Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sri Lanka Struggles to Contain Its Violent Buddhist Extremists...

Attacks on minority Muslims in Sri Lanka by Buddhist nationalists, which began earlier this week and have continued in the ensuing days, have prompted officials to declare the first nationwide state of emergency since 2009, when a 26-year civil war fought against the island’s Tamil minority ended. Observers have expressed mounting concern that the intercommunal violence in the central district of Kandy may spread and have pointed to parallels between this crisis and others throughout the Buddhist world, where tensions between Buddhist majority countries and their Muslim minorities have been growing.
The new cycle of violence began on March 3 after a Sinhala Buddhist man was reportedly attacked in central hill town of Teldeniya by four Muslims, all of whom were taken into police custody, after he refused to let them overtake him on the motorway. The man later died of his injuries. Local Buddhists responded with limited violence the day after his death, including setting fire to a Muslim shop, which lead to the arrests of 24 people connected to the arsonBuddhist ultra-nationalists were quick to seize on the incident to foment generalized anti-Muslim sentiment; radical Buddhist groups converged on the town with hundreds of their supporters from other districts, demanding the release of the men and later attacking mosques and Muslim businesses and homes.
This recent outbreak of violence began just days after a mosque and Muslim businesses were attacked in the southeastern town of Ampara, where Buddhist agitators had claimed a local Muslim restaurant was mixing sterilization pills into the food to limit Buddhist reproduction.
The violence since Monday has claimed at least two lives, including that of a Muslim man who was apparently killed when his home was set on fire. According to Sri Lanka’s Hiru News, the Terrorism Investigation Division of the government has arrested 10 suspects, and 71 people who had engaged in vandalism have also been detained by the police.
As a nation that endured a brutal war we are all aware of the values of peace, respect, unity & freedom,” tweeted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday after the violence began.  “The Govt condemns the racist & violent acts that have taken place over the last few days. A state of emergency has been declared & we will not hesitate to take further action.”
According to the Hindustan Times, Lakshman Kiriella, Member of Parliament for the Kandy District where the most of the recent violence has taken place, claimed this week that Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders in the area had agreed to settle the matter amicably, with businessmen from both communities agreeing to pay compensation to victimized families, but militant outsiders had provoked the people to violence.  “I am ashamed as a Buddhist, and we must apologize to the Muslims,” Kiriella said in Parliament Monday.
Some have claimed, in line with Kiriella’s comments, that the anti-Muslim violence is the result of a concerted nationwide effort of Buddhist ultra-nationalists. The current violence appears to mark the resurgence of militant Buddhist groups that grew in popularity between 2012 and 2014 with the covert support, now widely acknowledged, of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. Having ceased during the first two years of the current coalition government, attacks on Muslims resumed in April, May, and November 2017, with militants apparently emboldened by the government’s failure to prosecute those responsible for violence and hate speech under the Rajapaksa government.
“The present Sri Lankan government won elections in 2015 on the promise of ending ethnic strife, ensuring accountability for conflict-related crimes, and taking steps towards reconciliation,” Meenakshi Ganguly of the international nonprofit Human Rights Watch told Tricycle. “Unfortunately, all these pledges are stalled, perhaps allowing militant Buddhist groups to believe that they will not be held to account for any abuses.”
Fear and resentment toward Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, who make up around 10% of the population, have been growing in recent years. Gehan Gunatilleke, Research Director at Verité Research in Colombo, Sri Lanka, recently told Al-Jazeera that this is a symptom of the “entitlement complex” of Sinhala Buddhists.
“The Sinhala majority is signaling that their dominance is not to be messed around with,” he said. “The moment a minority demonstrates economic success—as with the Muslim community—or struggles for autonomy like the Tamil community, or is accused of conversion like the Christian community, the moment there is some kind of threat to that dominant status, there is a tendency for violence to be used to re-assert that dominance.”
The increase in Buddhist majoritarian fear and resentment toward Sri Lankan Muslims follows a pattern that has also been seen elsewhere in the Buddhist world in recent years. Majority Buddhist Myanmar has been carrying out atrocities and repression with “the hallmarks of a genocide” toward its Rohingya Muslim minority, following years of systematically limiting access to healthcare, marriage, freedom of movement, education and food with a brutal campaign of violence that has caused nearly 800,000 to flee into neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017. In southern Thailand, a crisis between the Thai Buddhist and ethnic Malay Muslim minority has led to over 6,000 deaths in both communities and allegationsof continued human rights abuses by the Thai government in managing the crisis.
“Unfortunately, too many populist leaders around the world are exploiting the fear of terrorist attacks or of immigrants by engaging in hate-mongering against Muslims,” said Meenakshi Gungaly of Human Rights Watch. Buddhist radicals in Sri Lanka regularly accuse the Muslim community of forced conversions or vandalism of Buddhist holy sites. Gungaly said she is not aware of any evidence of such attacks having actually taken place.
Some Buddhist monks, such as those who founded the far-right nationalist organization Bodu Bala Sena, which has been linked to anti-Muslim incitement, have had a role to play in the increase of Islamophobia. Although the Sinhalese sangha appears to be generally opposed to violence, some say it has not yet done enough to address the situation.
“Buddhist monks often see themselves as the guardians of the Sinhalese Buddhist ethnoreligious identity and the legitimators of the Sinhalese Buddhist claim to a privileged position in the island’s affairs,” Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, renowned scholar-monk and founder of Buddhist Global Relief, who lived in Sri Lanka for 24 years, told Tricycle. “While I would hope the great majority of monks condemn the violence against minority groups, there are factors that prevent them from playing an effective role. One is that, even when they condemn violence, they still adhere to the premise that Sri Lanka as a modern nation essentially belongs to the Sinhalese Buddhists, while the other residents of the island have perpetual guest status. A second is that they don’t condemn the violence often and forcefully enough to drive home the message that violence should be avoided. And a third is that they don’t put sufficient stress, in their sermons, on the need for inter-communal harmony and respect for other religions.
“There are also small but vocal groups of monks who whip up the antagonism of the lay Buddhists toward other communities and even incite them to act violently. This is driven by the imagined fear that other communities are out to take control of the country and push the Sinhalese Buddhists into a marginal position.”
Thus far Sri Lankan civil society has acted with some effectiveness to push back against the violent nationalism in its midst, as shown by the election of the current governing coalition, which this week also blocked social media to prevent the spread of anti-Muslim posts believed to be stoking the violence. After Buddhist hardliners agitated for the deportation of Rohingya refugeesfleeing Myanmar last year, says Gungaly, “Sri Lanka’s civil society and political leadership acted immediately to criticize the campaign and ensure refugee protections.”
Time will tell whether Sri Lanka will respond effectively to the new surge of violent Buddhist nationalism or slide back into a state of conflict from which it was once so happy to escape.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Duka Girls Of Mongolia...


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

End-of-Year Epiphany at the Holiday Inn...

            I know it’s ridiculous
to think countries have souls, that this one
could be feminine. I know I should have faith
in happiness and child wonders,
who will rid plastic from the earth. Oh yes,
I know the possibility of a person coming
to their knees at an airport, crying, Who am I,
is high, and most people will walk by
because time is always calling. We must believe
everything will be all right because people
are still having babies and taking them to the sea.
So what if a man is slaughtered and set alight
for love, for a slab of dead cow, for reasons
sacred? So what if the waters are rising,
and those seas will soon be upon us?
We must live in the moments we’re given..... 

- Tishani Doshi

Sunday, November 12, 2017


expect sadness


you expect rain.
cleanse you.


the ocean 
can calm itself, 
so can you.
are both 
salt water 
mixed with 


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Myanmar's Rohingya Are in Crisis—What You Need to Know...

The Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar, have been called the "world's most persecuted minority," and recent events have added dramatically to their misery.
At least 500,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since August of this year. Although the crisis has intensified in recent months, the targeted, sometimes violent, discrimination of this minority group is anything but new.
National Geographic spoke with three experts on Myanmar to learn more about who the Rohingya are and what's been happening to them. (Read more from National Geographic's coverage of the unfolding Rohingya crisis.)


The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority group from Myanmar's Rakhine state, just south of Bangladesh, who have at times numbered 1.1 million.
Officially, Myanmar's government does not recognize the Rohingya as lawful citizens. The government claims they were brought to Rakhine from Bangladesh during the time when Myanmar was a British colony, and the government says they are living in Myanmar illegally. Ask the Rohingya and they’ll tell youthey have been in the region for over a century, and some claim to have been in the region from as early as the eighth century.
“The answer to that question is highly contested, particularly by those who want to politicize the issue,” said John Knaus, the associate director of the Asia division at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Regardless of when the Rohingya arrived in Myanmar, the military junta that controlled Myanmar until recently denied them citizenship in 1982, leaving them stateless and vulnerable.


Attacks on the Rohingya have been systematic and widespread, reportedly at the hands of the Myanmar police and military, leading to what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, called a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing." (The term is often used to refer to the forced removal of an ethnic or religious group by intimidation or violence.)
A controversial report by the Myanmar government found no evidence of systematic violence against the Rohingya, but the country has refused to allow the UN or outside organizations or journalists to conduct an independent investigation.
Most of what’s known about the Rohingya crisis is being collected from interviews and information gathered at the Bangladesh border from those fleeing across it. Last February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report in which refugees told stories of gang rape, mass killings, and brutal beatings. More than half of the women interviewed reported having been a victim of sexual violence.
Satellite images have shown Rohingya villages burning. Refugees blame the Myanmar military, while the Burmese military has claimed the Rohingya burned their own homes. The BBC's Jonathan Head was one of the few journalists allowed into the Rakhine state, but under strict government surveillance. During a tour of the region's villages, he was given photos showing Rohingya allegedly burning their homes—photos he later discovered were faked.
There are 40,000 Rohingya refugees settled in India, 16,000 of which have obtained official refugee documentation. The majority of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar have not made it past Bangladesh. Devastating floods in India and Bangladesh over this past summer have worsened conditions in refugee camps and led to a cholera outbreak, water shortages, and malnutrition.


Myanmar has more than 100 different ethnic groups, with the Burmese making up about two thirds of the country. And while the Rohingya have long been persecuted as a minority, the scale of recent violence is unprecedented. It ramped up on August 25 after a small faction of Rohingya militants called the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army attacked police posts, killing 12 members of Myanmar’s security forces. In retribution, Myanmar’s military vowed to root out militant groups, and they’ve responded on a massive scale that has left many innocent civilians dead, injured, or homeless.
Kyaw Hsan Hlaing is executive director of an organization he founded called the Peace and Development Initiative, which documents stories of the violence in Myanmar. Following the August attacks, his organization paused its work in Rakhine in fear of retribution. Though he now attends Columbia University in New York, Hlaing is intimately familiar with the violent discrimination long seen in Rakhine.
He's Burmese and grew up in Rakhine with a Buddhist family, but following student protests against the Myanmar government, Hlaing was held as a political prisoner for five years and subsequently exiled to Thailand.
Hlaing says he believes Myanmar’s security forces are exploiting the late August events to push the Rohingya out of the region.


The daughter of a resistance movement general, Aung San Suu Kyi has been advocating for a democratic Myanmar for nearly her entire life. She became a leading figure for the National League for Democracy, then an opposition party, in the late 1980s, but she was detained in 1989. She spent 15 years under house arrest, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and has been hailed as a leader of democracy around the world.
However, Aung San Suu Kyi has not publicly condemned the military's treatment of the Rohingya, and this has tarnished her international reputation. Human rights activists believe it’s her responsibility to speak out against the military’s violent assault, but she has no functional control over the military.
During Myanmar's most recent election, the NLD won the majority of the country's parliamentary seats. As the leader of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi is Myanmar's de facto leader, officially named its “state counselor."
But that still doesn't mean Aung San Suu Kyi can rein in her country's military, which had established power years before her election and doesn't have to answer to her. The military is guaranteed the right to appoint 25 percent of Myanmar's parliamentary seats, giving it veto power over constitutional amendments. As a result, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are barred from moving the military under civilian control.


During the 20th century, activists struggled to establish a democracy and the Burmese were at times under a strict, militaristic regime. For more than a century, Burma was a British colony, until it declared independence in 1948. The country was briefly a democratic republic, but instability created a power vacuum that was exploited by General U Ne Win, who led a military coup in 1962. By 1974, he had established a regime that isolated the country.
Further crackdowns on what remained of the country's democratic institutions came in 1988 when the military responded to student-led protests by killing at least 3,000.
The country's ruling military junta changed the name of the state from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, but this change is not officially recognized by the U.S. and UK. (National Geographic refers to the country as Myanmar.) Use of the name Myanmar remains controversial among some, who say it infers support for military rule.
In the past five years, Myanmar has become less isolated, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory represented a step toward democracy for citizens of Myanmar. But the situation remains complex.
“I don’t think anyone would say Myanmar had become a democracy,” said Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Myanmar’s democracy is a work in progress. This [Rohingya crisis] shows how fragile it is.”


Ethnic minorities in Myanmar describe regular mistreatment from those in the government and surrounding communities.
“[They] feel like second-class citizens,” said Hlaing. Hlaing was struck by the atrocities he witnessed growing up in Rakhine and participated in protests against the government as a teenager. While the military's attacks have been the most devastating, the Rohingya also face violence from Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, Hlaing added.
“There’s a fear, especially among Burma's Buddhist nationalists, of Burma losing its unique Burmese culture,” said Knaus. “Whether that’s from Muslims coming into the country or influences from places like China, and the rest of the outside world, there’s a real fear that Burma is going to be changed by all of these influences. The Rohinyga are the most obvious examples of this. They’re Muslim and perceived to be from Bangladesh so to many they are the prime example of this foreign cultural and social invasion.”
Hlaing says his curriculum from Rakhine state schools emphasized the country’s Buddhist origins as what made Myanmar unique. Even his own family, he said, struggles to understand his work advocating for the rights of minorities.
While the UN and Red Cross have increased aid to the Bangladesh border, where so many Rohingya have fled, experts are hard pressed to see a short-term future in which the Rohingya can live peacefully and with equal rights within Myanmar’s borders. (See photos and read a first-hand account from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.)