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perspective

Countering the other fundamentalism


The grisly attacks, allegedly state-sponsored, on the Rohingya Muslim minority of Myanmar reveal the menacing face of a fundamentalism that has not reached the radar of the international community.

This is fundamentalism in the sense of a frequently intolerant religiosity that departs from core values of compassion, justice and benevolence that characterise all the world faiths. 
The Western media often gives the impression that such a fundamentalism is a purely Islamic phenomenon. This is not the reality. Fundamentalism is a global fact and has surfaced in every major faith in response to issues and problems of modernity. There is fundamentalist Judaism, fundamentalist Christianity, fundamentalist Hinduism, fundamentalist Buddhism, fundamentalist Sikhism and even fundamentalist Confucianism.
A United Nations official recently described the ongoing persecution of Muslims in Myanmar as ethnic cleansing, while others call it an unfolding genocide. This alleged extermination of a distinct ethnic and religious entity is taking place in a Buddhist majority country where, ironically, the monks are known for their courageous stand against military dictatorship and active commitment to democracy. 
The repression of the Muslim minority is both repulsive and deeply saddening because Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, wandered through the world as a refugee in search of understanding. He renounced his princely title and became a monk in the hope of comprehending the truth of the world around him, eventually becoming the Buddha, or “Enlightened One”.
The cardinal practice of Buddhism is “Sila”, or virtue, good conduct and morality. The Sila is based on two fundamental principles – of universal equality among living beings and of reciprocity (do onto others as you would wish them to do onto you). The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths explore human suffering. The foremost Buddhist precept to live by is “Do not kill”. This is translated as “Not harming” or ahimsa. Righteous action in Buddhism includes moral restraint refraining from committing violent acts.
Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks, the vow not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than to any other major religion. So why have monks been using hate speech against Muslims and joining mobs that have left dozens dead? 
The hostility in Myanmar is spearheaded by the 969 group, led by the monk Ashin Wirathu, who was jailed in 2003 for inciting religious hatred. Released in 2012, he has referred to himself bizarrely as “the Burmese Bin Laden”. The question is, are not Buddhist monks meant to be the good guys of religion? As mentioned earlier, aggressive thoughts are inimical to all Buddhist teachings. Buddhism even comes equipped with a practical way to eliminate them. Through meditation the distinction between your feelings and those of others should begin to dissolve, while your compassion for all living things grows.
The ground reality is that, however a religion starts out, sooner or later it enters into a Faustian pact with state power. Buddhist monks looked to kings, the ultimate wielders of violence, for the support, patronage and order that only they could provide. Kings looked to monks to provide the popular legitimacy that only such a high moral vision can confer. The end result would appear ironic because if there is a strong sense of the overriding moral superiority of one’s world view, then the need to protect and advance it can seem the most important duty of all.
Discerning citizens of the world would hope that the Buddhist monks, a very important plank in Myanmar’s struggle for democracy, would rise to the occasion and stick to the teachings of the Buddha – “not to do any evil; to cultivate good; to purify one’s heart”. Buddhists value wisdom and compassion most of all virtues. Let the monks of Myanmar stand high and prove once again that ahimsa is the bedrock of compassion. They surely can ascend the high moral ground by effectively helping to shake-off the racist, rage-driven bigotry.

Published : December 07, 2016

By : Muhammad Nurul Huda The Daily Star Asia News Network