Sectarian violence has erupted yet again in recent weeks between Muslims and Buddhists in the seaside town of Sittwe, Myanmar. Lying on the West coast, the Rakhine state is home to a large population of Muslims that the Buddhist majority in Burma believe to be violent and illegal immigrants. Over 167 are dead and 100,000 left homeless in what many are calling an ethnic cleansing of the region. Organizations like the UN and Human Rights Watch call the Rohingya, a subgroup of native Muslims, the most discriminated and denigrated group in the world. They were blamed for the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in October and have undergone a mass exodus from the region ever since. Many are forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh where they experience similar persecution.
Even Shwe Maung, a Muslim member of Parliament, is forced to travel in a convoy of armed vehicles for his protection from the violent hatred aimed at any and all Muslims in the region. Myanmar officials have tried to implement a "three generations" rule that allows for the uninterrupted stay of Muslims who have a three generations old history of residency in the region, but ethnic hatred of Muslims is so strong and pervasive that it doesn't stop the violence and discrimination from other Burmese. Even Buddhist monks, traditionally pacifistic, are weighing in on the conflict calling the minority Muslims a "threat to the nation" and affirming "the hatred we have for each other is growing every day."
The 30+ year junta's militant rule is crumbling in Myanmar and you're seeing long-held and suppressed tensions between the two groups starting to surface. As I mentioned in an earlier blog on the rape and murder that initially set off the violent outbreak, Myanmar is attempting to portray themselves as a nation in political transition, but as recent events have shown internal unrest need to be quelled before that can effectively continue. Barack Obama became the first US President to ever visit the region this past week and spoke at universities in the area to emphasize the necessity of diversity and empathy in all societies. Effective diplomacy looks bleak if even the monks are encouraging attacks and hatred towards the Rohingya and other Muslim groups. The necessity for intervention may be drawing near for human rights organizations and Islamic advocacy groups.