Thursday, March 7, 2019

Buddhists oppress Muslims in Asia

Thousands of unregistered Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma are forced to reside next to the registered refugee camp at Kutupalong, Bangladesh (Jonathan Saruk/Getty images).

Buddhist-Muslim relations
Many predominantly Buddhist countries in lower Asia are also home to substantial populations of Muslims.

Likewise, a number of Muslim countries are home to Buddhist minorities. Majority-minority relations can be contentious, but add ethno-religious lines to the mix and things can easily degenerate from prejudicial policy-making to unbridled violence.

(Take Rakhine State in Burma, for example, where Buddhist violence against the Rohingya Muslims, which Tricycle covers in its most recent issue).

Despite what unbalanced histories and historical mythologies might indicate, relations between the two religions were NOT always so troubled.

Buddhism and Islam encountered one another on the Silk Road and enjoyed a relationship that for the most part was peaceful and involved a cultural exchange that played a part in transforming both religions into their current manifestations.

Such a history flies in the face of that of the common imagination, where a violent confrontation in which Muslims essentially terrorize the eminently serene, peace-loving Buddhists dominates.

[Islam displaced Buddhism in India as a force from without, while Hinduism ejected it from within, sending Buddhism into the world.]
Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhists off the tip of India (Mirror Times)

In recent decades, we’ve witnessed a very real reversal in which Buddhist-ruled governments engage in ethnic cleansing and attempt to relegate Islamic countrymen to permanent refugee status in their own country, as has been the case in Burma and Sri Lanka. 

The Khaleej Times reported the largest anti-Muslim rally to date in Sri Lanka [in 2013].

Led by the Buddhist organization Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, “Buddhist Power Force”), members and supporters marched to petition for a ban on halal [Islamic "kosher"] food certification and the building of mosques [Muslim houses of worship] with funds from Middle-Eastern countries. 

The Khaleej Times quotes the BBS Secretary Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero [a wayward and misguided patriotic Buddhist monk] on the militant ambitions of the Buddhist group:

“Hundreds of [Buddhist] monks are ready to fight….Our country is a Sinhalese [Sinhalese-speaking Buddhist] one and we are its unofficial police.”

Buddhist clergy-led social action has proven itself a powerful catalyst for social change in lower Asia. These days, favored reform unfortunately seems to run along the lines of racism and militant nationalism.
Buddha and Barbie ban
In more benign, and certainly more baffling news, Buddha statues have joined the likes of Barbie dolls and Simpsons figures under a countrywide ban in Iran.

[Fundamentalist] Iranian authorities have been seizing Buddha statues from shops in the capital of Tehran in order to stymie the ongoing “cultural invasion.”

While these sanctions generally focus on Western products, this might be “the first time that Iranian authorities are showing opposition to symbols from the East,” ABC News speculates.

Tibetan Catholicism
Tibetan Catholics pray at a church in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Most Christian missionaries in Tibet belong to nondenominational groups intent on mass conversion (Wang Changshan/Xinhua Press/Corbis).

In Tibet, a land where Buddhists and Muslims have coexisted peacefully since the 12th century (Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhists frequent the Muslim restaurants for their halal meat, generally regarded as the most flavorful), a new religious player has entered the scene:

Christianity and its [Catholic] missionaries. The Guardian reports an influx of evangelists pouring into Tibet [with Han Chinese government approval and support], where they are selectively tolerated by the traditionally anti-proselytizing Chinese establishment.

The Han Chinese government likely welcomes these new missionaries because they offer “a powerful counterforce to Tibetan Buddhism, with its electrifying political overtones.”

However, since Buddhism is so central to the cultural identity of Tibetans, they are notoriously tough sells in the spiritual marketplace. Source

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