TIME's Cover Story on "Buddhist Terror" misses the point while raising the specter of further anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar

just read the cover story "The Face of Buddhist Terror" in TIME's international edition, 1 July 2013.

Here is my analysis:

 TIME's cover story touches on the violence towards the Muslims by the Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Southern Thailand. 

It has put the anti-Muslim violence in these predominantly Buddhist - and deeply racist - societies on the world's map of English speaking consciousness.  But, on balance, TIME may have contributed negatively to the Muslim pogroms, especially in the case of Myanmar. 

The main problem with TIME's otherwise commendable piece, alerting the world to the rise of "Buddhist Terror", is the piece explains, rather inaccurately, the rising tide of neo-Nazi "Buddhist Terror" using the lens of Myanmar's 'democratization', 'the great opening', the increasing 'freedom of speech', under the reformist government (nominally) headed by ex-general and President Thein Sein. 

Lamentably, this is the mainstream but empirically inaccurate template which has repeatedly been used by the Western media, policy circles and think-tanks to explain away Muslim pogroms as 'dark side of Myanmar's great opening'.  

The International Crisis Group (ICG) is the lead proponent of this template, normalizing and naturalizing it as 'part of the democratization process' with detectable undercurrents of utilitarianism. In turn, this explanation has conveniently been offered by the ICG's 2013 recipient of "In Pursuit of Peace" award and Nobel Peace Prize short-listed nominee President Thein Sein himself.

As a matter of fact, it was under Thein Sein's watch as Chair of the National Security and Defense Council Myanmar's Rohingya and the rest of the country's Muslim communities have experienced the devastating waves of mass violence against the Rohingya and the Muslim communities at large across more than 2 dozen towns and cities across Myanmar, from Western Burma, lower Burma, the plains and the highlands. 

The contours of this 'democractization-contributes-to-the-rise-of-violent-conflicts' framework are easily detectable in the following passage:

"But Burma's democratization has also allowed extremist voices to proliferate and unleashed something akin to ethnic cleansing. The trouble began last year in the far west, where clashes between local Buddhists and Muslims claimed a disproportionate number of Muslim lives. Machete-wielding Buddhist hordes attacked Rohingya villages; 70 Muslims were slaughtered in a daylong massacre in one hamlet, according to Human Rights Watch. The communal violence, which the government has done little to check, has since migrated to other parts of the country. In March, dozens were killed and tens of thousands left homeless as homes and mosques were razed. Children were hacked apart and women torched. In several instances, monks were seen goading on frenzied Buddhists." 

No doubt, many a genuine Buddhist monks - as opposed to the military's moles in Saffron Robes and a significantly large segment of the Buddhist public in this predominantly Buddhist society - have been involved, in spirit and in deeds, in this essentially hate and fear-soaked violent campaign against the Muslims and the Rohingya, wrongly perceived as 'illegal migrants' and 'cancerous viruses' all threatening faith, race and national security. 

This participation by the laity and the Buddhist Order obviously supports TIME's choice of words "Buddhist Terror". 

However, that's only half the story, and in fact, a less important one at that. 

TIME's cover story left out what in my view is the most crucial aspect of the rise of Buddhist Terror in Myanmar: the state's ideological and political mobilization of the historical Islamophobia that is known to pervades in all state and societal sectors, not dissimilar to the nasty process of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the midst of  former Yugoslavia's break-up. 

Consequently, TIME's cover story has made two seriously negative contributions to Myanmar's already tense and insecure society.

First, it will most likely add more fuel to the already tense social relations, instigating, unwittingly, future horizontal anti-Muslim violence by the now really outraged Buddhist masses as evidenced in the angry reactions from Myanmar's opinion makers and leading dissidents.

Second, it enables, if unwittingly, the State and its central management - not simply 'hard-line fringe elements' - in Naypyidaw to continue concealing its own involvement in numerous disguises, including its decision to chose NOT to nib this rise of Buddhist terrorism in the bud. Myanmar's generals and ex-generals have never been known for their restraints when it comes to crushing any mass incidents that can threaten order and cause instability. 

If anything Myanmar military, Southeast Asia's largest after Vietnam's is known for its trigger-happiness in dealing with civil unrest, mass revolt, riots and so on.  And all security forces in Myanmar only take orders from the highest level of command in Naypyidaw.  And the bug stops at President Thein Sein's desk.  His  choice as Chairman of National Defense and Security Council, Myanmar's ruling executive body, to allow several major waves of Rohingya and other Muslim pogroms which displaced nearly 150,000 Muslim children, women, men and the elderly since last June speaks volume about where he and his deputies stand on the death and devastation of Myanmar's Muslims, and the systematically persecuted Rohingyas. 

But the military-State IS 100% behind 1) the Rohingya ethnocide and genocide in Western Burma and 2) the rise of Wirathu, an ex-criminal convict from 2003-2012, and anti-Muslim ideological campaign against all Muslims in the whole of Burma. 

Myanmar military today is completely "cleansed" of Muslims in any significant positions. The Muslim-free Armed Forces, generally speaking, is the direct outcome of the generals' aggressive and decades' long pursuit of an unwritten policy of cleansing the most important national institution of 'Muslim infidels', not unlike what Hitler did to the German state institutions, including German universities. 

Anti-Muslim publications have been approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs' Department of Religious Affairs over the past 15 years, at least. 

According to Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing, the Presidential Adviser, assistant professor of Asian Studies at the City University of Hong Kong, and the secretary of the Rakhine Violence Presidential Inquiry Commission, there have also been recorded and reported incidents where the military intelligence spread deliberate rumors and false information (for instance, the story of a Muslim rape of a Buddhist maid in Mandalay in 2007 which he used as evidence of the military's attempts to incite violence against the Muslims in the upcountry city) designed to stoke and create anti-Muslim riots in various parts of Myanmar as a strategic tool for giving the public an outlet to vent - at the expense of vulnerable and utterly un-armed Muslim minorities and away from its leadership and policy failures. 

In the unfolding campaign against the Muslims, the still-fully military-controlled State with a quasi-civilian facade is not just not doing anything during the waves of mass violence: it is in fact an active and willful patron of the mass violence against the Muslims, for a variety of ideological and strategic reasons. 

Still crucial questions about the role of the transitional state and its leaders remain unasked.

In the research literature on the studies of mass violence and genocide, especially in the context of political transitions and societal uncertainties, historically nasty regimes are found to play dirty and murderous.  Milosevic in Serbia/Bosnia and Indonesia's TNC in the then East Timor, Jakarta's colony, come to mind.  That's a story for another day. 

States do - and will continue to - conspire in pursuit of their own core interests. For those who are evidently bent on defending their power, wealth and control will not - and do not - stop at anything - even if it means strategic and deliberate unleashing, facilitating, triggering of what TIME labels "Buddhist Terror" against the weakest and most vulnerable among its citizens. 

By doing so, the sinister and conspiratorial behavior of the reforming State in Myanmar has thumbed its nose at the world's major governments and commercial interests.  For it knows full well that the latter, themselves with piles of skeletons in their own backyards, are simply licking their lips for Burma's 'frontier market' and natural resources.  

There is a double-impunity in play: the military-state in Myanmar has for all intents and purposes granted the 'Buddhist terrorists' national impunity while the leadership of that state itself is enjoying international impunity, thanks to the emerging strategic and commercial equations of the West vis-a-vis China.

To the dismay of those of us informed Burmese with deep concerns for human security - that is, security of affected individuals and communities, TIME's cover story "The Face of Terror", simply repeats the self-interested logic of the West and the rest.  Unfortunately, when the security of a global capitalist order and a regime that has long been the main source of terror towards the Burmese citizenry, irrespective of faith, location and ethnicity, is fast becoming one, international community, so-called, places the security of institutional/corporate/strategic interests categorically above the security of human persons and their communities.  

"It's Buddhism, stupid!" is TIME's central and misleading message once again enables Naypyidaw and its generals and ex-generals to externalize their central role and responsibility in the Muslim pogroms to the 'racist' Buddhist monks and ultra-nationalist Burmese public.   Repeating this false narrative, President Thein Sein has absolved himself and his administration  of any wrong doing or responsibilty this already in his August 2012 on the initial wave of pogroms against the Rohigya.  

This type of reportage from the dominant corporate media is troubling indeed, and it is beyond doubt at the expense of the Burmese public.  

One seriously wonders when the mass media will take seriously the distinct possibility that the military and its leaders are conspiring against their own people.

As a Burmese critical of both the Western corporate and strategic interests desperately and belatedly pursing  their own respective agendas in Myanmar, I can't help but detect clear signs that the corporate media conglomerates including the New York Times and TIME may be trapped in the hegemonic framework of playing a global cheer-leader for any emerging frontier markets and any old dodgy military states whose entry into the Club (of Capitalist Economies) will be welcome.

It comes at a heavy societal cost to the Burmese, irrespective of their gods and faiths.  

Ultimately, the formerly integrated and peaceful Muslim and Buddhist communities which are now increasingly distrustful and fearful of each other stand to lose most from this process - and this type of international reportage.  


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