The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, composed no sutta to religious hatred or racial animus. And yet Buddhist chauvinism now threatens the democratic process in both Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka. Some of the same Buddhist monks who braved Myanmar’s military junta in the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007 today incite violence against members of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. In Sri Lanka, the ethnic chauvinism of the Buddhist Sinhalese, stirred by a former president determined to reclaim power, mocks the supposed goal of reconciliation with the vanquished Hindu Tamils.
In Myanmar, Buddhist racism is at the root of a virtual civil war in the state of Rakhine and is fueling a humanitarian crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled their country by land and sea. Most ominous for Myanmar’s future, given that all genocides are linked to official action, this racial and religious antagonism is in no way spontaneous. The Rohingya have already been stripped of their Myanmar citizenship, and a raft of new and proposed legislation that would further marginalize Islam seems certain to provoke further violence.