Christian Minority in Burma Faces Persecution

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by James Baresel  •  •  September 23, 2019   

Western world silent to plight of Burmese Christians

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Regardless of — probably in part because of — fierce and frequent debate over whether violence by Muslims is rooted in or is a betrayal of "true Islam," religiously motivated violence is, in the public mind of the Western world, overwhelmingly associated with those professing some sort of Islamic belief.

No such debate exists about the relationship between violence and Buddhism, a fact explained not so much by the general (and erroneous) Western consensus that violence is a betrayal of Buddhist principles but by how few people are aware that there are parts of Asia in which Buddhists habitually engage in violent acts intended to stamp out rival religions so as to maintain the hegemony of their own.

Nowhere is this true more than in Burma, a country in which Buddhists constitute a majority of more than 85% while less than 7% of the population is Christian and only 2% Catholic.

The Burmese military routinely engages in torture, murder, rape and abductions of Christians.

Predictably enough, what little attention the Western world gives to Burmese Buddhist violence tends to focus more on the repression of Muslims than on that of Christians. The facts, however, point to widespread government-sponsored and government-tolerated persecution.

Since 2017, over 100,000 Christian Burmese have been listed as displaced persons; thousands are unaccounted for.

The Burmese military routinely engages in torture, murder, rape and abductions of Christians. Efforts to force conversions to Buddhism are common. Christian parents are deceptively told that their children have been offered places in good schools and their children then forced into Buddhist monasteries.

Impoverished Christians are offered the essentials of life on the condition that they become Buddhist.

More official restrictions on Christianity are draconian. No Christian is allowed to rise above local political office or the middle ranks of the army's officer corps.

All Christians holding government posts are required to attend Buddhist celebrations. In parts of Burma, the publication of Bibles is illegal. Christians require special permits to gather in groups of more than five people for any event other than Sunday religious services, while observance of Sundays and Christian feast days is itself often impeded by the scheduling of official state occasions which the populace is required to attend.

The habitual use of Christians as forced laborers also intensifies on days and at times of Christian religious significance.

The Burmese government's ability to find ways of harassing Christians knows no apparent bounds. Official identity cards list their possessors' religious membership. Those who apply for identity cards listing them as Christians often receive cards which misidentify them as Buddhists and which government agencies refuse to replace.

The State Peace and Development Council imports a mix of methyl and ethyl, which, though technically only an alcoholic drink, is a highly addictive and highly dangerous substance which would be treated as an illegal drug in more advanced countries. It is sold to Christians even before they enter their teen years.

Like all recreational use of potent drugs, it leads to decreased religiosity and social breakdown and also provides an excuse to arrest, fine and jail Christians for excessive intoxication.

Christians are more broadly forced to contribute to attempts to replace their religion with Buddhism. One tax Christians must pay is used to pay the expenses of Buddhist festivals.

Crosses which once were found on innumerable mountaintops have been pulled down, in many cases to be replaced by Buddhist pagodas which Christians have been forced to fund or to help build.

Over 250 Christian churches have been seriously damaged or destroyed by Burmese military forces since 2017.

Over 250 Christian churches have been seriously damaged or destroyed by Burmese military forces since 2017 — so have close to 500 villages and more than 100 schools.

Ordinary Buddhists within the Burmese population harass Christians as well. They have been known to refuse Christians access to sources of water. Teachers have refused to provide Christian students with materials which are necessary to prepare for tests and which Buddhist children receive. Examples can be multiplied.

Hatred of Christians on religious grounds is exacerbated by racial and historical tensions. Christianity is predominantly found within regions of Burma inhabited by minority ethnic groups looked down upon by those who consider themselves to be "racially pure" Burmese.

Until 1948, Burma was part of British India. Christians tended to support the empire which assured protection to their religion. During World War II, Burmese Christians universally supported the Allied cause. Buddhists featured prominently in the leadership of the Burmese puppet state created by the Axis.

There is also a tradition of collaboration between Burmese Buddhists and communists. Today, the Burmese government unofficially accepts the de facto control which the communist United Wa State Party has over a portion of the legally established state of Shan. The region borders China, and it is believed that Chinese officials encourage the United Wa State Army's intense persecution of the region's Christians.

Many who read this will assume that the behaviors enumerated in this article indicate merely that many professed Buddhists either do not believe or do not live in accordance with the traditional tenets of Buddhism. Those who make such an assumption would do well to read Michael Zimmerman's Buddhism and Violence.

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