Myanmar Riots: Media is Ignoring Anti-Muslim Violence in Southeast Asia


Buddhists rioting in western Myanmar have stabbed a 94-year old Muslim woman to death during a massive riot where the agitators set an estimated 70 houses on fire. This isn't a spontaneous atrocity. The story of Buddhist violence against Muslims has been playing out since June 2012. Here's what you need to know on the situation of religious violence in Myanmar.

The recent riot and stabbing occurred in the Thabyachaing village of the Rakhine State of Myanmar. The deadly acts escalated on the third day of riots. This finally prompted Myanmar security forces to intervene and dissipate the estimated 1,000 rioters. For the first time since his election, President Thein Sein visited Rakhine. President Thein stated to village elders, "Just military and police control is not enough. These burnings, killings and violence will cease only when you yourselves play a part in controlling this." Sein's concerns have been developing as long as his government.

Myanmar (also known as Burma) was formerly a military junta until 2011, when Thein Sein took over the presidency of the newly civilian and democratic government. Despite being a liberally progressive president, Sein has seen numerous domestic challenges including the aggression of the Rakhine Buddhists against the Rohingya Muslims. According to the CIA fact book, Myanmar is approximately 89% Buddhist, and only 4% Muslim. The Rohingya Muslims were initially labeled an illegal immigrant group, but have actually been in the region for generations. Despite the relatively small population of Muslims, conservative Buddhists have been able to mobilize large-scale riots against them.

The ethnic and religious violence boiled over in June 2012 when riots resulted in 88 dead, an estimated 90,000 displaced, and an official state of emergency. Despite quelling these particular riots, violence has continued. There have been 250 deaths since June 2012.      The newest riot follows a late August riot in which "42 houses and 15 shops were burned and destroyed,"” according to Al Jazeera. The close time frame of the dangerous riots is a pressing concern to the government. Sein's visit is very much a plea for peace and an acknowledgement that the military can't keep intervening in the ongoing tension.

The death toll and low profile of Myanmar in Western foreign policy has kept this story relatively buried. Not only is this an under reported story on violence against Muslims (most are), it's also a prominent example of how ethnic and religious violence can undermine developing democracies. The only way the conflict in Myanmar is going away is if the news cycle doesn't bury it.