OF late, there has been a rise in tensions involving Muslims living in Buddhist- majority countries such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka. At least 40 people have been killed in recent clashes in Myanmar while mosques and houses have also been destroyed. Media reports indicate Myanmar’s minority Muslims have been on the receiving end of most of the violence. Disturbingly, Buddhist monks have been among the armed rioters while clerics have also incited Buddhists against Muslims. Communal strife is not new in Myanmar; last year there were vicious bouts of violence involving the majority community and Muslim Rohingyas in Rakhine state. Meanwhile, vigilante Buddhist groups led by monks have also been running campaigns against Muslims in Sri Lanka. There have been calls to ban halal meat while Christian churches have also been attacked.
We in Pakistan know too well that if religious extremism is not nipped in the bud it can tear society apart. Simply put, religious fanaticism and xenophobic nationalism in any context form an explosive mixture. Religion is often exploited to achieve more worldly goals. Fanatic elements exist in every faith, yet Buddhism gives off a very placid aura. However, this compassionate image has been distorted by some of the faith’s adherents in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In Myanmar, both the powerful military, which still pulls the strings of the nascent democratic order, as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have not done enough to quell rising communalism. Ms Suu Kyi’s refusal to unequivocally condemn anti-Muslim violence has been particularly disturbing, considering her stature. Unless the state and civil society both actively denounce communal and sectarian forces, extremists will only grow from strength to strength. Also, religious leaders of all persuasions must work for harmony rather than division.