Burmese Riots Get Worse


Buddhist monks march with sticks and bats. Adaptation of photograph by andrewdudededo, available under a Creative Commons Attribution and Share Alike license. Copyright © 2013 andrewdudededo.

Aaron Ruacho, Columnist

After a year and a half of slow steps into democracy, the country of Burma risks losing all the progress that has been made towards freedom after outbreaks of violence between Burmese Buddhists and Muslims.

After 50 years of dictatorship, the country of Burma started changing drastically. Their new president, Thein Sein, met with Nobel peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, and there were sweeping reforms all around the country. Their government released political prisoners, legalized trade unions and relaxed the country’s censorship. Suu Kyi and dozens of her party members were elected into office in fair elections. However, violence has arisen in Meiktila, a city at the center of the country. Currently, more than 40 lives have been lost in the fighting between the two religious groups. Emergency rule decrees have failed to restore order, and the country risks bringing back the military force they just drove out of power.

Although the Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims have not been on good terms for decades, this violence is surprising since it has not happened in this area. Last year, violence broke out in the far west of the country, but it seems the population’s 90% majority Buddhists disagree with the Muslims living in their land. Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship for years, and although they have been living in Burma the entire time, Buddhists consider them illegal immigrants.

A simple dispute in a gold shop in Meiktila on April 12th became the scene of a major brawl. People were killed with knives and sticks in the street, mosques and shops burned to the ground, and many Muslims, including women and children, have been driven from their homes and forced to seek refuge in a soccer stadium. One man was set on fire in the street, and citizens, including police officers, just watched.

Buddhists are a usually peace-loving people, so one may wonder what has provoked this violence. Recently a campaign has been gaining popularity around Burma stating Muslims are trying to take over the world and encouraging Buddhists to shun them. This campaign can be viewed as “racial cleansing”, since the Buddhists are so against the existence of Muslims in “their” country. Whether this is the catalyst or not, one thing is known for certain; if this violence keeps up, Burma will lose years of progress in becoming a free country.