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Interfaith Groups: Stop Religious Violence in Myanmar

Interfaith groups in Myanmar are actively working for peace, understanding and harmony amid rising cases of violence against the minority Muslims in the country.

A recent case of anti-Muslim violence instigated by Buddhist mobs broke out in Oakkan, a northern district of Myanmar's former capital city Yangon, on April 30. Around 77 houses were burned down, nine people injured and one killed. It was the latest attack in a series of violence which targeted Muslim houses and shops in the cities of Nattalin, Bago and central Myanmar. The riot that happened at the central town of Meikhtila on March 20 was the second major conflict after the sectarian violence in the Rakhine state which displaced 100,000 people last year.

Myanmar youth campaigner throw Peace for Myanmar scarfs to people. Photo by Thet Htoo, Copyright @Demotix (4/15/2013)

Myanmar youth campaigners throw ‘Peace for Myanmar’ scarfs to a crowd. Photo by Thet Htoo, Copyright @Demotix (4/15/2013)

These riots and conflicts which challenge the efficiency of the civil government are occurring at a time when the country is undergoing a political transition to democracy.

Ko Thant Zin, a Muslim who participated in ‘Pray for Myanmar campaign’ organized by various religious leaders, said [my] in an interview:

Our primary objective is to obtain peace for Myanmar. We don't want the troubles and the conflicts. We want to stop the clashes that hinder our path to democracy, as soon as possible. As a follower of Islam, I am sad for all this. But as a Myanmar, we cannot accept this situation. Most of the people in my country want to live peacefully and don't want conflicts. That's why our movement will be successful nationwide. Whether in Buddhism, Islam or any religion, there are people who insult or vilify other religions. If we are to feel bad about this, there would be no end to this. These are the acts of destruction. They are not the truth. Those who made videos that insult Buddha or Jesus, regard these acts like a game. We are hurt by this. In our religion, we have no right to vilify others. Even though we feel sad deep inside, we just have to suppress it because all we want is peace.

Similar interfaith alliance prayers [my], discussion panel [my] and blood donation drive [my] were also done in cities like Pathein and Myeik.

On the other hand, religious extremists and racists continue to create division in different communities. Social media hate comments and propaganda also played a role in inciting violence on the eve of the conflicts. This is unfortunate since Myanmar has recently implemented some reforms to promote freedom of speech.

Mon Mon Myat wrote an investigative report in the Bangkok Post, speculating who are the people behind the religious and racial hate messages. (Myanmar version also available here [my]). His research focused on the content and style of the messages that the writers used. It is suggested that the propaganda might be state-sponsored. He also wrote:

In Meiktila, the spark that ignited the violence is widely believed to have been a dispute between the Muslim owner of a gold shop and two would-be customers, both Buddhists.

But what could, and probably should, have been nothing more than a minor spat rapidly escalated into mass murder and rioting. And all thanks to a group of anonymous online rabble-rousers, relentlessly banging the drum for intolerance and hatred via their blogs and websites.

He stressed the fact that government needs to handle the violence decisively:

Whether or not these atrocities were committed by military or paramilitary groups, the fact remains that the government did nothing to bring those responsible for the killings to justice.

Meanwhile, Mandalay citizens have formed a “Conflict Prevention” [my] committee in response to these hate messages. On May 3, an anonymous group were trying to provoke a riot in the city of Mandalay. Fortunately, security was able to control the situation and three people were arrested.

On Facebook, Ye Htut shared his thoughts [my] on the recent protests by radical Islamic groups in Indonesia, which warned to call for Jihad against Myanmar:

The claims that the foreign religious extremists want to wage Jihad against Myanmar may damage the image of the Muslim people who want to live peacefully in Myanmar. As these claims can create misunderstandings on Islam, they can also affect our movement for the peace and religious harmony and the trust-building between the different communities that we are trying to develop.

He urged domestic media to be more careful in reporting this matter:

For the media, they should be careful not to increase the fear and doubt among the Buddhists when reporting about such claims. It should be noted that respective governments do not accept such claims. It would be appropriate if the media can ask and present the opinions of the leaders of Islamic organizations in Myanmar regarding such terroristic ideologies.

Blogger Nay Phone Latt also shared [my] his opinion:

Actually, through government policies we can change the situation that is making us worried. We can resolve by using firm and effective laws that truly rule. I think government should impose laws and policies that forbid religious insults in society and protect the minority religion from being dominated by others. Even if we don't want to revolve the issue by using laws, at the society level we can start by casting aside our hatred and shaking hands with one another. By creating peaceful coexistence as our focus, we can find solutions. Otherwise, if we resort to using violence, the circle of killings will not stop and it will turn our country into a hideous battleground. To prevent this, both the government and the people are responsible.

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