Home Contact Us  

Peace & Conflict Database - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4279, 31 January 2014
Myanmar: Why is the Clergy Angry?
Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy
Research Officer, IPCS

A recent UN statement demanding an impartial probe into the killings of Muslims by Buddhists, in Myanmar, has once again brought the issue of the Rohingyas – widely accepted as the most persecuted minority group – to the fore. The alarming frequency, with which reports, detailing an unmistakable campaign of suppression of the community have been emerging over the past several months, is worrying. 
The clergy known for their non-violent values, have taken to violence in an attempt to rid the state of Rakhine, of the Rohingya Muslims. Why have clergy in Myanmar opted for violent means? Why is the government in Naypyidaw silent on this matter?

Increasing Islamophobia
The friction between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingyas began as a mild form of xenophobia in 1824. It has now evolved into a full-blown violent campaign of driving out the ‘settlers,’ who have now lived in the region for generations. Although, superficially, the issue appears to be similar to several other ethnic conflicts, the Rohingya issue stands because of the active participation of the Buddhist clergy. 
The primary force driving this pogrom is the rising Islamophobia among the clergy and the masses in the country. The paranoia among Rakhine Buddhists, of a potential Islamisation of the nation – as in the case of Indonesia and Malaysia in the 12th and 15th centuries respectively – is deeply entrenched.

While the core essence of Buddhism lies in its principles of non-violence, inclusiveness and flexibility, the applied measures of these principles vary from one school of Buddhism to another. While Mahayana Buddhism (as practised in Tibet and Mongolia) is more flexible and inclusive, Theravada Buddhism (as practised in Myanmar and Sri Lanka) is rigid in its structures. Furthermore, the attrition rate in the schools of Theravada Buddhism is high, with very few schools in practice in today’s world, as compared to other forms of Buddhism. This forms the basis of the thought in the country that their culture is under threat. Also, a threat from an ‘outsider’ is often perceived as more immediate and of greater priority to thwart, as opposed to a threat from an ‘insider’ (In this case, the ‘insider’ is the attrition rate).
However, this does not translate into the notion that some forms of Buddhism accept violence. 

Myanmar’s Fledgling Democracy: What Role for the Clergy?
Adding to the complexity of the issue is the role of the clergy in Myanmarese politics. A large section of the Myanmarese society comprises of monks, as many enlisted in monasteries to escape poverty and/or orphanhood, during the Junta years. The Saffron Revolution of 2007 doubled as a show of numbers enrolled in the monkhood. Having played a role in somewhat filling the void in the absence of a benevolent and accountable government, the Buddhist clergy holds a moral high ground in the Myanmarese society, and are seen as a powerful force. 

When tens of thousands of monks are taught non-violent means but are at the same time systematically made paranoid of losing their faith due to an onslaught of a completely different culture, eventually, regardless of the non-violent teachings, they prepare themselves to fight off the ‘enemy.’ 

Such a ‘non-violent radicalisation’ among the clergy in the country has effected in the shaping of a generation that is willing to inflict violence as offence as opposed to in defence that the religion essentially prescribes.

This does not automatically mean that all Buddhists are violent; but the recognition that Buddhist monks or not, they are human beings too – and they have the same emotions as the rest, is necessary. Once this view is recognised, it does not take long to understand the basic problem in Rakhine: there exists an ethno-religious conflict, and the side that currently has the upper hand is trying its best to weed out what they see as a problem, from its roots.

Silence of the State: Why does Naypyidaw not Intervene?
The Myanmarese government has its own apprehensions over the Rohingya issue. On the social front, assimilating these people into the country would mean earning the wrath of the clergy – which enjoys considerable clout with the masses – who believe their culture is under external threat. The economic costs of including hundreds of thousands of impoverished people into its citizenry would be extremely high. Faced with the daunting task of simultaneously improving the economy, democratic structures, public services etc., and tackling armed cessation struggles, their resource basket is heavily strained. For Naypyidaw, as long as the large Rohingya population is deemed as illegal immigrants, the government technically isn’t responsible for providing for them. 

Unfortunately, what seems to be unfolding in Myanmar is a plausible Faustian pact between the clergy and the political class – a deadly quid pro quo agreement that will only lead to worse days. What is more dangerous of the two, however, is the non-violent radicalisation aspect of this issue – an emerging but noticeable trend in South Asian ethnic conflicts.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
C Uday Bhaskar,
"Targeting Minorities: Emerging Trend in Bangladesh and Pakistan," 27 January 2014
D Suba Chandran,
"Mullahs to Monks: Why is our Clergy Angry and Violent?," 11 April 2013

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Belt and Road and US-China Relations in 2018

India-Afghanistan Relations: Innovating Continuity

Afghanistan and the Attempted Exhumation of the QCG

FSI Afghanistan: Limited Scope for Use

Brass Tacks of the Emerging Afghan Taliban

Forecast 2016: Afghanistan

Countering Extremist Propaganda: A Strategy for India

India-Afghanistan: Interesting Times Ahead

Afghanistan: Takeaways from the Kunduz Offensive

What is the Afghan Taliban Up To?

What�s Brewing between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

What�s on Pakistan-based Militants� Minds?

Islamic State in Af-Pak: The �Wilayat Khurasan� Conundrum

IPCS Forecast: Islamic State in 2015

China and the Uyghur Issue: Can the New Silk Route Really Help?

China in Afghanistan: Is the Engagement Really a Win-Win?

Islamic State and Foreign Fighters: Jihadists from Central Asia

Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Implications of Pakistan's Nuclear Developments

Afghanistan: The New President and a Joint Venture Government

Al Qaeda in South Asia: The Terror World Championship Begins

Islamic State and South Asia: How Real is the Threat?

The Islamic ‘Caliphate’ and Sectarian Violence: Ramifications for Pakistan

Sri Lanka and Myanmar: Understanding the Rise of Buddhist Radicalism

Pakistan: Potential Blowbacks of Operation Zarb-e-Azb

A New Foreign Policy Agenda for Modi: ‘Look West’

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.