How do Buddhist attacks on Muslims help Burma’s government?

Cognitive dissonance aside, Buddhists — including monks — take up arms against Muslims in Burma while the government stands by.

Global Post reports on another outbreak of sectarian violence in Burma this week that left “thousands homeless and more than 50 people confirmed dead. Video footage and photos taken at the scene by the local media and wire agencies showed that three days of rioting has transformed the town of Meiktila south of Mandalay in central Myanmar into a war zone scattered with burnt houses, mosques and unrecognizable human dead bodies.”

What was the immediate catalyst for the violence? Radio Free Asia:

Some believe intense business rivalry between Muslims and Buddhists in the city had contributed to the violence.

More specifically…

…a quarrel between the Muslim owner of a goldsmith shop and a Buddhist villager and his wife who had gone there to sell a gold hair pin, a police source said.

An argument broke out when the item was purportedly damaged as it was being authenticated by the goldsmith.

Tension grew as the two sides began to haggle over the price to be offered for the item and people in the shop beat the customers, causing an uproar in the bazaar, the source said. When the villager was wounded, his sympathizers burned the goldsmith shop and ignited a mass riot, according to the source.… “This problem erupted because business issues were mixed with religion,” said Pinnyasiha, a prominent Burmese Buddhist monk popularly known as Shwe Nya Wa Sayadaw. … Adding fuel to fire was a report that a Buddhist monk had been killed by Muslims. The emotions of Muslims in Burma are still rubbed raw over “the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, who rights groups say bore the brunt of the Rakhine violence in June and October last year which had left at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless.”

In the aftermath of this latest incident, the government called for a state of emergency. But security forces did little or nothing to stop the attacks. The Global Post again.

… some Buddhist monks publicly called for a boycott of Muslim businesses — against which [the call, that is — RW] the authorities took no actions at all.

Worse…

Myint Than, an eyewitness who saw the charred human bodies in the town yesterday, said that police have merely stood by while the arson attacks and the killings occurred over the past few days.

“The police said they had no order to shoot.…,” he added.

Min Ko Naing, a leader of influential 88 Generation Students Group, who visited the conflict area on Thursday, also blamed the security forces’ idleness for the deadly violence. “It is totally unacceptable that the security forces did not take any actions just because they were not ordered to.”

Furthermore…

Some observers suspect that the former generals ruling the government and the army which remains as powerful [even though Burma is no longer officially ruled by a junta — RW] as ever are trying to divert the public attention with sectarian violence and hatred [from] the growing public protests stemming from old grievances against the abuses by the army such as land grabs.

In fact

Myat Ko, an official from Yangon School of Political Science, accused the high-ranking military generals of having a hand in the latest clashes.

“We don’t have the evidence to prove it. But this is happening in our country,” he said. According to Dr.Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at London School of Economics, the army is creating chaos which will continue to strengthen its centrality in politics.

Finally, this is fairly damning.

Writing on his Facebook page today, Zarni said, “There is a consistent and recognizable pattern of violence: the plan is hatched elsewhere. Out-of-town armed mobs are bused in to a targeted locality. All hell broke loose. The police and military stand by until the job is done. Local authorities would say they are waiting for orders from above, which never come.”

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

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