We're all familiar with militants from the three Abrahamic religions. The Indian subcontinent has more recently seen outbreaks of violence by Hindu extremists while the 1980s saw an upsurge of violence by Sikh terrorists. Of course, the 20th century is all too familiar with atrocities by extremist atheists.
Until now, Buddhism is not a religion one would associate with violence and militancy. After all, ahimsa or non-violence towards all sentient life forms is the first of the five precepts of the Buddhist. Along with Jainism, Buddhism is the religion most people would have associated with peace and pacifism. Well, if recent events in countries such as Burma and Sri Lanka are anything to go by, the Buddhists are getting in on the fundamentalism thing.
Ever since the outbreak of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, there has been a strong anti-Hindu streak amongst the Buddhism of the majority ethnic Sinhalese who regarded the Hinduism of the Tamil minority as a threat to Sri Lanka's Buddhist identity. However, more recently, it's the Muslim minority which has come in for persecution. Muslims have been harassed, Muslim owned businesses have been attacked and there has been an ongoing campaign against Halal food - much of it led by Buddhist monks. There has been targeting of Christians too.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Bay of Bengal, Burma is slowly emerging from decades of dictatorship, economic stagnation and isolation. The situation there with regard to religious intolerance is far worse.
As with the Soviet Union during the period of Glasnost, extremists are taking advantage of the period of openness to promote hatred and division. Last year, scores of people were killed and over 120,000 people left homeless in anti-Muslim riots. There was another outbreak last week in the capital, Naypyitaw, which resulted in the deaths of 32 people with Muslims accusing the police of doing nothing to protect them from sword-wielding Buddhist mobs which included monks. Earlier this week, 13 children were burned to death in a fire at a Muslim school in Rangoon. The authorities blame an electrical fault but given recent events, many Muslims are suspicious.
Is there any hope for any belief system, regardless of high-minded its founders were? Will all philosophical ideals - sooner or later - become corrupted and a source of disharmony?
1. BBC News - The hardline Buddhists targeting Sri Lanka's Muslims
2. Violent Monks? Hardline Buddhist Nationalists Targeting Muslim Minorities In Sri Lanka
3. Sri Lanka violence prompts security measures - Central & South Asia - Al Jazeera English
4. Myanmar: Security forces stood by while anti-Muslim riots raged, says rights group | GlobalPost
5. Fears as anti-Muslim violence grips Myanmar - Independent.ie
6. 13 children die in fire at Muslim school in Burma - RTÉ News
7. Violent anti-Muslim riots in Myanmar prove that “militant Buddhist” isn’t an oxymoron – Quartz