Aung San Suu Kyi, the once inspirational leader of Myanmar, has been stripped of her 2013 Nobel Peace Prize and various other honorary titles after the international community’s increased attention on the so-called Rohingya crisis.
Muslim minorities in Myanmar have faced systematic torture, murder and expulsion at the hands of Buddhist extremists led by the infamous and militant Ashin Wirathu.
The UN has described the Rohingya’s treatment as a “textbook example of religious extremism and ethnic cleansing.”
Religious extremism and ensuing acts of terror are indeed a prominent theme in today’s world, but religious justification for mass violence and terror is actually a well-established trend in human history. The Protestant reformation in the 16th century, the Medieval Christian Crusades, and the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War.
And now the Buddhist-Rohingya conflict. One cannot help to think: why so much hatred against the other in the name of religions that preach love, peace and harmony? Let’s not forget that the religions in question here (Islam, Christianity, Buddhism) all contain teachings that promote peace rather than hate. How is it that these militant groups have derived justification for violence and murder from such polar opposite premises?
The ethical arguments are complex and unique for each case and, in many of these cases, require close examination of the religious evidence that has been misinterpreted and manipulated craftily for evil purposes. Still, one may generalise by pointing out that in all of these conflicts there is a blame-rhetoric of labelling the other side as the aggressor/initiator of violence and hence the culprit of the situation at hand who deserves to be punished by force if not death. This justification for self-defense is then supported and augmented by appeals to religion which function as propaganda in garnering momentum for the mobilisation against the evil common enemy, as is now seen in Myanmar, Syria, Egypt and Iraq.
One falls into a vicious circle – if not logical regress – of mutual finger-pointing unless one manages and dares to identify the root cause of the conflict by discovering the perpetrator of the original act of provocation, which may indeed be very interesting. One thing is for sure, however, and that is the human price of all of these conflicts is always massive and tragic.
The number of deaths and casualties in Myanmar is quickly approaching the millions, of whom the majority are Rohingyan civilians, women and children. If this vicious argument continues, it may be impossible to bring a halt to these acts of aggression.
Langley Henry is a postdoctorate Research fellow in political science at St John’s College, University of Cambridge after having done his undergraduate (Politics, Philosophy, Economics (PPE)) and postgraduate (Political Science and History of Western Thought) degrees (B.A., M.Sc., DPhil) at Balliol College, University of Oxford. He is the author of several essays that have been published in peer-reviewed journals and is now working on publishing his Oxford doctoral thesis as a monograph with Oxford University Press. Other than his academic work, he is a keen blogger and has written on contemporary and historical political topics as well as on western contemporary music.