Should Bangladesh seek Myanmar's 'Rakhine Buddhists' support for Rohingya crisis solution now?

When Myanmar's Rakhine, Bangladesh edging closer day by day, trying to resolve Rohingya crisis through a


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Should Bangladesh seek Myanmar's 'Rakhine Buddhists' support for Rohingya crisis solution now?


When Myanmar's Rakhine, Bangladesh edging closer day by day, trying to resolve Rohingya crisis through a 'Rohingya return pilot project', there is an another news of hope for the people of Myanmar  and Bangladesh specially Rohingyas.  

The Bangladesh Consulate in Sitwest, Rakhine, Myanmar organized an exchange and prayer meeting with senior Buddhist monks and Buddhist religious leaders of various pagodas on Thursday (May 4). At that time, the students of Sittwe University's Rakhine and Muslim Students' Union along with members of the consulate and their families were present at the event. Along with discussions on Buddhist theology and Buddha's words, prayers were offered for the country's people and communal harmony and peace in the region.

Mission chief Zakir Ahmed gave chivara to senior Buddhist monks. All present were entertained with lunch. According to the Bangladesh Consulate, the Bangladesh Consulate is in close contact with important religious leaders in order to maintain peace and communal harmony in Rakhine. In continuation of this, this discussion and prayer meeting was organized with very influential Buddhist monks and Buddhist religious leaders.

However, discriminatory policies of Myanmar’s government since the late 1970s have compelled hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya to flee their homes in the predominantly Buddhist country. Most have crossed by land into Bangladesh, while others have taken to the sea to reach Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Beginning in 2017, renewed violence, including reported rape, murder, and arson, triggered an exodus of Rohingya, as Myanmar’s security forces claimed they were carrying out a campaign to reinstate stability in the country’s western region. We saw the mass Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh from Myanmar's Rakhine in 2017. The prolonged refugee crisis was started then.  The reason for Rohingya’s exclusion is the so-called political Buddhism in Myanmar. Political Buddhism is when excluding Buddhism, the Burmese ethnicity and aggressive nationalism are used to exclude and persecute minority groups perceived as non-Burman. political Buddhism was an important element to Rohingya’s exclusion in Myanmar. But Rohingya’s persecution can somewhat be explained by the influence of political Buddhism, however that was not the complete story.

For many, popular images of Buddhism have often included those of monks in saffron-colored robes, meditating peacefully on windswept mountains, revering all forms of life while seeking higher states of enlightenment.

Often spurred on by Buddhist monks, local mobs and government forces have reportedly burned hundreds of Rohingya villages to the ground in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, slaughtering many of their Muslim inhabitants as hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. 

Many of the country’s Buddhists are afraid their own faith is in jeopardy, viewing the Rohingya Muslims as a threat. The military, as well as many monks, have used this fear to stoke a “Buddhist nationalism” that combines religious and civic identities.

In the context of such clichés, it has been jarring, many say, to see very different images coming out of Myanmar. Many monks, barefoot and clothed in the traditional robes of Burmese Buddhist monasteries, have been at the forefront of the violent repression of the Rohingya Muslim minority, which the United Nations has characterized as ethnic cleansing.

However, it is a very good initiative taken by Bangladesh and Myanmar in a sense that it is a trust building measurements between Bangladesh and Myanmar utilizing public diplomacy.  The religious element will be crucial in resolving the conflict in Myanmar. We don't have to get into the political issues but focus on bringing back peace. The influential Buddhist community in Myanmar can take the initiative to settle political issues and restore democracy, solve Rohingya refugee crisis. They can help dispel hatred of Burmese people towards Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar through social media activities, religious ceremony, public ceremony etc. When the Rohingyas could enter Rakhine state under the recently taken Rohingya return pilot project, a glimpse of hope that the precarious situation for Rohingya could be resolved emerged. Obviously, a tremendous amount of work remains integrating Rohingya into the Burmese society. Clearly, the infected conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar will not end if the divisive climate of political Buddhism persists. The Buddhist community must play role in this regard.

It is true that even Myanmar Junta has deep and stable respect for the Buddhist monks in Myanmar. Using this opportunity, Buddhist monks must play role in promoting communal peace in Myanmar for ensuring greater interreligious peace and harmony.  Rakhine’s Buddhist society can play an effective role in this regard. The relations of Buddhists between Myanmar and Bangladesh are well established. Burmese Buddhist can do it very easily. Buddhism is more related to establishment of Peace and non-violence. Buddhists can play a significant role in this regard. They can exercise the path shown by the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha. Buddhist will be recognized as the Avatar of human rights if the Buddhist community plays a role in solving the Rohingya crisis. It will ensure the regional, to some extent world, peace and communal harmony.

The jarring images coming out of Myanmar, too, seem ironic, since Buddhist monks have been one of the primary forces of democratic change. In 2007, many helped lead what is now known as the “Saffron Revolution,” a movement of mostly nonviolent protests against Myanmar’s long-standing military dictatorship.

Nearly a decade later, their efforts helped Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident who spent years under house arrest and who won the Nobel Prize in 1991, to become the country’s first democratically-elected leader in 2016.

The Rohingya crisis is a complex issue involving a range of political, economic, and social factors. While Buddhism is the dominant religion in Myanmar, it is important to note that the Rohingya crisis is not a religious conflict, but rather a humanitarian crisis.

But it is true that Buddhists form a majority in Myanmar and that they are supposed to practice self-restraint against killing any lives if they truly follow the philosophy of Buddhism.

However, Buddhism can play a significant role in finding a solution to the crisis by promoting peace, compassion, and understanding. One of the core teachings of Buddhism is the concept of non-harm and compassion towards all sentient beings, including those who may be perceived as enemies or different.

Buddhist leaders and organizations can use their influence to promote dialogue and reconciliation between different communities, and to advocate for the rights of the Rohingya people. Buddhist teachings can also be used to promote mindfulness and awareness of the suffering of others, which can help to foster a more empathetic and compassionate response to the crisis.

In addition, Buddhist organizations can provide support to Rohingya refugees, including food, shelter and healthcare. They can also work to promote education and economic opportunities for refugees and displaced persons, which can help to build resilience and self-sufficiency.

Overall, while Buddhism alone cannot solve the Rohingya crisis, it can play a positive role in promoting peace, compassion, and understanding and in providing support and aid to those who have been affected by the crisis. If the Rohingyas is repatriated finally in Rakhine under the pilot project, the Buddhist monks must play their responsible due role.

 

Written by Dr. Arpita Hazarika

Bio: Dr. Arpita Hazarika is a Gauhati University, Assam, India-based researcher. She is very interested in refugee affairs, political economy, security and strategic affairs, and foreign policies of the Asia-Pacific region. She visited a number of countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, UK, USA, France, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Singapore and Canada. She has research works on India-Bangladesh affairs. 


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