Friday, July 12, 2013

Bamiyan - Burma - Bodhgaya - Bombay

In the post titled {From Assam to Azad Maidan}, I had discussed the reasons behind the massive protests in Mumbai against alleged atrocities on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. 

We know it was an unethical attempt to gain political mileage out of a dangerous situation which is a result of illegal immigration into Assam from Bangladesh. 

What we do not understand however, is the situation of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which were also given as a justification for Mumbai protests. I had shared in the above mentioned post how many doctored images were shared online to inflame passions and rouse Muslims to come out on the streets and protest and this time I shall try to identify the root of this problem. 

With the opening of media in Myanmar and removal of Army from the streets, more religious factions have started to exert their opinion. Whether they are instigated by the militia or not remains to be seen but what is increasingly evident is the growing intolerance for Muslim minorities amongst certain Buddhist factions. I have visited the country many time but never seen aggression in the Buddhists so this comes as a surprise to me as well.

It appears that small provocations and arguments have been allowed to develop into full scale acts of arson and butchery with a devastating effect on the Human rights conditions. Perhaps the biggest incident till date was in March, when a Buddhist monk was attacked in the town of Meiktila, and later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. 

What followed was a brutal hacking of 20 boys dragged from a madrassa just outside the town center. This is not an isolated incident; there have been reports of mass killings and burnings of the minority population combined with a growing xenophobia amongst the Buddhist majority targeted against the Muslim community. But what has triggered this sudden persecution?

It is important for us to understand the causes of these events unfolding in our neighboring country since they may have far-reaching effects in our own. We have already seen the protests in Mumbai turn out-of control with vandals damaging National property.

The same illegal immigrants that cross over to Indian territory of Assam are involved in the Myanmar scenario as well. The Rohingyas are referred to as ‘Bengals’ by the Burmese which clearly refers to their land of origin. Burmese have never really acknowledged these migrants as their own inspite of they being in the country since colonial times.

At the helm of affairs is a seemingly calm 45 year old monk, Ashin Wirathu, who is based in a monastery at Mandalay. He is extremely vocal of his hatred for the community and accuses Muslim men of enticing Buddhist women into marriages and then imprisoning and turning them into sex slaves.

Ashin Wirathu - Two faces of the same coin

In an interview with BBC he shared his reasons in some candid yet frightening terms – ‘They, the Muslims are good at business. They control transport, construction and are taking over our political parties. If this goes on, we will end up like Afghanistan or Indonesia.’ The reason for this sentiment perhaps is the history of Islam and its spread throughout the Asian continent. 

While Muslim preachers repeatedly stress that Islam is NOT the religion of force, History begs to differ. Medieval chronicles are full of accounts of persecution of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs by invading foreigners who, irrespective of their nationalities, rode high on their own interpretation of what Islamic Jihad meant. 

Right from Mahmud Ghazni who attacked India multiple times to Nadir Shah who in his maiden attack massacred 10,000 Delhi residents, to the Mughals like Jahangir and Aurangzeb, intolerance and butchery have been hallmarks of the spread of Islam in the sub-continent.

It can be argued that any invading army would have done the same to its conquered territories; but what can not be easily justified is the zeal to wipe out the culture and traditions of the lands that were attacked. The breaking of temples and construction of mosques on their foundation has been well documented throughout the sub-continent and is not limited to India alone.

Western Historians such as Will Durant contend that Islam spread through violenceSir Jadunath Sarkar contends that several Muslim invaders were waging a systematic jihad against Hindus in India to the effect that "Every device short of massacre in cold blood was resorted to in order to convert heathen subjects." 

In particular the records kept by al-Utbi, Mahmud al-Ghazni's secretary, in the Tarikh-i-Yamini document several episodes of bloody military campaigns.

Tīmūr bin Taraghay Barlas, known in the West as Tamerlane or "Timur the lame" himself recorded the invasions in his memoirs, collectively known as Tuzk-i-Timuri. It gives details of how villages, towns and entire cities were rid of their Hindu male population through systematic mass slaughters and genocide and their women and children forcefully converted en masse to Islam from Hinduism. In his own words, "Excepting the quarter of the saiyids, the 'ulama and the other Musalmans [sic], the whole city was sacked".

In recent times too, we have seen fanaticis in the form of Taliban who did not hesitate to destroy their world famous National treasure of Bamiyan Buddhas in the name of destroying idolatory. The image that comes across to a non-Muslim is that of an insensitive, intolerant religion spread by the sword that wipes out the history and culture of any nation that it spreads to.

Bamiyan Buddha before destruction
 Bamiyan Buddhas today..

With this background, let us see the situation that is developing in Myanmar. Ashin Wirathu urges Buddhists all over the country to boycott Muslim businesses and gives an allegory to explain his concern – ‘When you let a seed grow in a pagoda, it seems so small at first. But you know you must cut it before it grows and turns into a tree and destroys the building.’(!!) ‘You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog!’

But who is to decide on the definition of insanity?? That is the question that needs to be answered by ALL religious heads today. 

Granted that the history of the spread of Islam is littered with bloodshed and subjugation, is it correct to be the perpetrators of these same crimes in the name of revenge? This especially seems ironic from a religion that has Ahimsa or non-violence as one of its founding principles. 

Buddha preached love and compassion and the involvement of Buddhist religious order in propagating violence and intolerance jars the sensibilities. The studied silence of Aung San Suu Kyi regarding these killings is also worrisome as she is considered the choice prime ministerial candidate in a democratic Myanmar.

Whatever the provocation, an issue can never be resolved through mindless violence and diplomatic negotiations are any day more productive than the use of force. Such an action would only serve to give a justified reason for the growth of terrorism in coming generations!

Also, it may give rise to a backlash against Buddhists in other parts of the world, especially India and the recent attack on the Mahabodhi Temple in Gaya, Bihar could be a case in point! And let's not forget the terror threat for Mumbai issued by the Twitter account of Indian Mujahideen based in Pakistan which lasts till Saturday!

The Indian Mujahidin Twitter Account that was suspended

We hope the emerging democracy of Myanmar does not run into the brick wall of intolerance like Pakistan and Afghanistan and gives ALL its citizens equal rights. We have to rise above the follies of the past generations in order to have a better future for the generations ahead.

As Mahatma Gandhi has famously said – An eye for an eye, only makes the world blind!
Jai Hind!