News Flash: Buddhist-Majority Countries Just as Complicated as Muslim-Majority

The latest news from Burma should be classified under not good, and the country’s most famous democratic personality, Ang San Suu Kyi, has been disturbingly quiet, preferring not to speak out; whatever her reasons may be, her silence is as they say deafening. In addition to the country’s long history of ethnic and sectarian conflict, the plight of its Muslim population continues to worsen, with evidence of human trafficking of Burmese Muslim refugees now surfacing.

The violence threatens to spread across parts of Southeast Asia, and indeed some incidents in Sri Lanka (a mosque has been attacked) and Indonesia suggest that it already has; the region is a heavily Buddhist, but also significantly Muslim, part of the planet. We can go further back, of course, in the history of religious tension: The Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, yet another notch in their brutal belt. But Burma’s Muslims have been suffering from long before.

We reflexively associate Buddhism with pacifism and Islam with violence; the regional situation, namely across ASEAN and in neighboring countries, shows that Buddhist-majority countries are as complicated as Muslim-majority countries (both after all being populated by humans). While Thailand fights a Muslim—but not “islamist”—insurgency in its south, it is also a top non-OIC destination for Muslim tourism, pulling out all the stops to attract Muslim travelers. (Halal food, prayer spaces, targeted advertising, etc.) 

As an aside, the majority of Muslims live east of Afghanistan, meaning that the majority of Muslims’ primary experience of other faiths is Hinduism and Buddhism, not Judaism or Christianity.