
Far from central Myanmar and eth-
nically distinct, many people in Myan-
mar consider them to be outsiders,
occupying Myanmar s territory with-
out a legitimate claim to do so. They
have been discriminated and legislated
against, and are officially considered
to be non-citizens under law.
However, the violent outburst of
this past March hints at a more wide-
spread hatred within the country. The
violence occurred in Meiktila, a city
in central Myanmar, against non-
Rohingya Muslims, whose citizenship
status cannot be questioned.
It began with an argument in a
Muslim-owned shop in Meiktila,
which escalated into a fight, and later
saw a group of Muslim boys forcibly
dragged into the street and brutally
murdered by a cheering mob.
After that, anti-Muslim violence
spread outward, leaving a wake of ran-
sacked homes and burnt mosques in
several outlying towns, including Oh
The Kone, a mere 50km from Ran-
goon, Myanmar s former capital and
The aftermath of these attacks was
bleak: rows of houses set to the torch,
and thousands of Muslims displaced,
being forced to live in guarded camps
as refugees in their own country.
The government response has been
somewhat inadequate, continuing
what appears to be a growing pattern.
Throughout the rioting in 2012,
responses from Myanmar s leaders
either lacked sincerity, or were mis-
guided, serving only to fan the flames
and drive violence.
In keeping with this trend, govern-
ment reactions to the killings and dis-
placements of the past few months
have been rather mild.
Some reports have claimed that
police stood by while violent crimes
were committed, lacking either in
motivation, direction, or wherewithal
enough to stop them.
President Thein Sein and the wide-
ly-beloved Aung San Suu Kyi issued
a joint statement urging a respect for
law and order, but aside from lip serv-
ice to tolerance and peaceful coexis-
tence, they have not outlined a plan
to protect the rights of religious
minorities, nor have they fully
acknowledged how deep the animosity
For Thein Sein and his military-
aligned government, antagonizing
Muslims is a political boon. Either by
refusing to crackdown on these out-
bursts, or by periodically pledging
actions as extreme as deporting all
Rohingyas from Myanmar, he gains
traction with the Buddhist majority.
If allowed to compete openly and
fairly, Suu Kyi s National League for
Democracy will almost definitely
defeat Thein Sein. He is therefore
seeking a wedge issue to even the
It is therefore in his political interest
to court, or at the very least avoid
alienating, the powerful Buddhist
monks who form the heart of anti-
Though they may have a reputation
for being passive and detached, the
Buddhist religious leaders in Myanmar
are far from cloistered.
They form an important part of
domestic civil society, and are deeply
engaged in politics and the political
climate. Many of the most outspoken
and respected Buddhist leaders are
wary of Islamic culture.
They fear what they perceive to be
the spreading of Muslim values and
norms which contradict their own,
and which they believe might lead to
changes in society, such as the role
and treatment of Buddhist women.
Capitalising on these fears may be
the best hope Thein Sein has in delay-
ing the NLD s rise to power.
A Muslim man
waves as he is
to a police van
trial at a
Continues on Page A41
response has been
continuing what appears
to be a growing pattern.
Throughout the rioting
in 2012, responses from
either lacked sincerity, or
were misguided, serving
only to fan the flames
and drive violence.
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