In the past month, at least 43 people have been murdered in ongoing clashes between Buddhists and the minority Muslims in Burma. As the United Nations considers whether they should lift sanctions against Burma, religious violence rages. There is video of Buddhist mobs lighting Muslim businesses and homes on fire, we can see people on fire running through the streets. Worse, Burmese police can be seen just looking on, doing nothing to stop the violence in the Burmese town of Meiktila because they belong to the majority Buddhist religion.
The video is hard to watch, it shows a man on fire, rolling on the ground and you can hear someone in the crowd say “no water for him, let him die”. Later, it shows a man trying to escape, but he is surrounded by a group of men, including a Buddhist monk. He is struck down with a sword, apparently dead. A new Buddhist group, called “969” and led by a monk, U Wirathu, who has been dubbed the “Buddhist bin Laden,” have been largely responsible for the violence.
“People are violent; it just so happens that some of those people are Buddhists,” said Michael Jerryson, a professor of religious studies at Florida’s Eckerd College, “Particularly in the West, Buddhists are usually seen as peaceful, and they’re romanticized and idealized that way. But violence is found in all religious traditions, and Buddhism is no exception.”
Violence in the area has been spreading. Following the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman last year in Rakhine state, violence against the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority began and resulted in approximately 200 deaths. Human Rights Watch, based on New York City, has presented evidence that the government is complicit in ethnic cleansing and atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims.
The Dalai Lama has come out against such attacks, calling them very sad. Yes, they are very sad, all violence is sad, but when it comes wearing the mantle of religion, it’s worse. At least if you’re fighting over something real, you have a chance to sit down and work out your differences. When you’re fighting over delusion, there’s no common ground upon which such talks can take place. It’s like arguing which is better, unicorns or pegasi. It just devolves into mindless bickering and thereafter, bloodshed.
Religion harmless? Indeed.