| Wed 22 May 2013 10:20 ICT

Buddhists and Muslims are clashing withincreasing ferocity in Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka where minorityIslamic ethnic groups blame racism by majority Buddhists more thanreligious intolerance.
House Burning during the Rakhine State Riots
“It is like the K.K.K. (Klu Klux Klan) in America during the period ofthe civil rights movement,” said Myo Win, a Muslim activist based inYangon, Myanmar, comparing recent deadly attacks by Buddhists in hisSoutheast Asian country with white U.S. mobs lynching blacks duringthe 1960s.
“We are really afraid,” Myo Win said on May 9 addressing a Bangkokconference titled, “Violence in the Name of Buddhism.”
In Myanmar, also known as Burma, the powerful military and itscivilian government representatives refuse to accept 800,000 minorityMuslims as citizens.
Myanmar insists they are illegal ethnic Bengali immigrants fromimpoverished Muslim-majority Bangladesh, who describe themselves asindigenous ethnic Rohingya in western Rakhine state.
“There is some kind of internally racist, Orientalist,” propagandavoiced against “darker-skinned” Muslims by politicians and otherBuddhists, said Maung Zarni, a Buddhist from Myanmar who is a humanrights activist and visiting fellow in the London School of Economics.
Stereotypes include complaints that Buddhists in “Rakhine [state] arelosing their land because they are not as hard-working and thrifty asthe Rohingya,” Maung Zarni told the conference.
“This is not about which god they are worshipping,” he said.  “Thereis an issue of bread and butter here, a very clear economicdimension.”
A nationwide Buddhist campaign known as “969” — symbolic Buddhistnumbers — also rouses followers to boycott Muslims’ businesses andnot marry or hire Muslims.
It warns that Islam will soon dominate Myanmar, despite Muslimsforming only five percent of the population.
The 969 campaign is led by a Mandalay-based Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, 45.
He convinces countless Buddhist shops to display his stickers, andhear his speeches on DVDs.
Hatred turned into bloodshed when 200 people died, 70 percent of themMuslims, and 120,000 people fled because Buddhist mobs torched theirhomes during June and October in Rakhine state, also known as Arakan.
“Burmese officials, community leaders, and Buddhist monks organizedand encouraged ethnic Arakanese — backed by state security forces –to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and villages inOctober 2012 to terrorize and forcibly relocate the population,” NewYork-based Human Rights Watch reported in April.
“We don’t need to pay attention to any such reports as the HumanRights Watch,” said Myanmar’s Deputy Information Minister, Ye Htut.
Clashes spread to central Myanmar in March, killing 40 people on bothsides and leaving thousands more Muslims homeless.
On May 10, a court imprisoned 10 Buddhist men in Rakhine, withsentences ranging from nine months to three years, because theydestroyed Muslims’ homes.
In neighboring Buddhist-majority Thailand, meanwhile, a quest tocontrol potentially lucrative territory and enact Islamic sharia laws,is inspiring Muslim guerrillas to fight for autonomy or independencein the south.
More than 5,000 people on all sides have died in the fighting since 2004.
Minority ethnic Malay-Thai Muslims form a majority in Thailand’s foursouthernmost provinces and complain of discrimination and unequaljustice under Bangkok’s rule.
The government’s National Security Council recently began talks withsome Islamist insurgents, but the two sides continue to battle.
Joined by Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) rebels, alliedBarisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatists gave Bangkok’s “Siameseimperialists” five demands on April 28.
These included amnesty for all southern insurgents.
The increasingly sophisticated rebels are using assassinations, arson,improvised bombs and other assaults to kill Thai troops, Buddhistmonks, businessmen, teachers, civilians and Muslim informants.
Thailand is a non-NATO U.S. ally.  Its military has been expensivelytrained by the Pentagon for decades, but appears confused whenconfronted by the hit-and-run rebels.
Allegations by international human rights groups against the militaryfor extrajudicial executions, torture and other abuses spotlight otherfailings.
Nearby on the tiny island of Sri Lanka, southwest from Myanmar andThailand, minority Muslims who are mostly ethnic Moors are threatenedby Buddhist monks who are primarily from the ethnic Sinhalesemajority.
A new Sri Lankan Buddhist group called “Bodu Bala Sena,” or BuddhistForce, demands an island-wide boycott of Muslim businesses anddemolition of a 10th century mosque in Kuragala which allegedlyoccupies the site of 2,000-year-old Buddhist monastery.
On May 5, Sri Lanka briefly detained opposition politician AzathSally, leader of the Muslim National Unity Alliance.
Mr. Sally, 49, had said the government supported Buddhists who setfire to Muslim-owned businesses in March.
The Dalai Lama, who usually focuses on Tibet’s Buddhists, blamedBuddhist monks in Myanmar and Sri Lanka for attacking Muslims in thosecountries.
“Killing people in the name of religion is really very sad,unthinkable,” the Nobel Peace laureate told a University of Marylandaudience on May 7.
“Even Buddhists are now involved, in Burma and Sri Lanka also.Buddhist monks…destroy Muslim mosques or Muslim families. Reallyvery sad,” the Dalai Lama said.
Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist reporting news fromAsia since 1978.
His websites are
(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)