Why won’t Buddhist leaders condemn terrorism?

Terrorist atrocities are taking place as I write this, on an almost unimaginable scale. Houses have been destroyed and civilians (including children) have been burned alive, tortured and even beheaded.

The BBC has reported seeing a death squad of thuggish perpetrators, brandishing swords, machetes and slingshots, claim credit for setting a fire while walking away from a burning building.

All the attacks have been led by religious extremists, increasingly with the support of the state forces with which they are aligned. The state and the terror gangs have ethnically cleansed areas under their control. Their victims have been members of the country’s persecuted religious minority.

Regretfully, the leaders of the religion to which these terrorists claim allegiance have been almost silent. At best, in response to today’s terrorist attacks they have relied on past platitudes, such as their world leader’s 2013 condemnation of all killings in the name of religion – “Killing people in the name of religion is really very sad, unthinkable, very sad”.

If all this sounds very familiar, it should – if the religion concerned were Islam, the state ISIS and the religious minority Christian.

But this is the genocidal pogrom going on in Myanmar today, conducted under the rubric of Buddhism, with Muslim victims (over a quarter of a million refugees driven from the country and countless numbers massacred in the past fortnight).

That’s why we don’t see headlines like: “Why don’t leaders of Buddhist countries condemn terror attacks?” or “It is not enough for Buddhists to say ‘we condemn terrorism’”. There’s not even a think-piece from Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph on “What Australian Buddhist leaders really think about terrorism”. (These are all actual headlines from June this year, with “Buddhist” substituted for “Muslim”.)

It’s not just that Buddhism has largely escaped trial due to a Western orientalist ignorance that assumes it is synonymous with nonviolence and loving kindness. That’s an element, but a minor one.

In the main, it is further testament to the pervasiveness, usefulness and ruthlessness of Islamophobia. Because the victims of this terrorism are Rohingya Muslims, their suffering is downplayed if acknowledged at all. The Dalai Lama (that’s him quoted above with all the sadness) is under no pressure to do anything other than continue to pull his punches.

His fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi backs up the Islamophobic assault on the Rohingya with the same language that has served every government in attacking its Muslim citizens as terrorists.

In her first comments since the intensity of the massacres stepped up in late August, Suu Kyi said “fake news” was promoting “the interest of the terrorists … Terrorism is new (for Myanmar) but the government will do its best to make sure that this does not expand and spread all over Rakhine”.

The leader of the death squads is Ashin Wirathu (who runs a “monastery” of 2,500 of these guys). He was called the face of Buddhist terror by Time magazine in 2013. Now of course the face of Buddhist terror is Aung San Suu Kyi, who fronts for the Burmese generals in their genocide against Rohingya Muslims.

Islamophobia is the justification for the pogroms taking place today. Unlike the monstrous aspirationals of the Islamic State, Myanmar is an actual state, armed to the teeth by a dozen major arms exporters, from Israel to Russia.