By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, wrote, “When fear becomes collective, when anger becomes collective, it’s extremely dangerous. It is overwhelming… The mass media and the military-industrial complex create a prison for us, so we continue to think, see, and act in the same way… We need the courage to express ourselves even when the majority is going in the opposite direction… because a change of direction can happen only when there is a collective awakening… Therefore, it is very important to say, ‘I am here!’ to those who share the same kind of insight.”These are powerful words. I wish Hanh’s own co-religionists inside Myanmar had heeded to his advice when it comes to collective hatred that the Buddhists, esp. the Rakhines, continue to espouse against the Rohingyas whose ties to the soil of Arakan, where they mostly live, is older than any other race or ethnicity. These unfortunate people have been victims of the worst kinds of genocide we saw unfolding in this century, not just by a hostile military government but also by ordinary Buddhists and monks who wanted to cleanse the Buddhist majority country of any Muslim living there. The national media inside Myanmar, the Buddhist politicians that lived inside the country and even those who lived a life of exile, plus morally corrupt and bankrupt intelligentsia simply danced with the drum-beats of ethnic cleansing against this most persecuted Rohingyas.
What a shame! There was hardly any voice of protest from the soul of Buddhism, outside those of Dalai Lama and a social activist like Dr. Maung Zarni. Shockingly, many Buddhist leaders cheered for and promoted the genocidal program against the minorities. Even the fascist Buddhist organization, Ma Ba Tha – led by the terrorist monk Wirathu who provoked his countrymen for carrying out ethnic cleansing drives against the Muslim minorities – received an award in February in Thailand for being an “outstanding Buddhist peace” organization. The award ceremony was attended by Wirathu and presided over by an elder from the Supreme Sangha. It was organized by a group called World Buddhist Leaders Organization, chaired by Dr Pornchai Pinyapong who is also president of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth (WFBY). Last year, it reportedly donated over a million baht for the Ma Ba Tha to build two radio stations with the aim of spreading its message of intolerance to a wider audience. Wirathu was reportedly present to thank the Thai delegation personally for the donation.
One can only wonder where the religion preached by Siddhartha Gautam Buddha is heading to! It seems to be hijacked by fascist Buddhist monks of the sangha — not just inside Myanmar, but also in places like Sri Lanka and Thailand — that reward and endorse violence and hatred over peace and harmony!
So pervasive had been the influence of Ma Ba Tha and the terrorist Buddhist monks that Suu Kyi and her NLD in the last year’s general election did not field a single Muslim candidate anywhere – neither in the Rohingya majority region of northern Arakan (Rakhine) nor in Yangon (Rangoon) where a sizable Muslim population lives. We are told that the NLD did not want to spoil its chance of winning the election by giving further ammo to the racist and bigoted elements within the population. More inexcusable, however, was the pin-drop silence practiced by Suu Kyi and the so-called democracy leaders in Myanmar when the Rohingya and other minority Muslims were victims of genocide. They chose to keep mum when it was a deadly crime.
Far from Hanh’s call, there was no collective awakening amongst the Buddhists inside Myanmar. They chose to ignore the obvious crime committed in their name and let themselves be imprisoned by self-imposed shackles of intolerance and indifference. Even the Pulitzer-winning journalists like Nicholas Kristof, writing from the killing fields, failed to raise the Buddhist conscience to say enough is enough and condemn those crimes against humanity. There was none to heed!
I have continued to call this genocidal plan against the persecuted Rohingya a national project of elimination that was endorsed, scripted and put to practice from the top and carried out by Buddhist lynch men while the majority chose to either support or condone it nonchalantly. And again, to the utter shame of Hanh’s ‘engaged’ teaching, there were many such willing Buddhist neo-Nazi fascists to carry out the heinous national project of Myanmarism!
In Buddhist Myanmar, as her religio-fascist toxic ideology of Myanmarism continued to win humanity continued to lose. Her powerful leader Suu Kyi now inherits an apartheid state that has scores of concentration camps. The aid groups continue to be barred from many areas, and the systematic destruction of the Rohingya remains one of the 21st century’s most neglected human rights catastrophes. That staining specter is simply unforgivable in our time. To put succinctly, it is a crime against humanity. And Suu Kyi can make a difference, if she chooses to erase that bloody stain.
I hope that Suu Kyi and her NLD party will take the country into a different direction than those of the predecessors thereby creating a culture that is inclusive, integrating and awakening that says boldly that ‘We are here to change for the better for all our people – Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.’ Myanmar needs a rude awakening to change its course.
Is Suu Kyi ready for awakening her countrymen?
(Dr. Habib Siddiqui has a long history as a peaceful activist in an effort towards improving human rights and creating a just and equitable world. He has written extensively in the arena of humanity, global politics, social conscience and human rights since 1980, many of which have appeared in newspapers, magazines, journals and the Internet. He has tirelessly championed the cause of the disadvantaged, the poor and the forgotten here in Americas and abroad. Commenting on his articles, others have said, “His meticulously researched essays and articles combined with real human dimensions on the plight of the displaced peoples of Rohingya in Myanmar, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo and Palestine, and American Muslims in the post-9/11 era have made him a singular important intellectual offering a sane voice with counterpoints to the shrill threats of the oppressors and the powerful. He offers a fresh and insightful perspective on a whole generation of a misunderstood and displaced people with little or no voice of their own.” He has authored 11 books, five of which are now available through Amazon.com. His latest book – Devotional Stories is published by A.S. Noordeen, Malaysia.)
By Dr. Habib Siddiqui