Bringing Peace and Reconciliation to Burma
Burma’s President Thein Sein is currently on a tour of European nations. While public speeches have focused on Burma’s poor human rights track record, and it’s recent government reforms, it’s difficult to ignore the behind the scenes emphasis on trade and increased military ties. During interviews in Britain, President Thein Sein promised “zero tolerance” towards violence, calling Burma a “multi-cultural, multi-faith nation.” Outside the meetings in London, protesters warned that the ongoing persecution and murder of Rohingya Muslims could become “another Rwanda” if it’s left unchecked. Given the President’s recent comments supporting 969 Movement leader U Wirathu and denying the violence has racial or religious components, the statements he made in Britain seem pretty hard to believe.
The contradictory nature of President Thein Sein’s public face on the violence in his nation is standard fare for world leaders. So rarely do our elected leaders actually lead efforts to bring about peace and reconciliation. In fact, more often than not, they are much more invested in maintaining certain levels of conflict and violence, not only because it allows for extensions of power, but also because it’s highly profitable.
When it comes to peace and justice, grassroots efforts are a necessity. Both inside Burma, and internationally, many groups are working to end the various conflicts in the country. Not only that, they’re also doing the work to bring to reality a truly “multi-cultural, multi-faith” nation of equals, one that neither the current Burmese government, nor any historically, has put much effort into creating.
In a recent post over at BuddhaDharma magazine, it was reported that the “majority” of Buddhist ordained clergy are rejecting the 969 Movement and “vigorously” promoting peace initiatives. In addition to providing aid and sanctuary to their fellow Muslims, monks are also publically encouraging interfaith dialogue and discouraging people from joining 969.
Burma Partnership, a network of organizations across the Asia-Pacific region, has several ongoing campaigns and efforts. Not only are they addressing human rights violations against Muslims and ethnic minorities in Burma, but they’re also actively pursuing environmental and economic justice through fighting dams, oil pipelines, mining, and other exploitive, multi-national corporate endeavors. Note the list of partnering organizations working on environmental issues includes representation from several of Burma’s long persecuted minority groups.
Women of Burma is active across the country, devoted to women’s rights, gender equality, and peace and reconciliation. Their website includes reports and commentaries on everything from human trafficking to the impact of war on women and the environment.
Burma Campaign UK has several ongoing international efforts, addressing everything from the violence against Rohingya Muslims to human rights abuses against the ethnic Kachin. They also have a wide list of reports and updated news briefings on many of the major issues impacting Burma today.
The International Network of Engaged Buddhists has offered peace building workshops in a variety of locations worldwide, including three in Burma during 2012.
These are just a few of the organizations actively pursuing peace, justice and reconciliation in Burma. The Burma Partnership umbrella alone contains dozens of allied organizations from all over Burma and the Asian-Pacific region. Although the situation appears fairly grim, the human peace building spirit is alive and well, both inside of Burma and around the world.
We can stand in solidarity with those actively working to create a vibrant, peaceful Burma through supporting organizations like those above, and spreading the word about the actual situation in Burma, and the visions of the people trying to transform it. It’s also important to put to rest any naïve notions that Buddhism is somehow beyond corruptibility, or that Buddhists have never led campaigns of terror and destruction. The more everyday Buddhists are able to accept and embrace the totality of Buddhist history, including its ugly manifestations today, the better able we will be to address the myriad of suffering in our world. The Bodhisattva vow is ours to embody. Let’s do it together.