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Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Burma and Its Influence on Nationalism

Considering the Theravada stream of Buddhism in countries such as Sri Lanka and Burma, the Buddhist monks wield a lot of power.

Due to their influence in Sri Lanka, the government instituted a Sinhala-only policy which led Sinhala nationalists to attack Tamils and Sinhala people who protected Tamils. This led to civil war and only ended when Sri Lankan army killed the leader of the Tamil Tigers. The Sinhala-only policy was the result of early oppression of Buddhists by Christian and Hindu peoples during the colonial era.

Today, the civil war has ended. The last leader Pathmanathan of the Tamil Tigers was captured in 2009, and collaborated with the Sri Lankan government, exposing the Tamil crime network. Afterwards, Pathmanathan created an NGO to rehabilitate his people.

This year on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, Myanmar Buddhists of Rakhine State are in conflict with Rohingya Muslims. After a Rakhine woman was raped in June, a Rakhine mob killed 10 Rohingya men. Since then, the violence has escalated to the point where both Rohingya and Rakhine leaders have condemned it. Buddhist organizations in Myanmar which supported democracy are blocking humanitarian aid to the Rohingya Muslims. In October, another riot occurred. Myanmar classified the Rohingyas as immigrants and thus not eligible for citizenship

Ironically, Bangladesh claims they are too poor to open up refugee camps for the Rohingya. If this is true, then most likely it is because international bankers have ruined Bangladeshi economy.

In both cases though, British colonialism appears to have been the facilitator of oppression against Buddhists which led to later strife in Sri Lanka.

In the case of Myanmar, British colonialism led to Burma being taken over by Indians, mostly Muslim. By the time British authorities realized the danger of ethnic rivalry between Rohingya and Rakhine peoples Japan had invaded Burma.

After WW2, much of the seeds for strife was sown when mujahids were formed for holy war, first to separate Mayu frontier from Arakan province in Burma and annex it with East Pakistan. When that was suppressed, mujahideens then rose up during Bangladesh independence in 1971. In recent years, the mujahideens wish for an independent or autonomous Mayu.

Sadly though, because the British Empire became no more after WW2, its subsequent decolonization and decline means that the UK no longer is obliged to undo what it has done to Sri Lanka and Burma prior to WW2 i.e. allowing free migration of Indians. Nationalism has helped alleviate resentment in both Sri Lanka and Burma, as most Indians returned to the newly formed India.

In both nations, the Theravada Buddhists are biased against non-Buddhists. When Buddhism is combined with nationalism, it sometimes results in sectarian violence against a minority of a different religion (Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka and Rohingya Muslims in Burma.


Sri Lanka Civil War:

2012 Rakhine State riots:

Rohingya history:

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