Persecution by the Tolerant

03/01/2017
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    A Buddhist monk wears a "No Rohingya" sticker in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP)
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    Rohingya huddle together after crossing from Myanmar into Bangladesh. (AP)
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    People crowd an alley at an unregistered refugee camp in Bangladesh. (AP)
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    Border Guard soldiers patrol a site where people cross over to Bangladesh. (AP)
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    Buddhist nuns at an event to promote Myanmar’s traditional race and religion (AP)
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Myanmar is an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation. Buddhists claim to be deeply peace-loving. So why does the nation harbor one of the world’s most intense persecutions against a minority population?

The Rohingya people are a stateless ethnic minority. They have lived for the last few decades in Myanmar near the border with Bangladesh. The Rohingya are Muslims, and make up about five percent of the population of Myanmar. But they are not allowed citizenship. No nation claims the Rohingya people. That severely limits options for this group when they find themselves in danger—which is the case in Myanmar.

From October through December, Myanmar soldiers descended on the Rohingya community. The government says the military action is in response to an attack on a guard post. Nine police officers died in the attack, but the identities and motives of the attackers were unclear.

The government implied the violence was carried out by individuals who sympathized with the Rohingya. But villagers from the little town of Caira Fara say the response has been excessive.

A young mother claims the soldiers set fire to the concrete-and-thatch homes, leaving families without shelter. She says that neighbors who tried to escape were shot. She lost her own husband in the violence and fled to the border with her young son in her arms. For $38, she bought her way into the neighboring country. She now stays in a rough shelter in a refugee camp. The mother and son join about 21,000 others who have fled there in the last few months. Her voice chokes as she tells her story.

But the government of Myanmar says this woman and others like her are exaggerating. The nation’s current leader took her place as State Counsellor (equivalent to prime minister) in March. She promised democracy and peace for a country that’s known war and oppression under military rule for decades. Nobel Peace prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi has said little about the current violence, except that she is aware of it. She appointed a commission to study the situation, and she urges the rest of the world to be patient. Suu Kyi says Myanmar has many problems, and this persecution of Muslim villagers is just one of them.

But Suu Kyi did wonder in an interview with CNN why such violence continues in her nation. She called Buddhism “the most tolerant philosophy imaginable,” while acknowledging that the deadly attempt to drive out the Rohingya is anything but tolerant.

 

They say, “Peace, peace”—when there is no peace. — Jeremiah 6:14