One argument that many people of faith cling to these days is that not all religion is inherently violent or intolerant; non-fundamentalist religion can coexist with modernity, because it can acknowledge the role of doubt and conscience in any religious calling. And yet, religion only fitfully takes this form, and seems inherently prone to controlling the beliefs of others. One argument I’ve used in the past is that if Christianity was successfully turned into a war- and torture-machine in early modern Europe, then it is no wonder that a non-pacifist fundamentalist faith like Islam could also veer wildly off course. But I long suspected that Buddhism was arguably the faith most immune to these temptations, more powerfully drawing people away from conflict and toward meditation and peaceful coexistence. Time for a reality check from Burma:
Days after Buddhist mobs tore through the central city of Meiktila in March, two trucks filled with men showed up in Mr. Nyi Nyi’s neighborhood and hurled stones at the night watchmen with slingshots. Some Muslims with means have fled to Malaysia or Singapore. Muslim-owned businesses are losing Buddhist customers. A growing Buddhist movement known as 969 that has the blessing of some of the country’s leaders is campaigning for a boycott of Muslim products and businesses and a ban on interfaith marriages.
The movement says it is not involved in violence, but critics say that, at the least, hate-filled sermons are helping to inspire the killings. “This is the first time we experience this in our lifetime,” said U Maung Maung Myint, who runs an import-export company and is one of the trustees of the Bengali mosque, which is only a few hundred paces from a Buddhist pagoda, a Christian church and a Hindu temple. He was referring specifically to the mistrust between communities.
And this is a consequence of more democracy. As in Egypt and Iraq, sudden freedom may take intolerant and sectarian religious forms. But when Buddhism becomes a vehicle for mob violence against minorities and sectarian cleansing, it truly is depressing.
(Photo: A youth watches as a structure burns in Lashio, Shan state of Burma on May 29, 2013. Burma’s government called for calm Wednesday after mobs burned down a Muslim orphanage, a mosque and shops during a new eruption of religious violence in the east of the country. By Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images.)