I am so embarrassed.
Okay, maybe that's not the best reaction to a bunch of people getting killed in the name of religion. But still. I am so embarrassed. My teeny tiny religion based on kindness, nonviolence, compassion for all beings and just in general being nice to everybody finally makes the cover of Time, and what's the headline? "The Face Of Buddhist Terror." Great. This has to be the best thing to happen to the international Buddhist image since the sarin gas attack in Tokyo.
Not, by the way, that you're actually going to see this cover. This is the international edition cover. We in the United States got a cutesy cover of veterans painting a wall, which is of course the cover itself, with a dripping wet-paint headline about national service and how it might save the world. I'd paste it in here, but one stolen cover image per post is probably plenty. Still, international-edition readers get the real news. We get some cleaned-up version that's meant not to disturb us too much, I guess, lest we all jump up in a group and demand that the corrupt bag of bastards running our country fucking do something instead of just sit there. For real news, try some of these Web sites: Alternet, Huffington Post, Common Cause, RH Reality Check. And for fake news, there's always Fox.
Back to Myanmar, though. If you don't know where Myanmar is, it's in the Far East and it used to be Burma, east of Bangladesh and a little bit north of Laos. If that doesn't help, it's near India someplace. Anyway: For the last several months, gangs of Buddhists armed with machetes (Gangs of Buddhists. That is just the most antithetical phrase.) have been going into Muslim areas, beating up Muslims, burning their houses down and in some cases killing them. And if you're a Buddhist and your head isn't spinning around at this piece of news, what kind of a Buddhist are you?
Obviously this is completely out of character for Buddhists anywhere, even Myanmar. It's not Right Thinking and it certainly isn't Right Action. It violates the First Precept and the Second Precept (I'd argue that burning somebody's house down is the same as stealing; you've certainly taken from them their use of that house, and anything in it). Why on God's green earth would Buddhists behave this way? Well, apparently because of the guy on the cover, Wirathu, who calls himself the Buddhist Bin Laden. (Yes, he said that. He said that.) Wirathu says that the Buddhists are only defending themselves from Muslim corruption. The Muslims come into an area, he claims, and they marry all the Buddhist daughters, spread their religion and take over. Myanmar needs to remain Buddhist by any means necessary, and apparently the means necessary (as determined by him) is, uh, anything goes.
I'm blown away that so many people are listening to this guy and are willing to go along with what he says. Rather than listen to the values they've lived by all these years, they'd rather listen to somebody who validates their fears and tells them to do what they want to do anyway. I guess that's no different than people listening to Christian megapreachers on late night TV, going in to work the next morning and firing the gay guy who works in the mail room, but I just thought Buddhists were above this stuff. Part of being human is being endlessly disappointed in your fellow humans. Or, as my receptionist keeps telling me, "People are strange. People are strange. People are strange."
This is killing me, personally, because I love Muslims. I am fascinated by Islam, though always from the outside because they'd never take me. (The whole lesbian thing, you know.) I love their art, I love their music, I love their culture, and I love their food. I love to go to Afrah on a Thursday night and hear Arabic spoken. If Muslims and Buddhists become enemies again, they might not let me back in, and sales of pita bread in Richardson would plummet and create a miniature black hole that would spread and suck down the entire U.S. economy. I mean it could be chaos.
Unfortunately, Muslims and Buddhists have a history with each other. From the 9th century battles with Sunni Turks to the destruction of the Buddhas at Bimayan in 2001, a lot of blood has been spilled, even if it had less to do with religion and more to do with living space. And usually, the Buddhists came out on the losing side of these conflicts. One thing about Muslims, historically speaking: You don't want to piss them off.
Anyway, Myanmar isn't the only country to experience this kind of conflict. Buddhist/Muslim riots have been reported in Indonesia, southern Thailand and Sri Lanka just in the last year. The Dalai Lama has condemned the violence. Thich Nhat Hanh sounded off in Tricycle Magazine with a list of co-authors that read like a Buddhist Who's Who. And both of them said what I suspected all along: This isn't about religion. This is about two groups of people who are deciding not to get along, and using religion as a handy excuse to fight with each other.
I just want you all to know that there are 448 million Buddhists in the world, and most of us are NOT LIKE THAT. Oh, sure, we get pissed off. Myself I get angry about injustice and rape and lack of ethics in government and men trying to control women's bodies and bad drivers and $7,000 sewer pipes and bad faxes from opposing counsel and workplace pettiness and large companies that are "too big to fail" so they get away with anything and cats howling in the middle of the night and waking me up and people who won't look at the big picture and my idiot neighbor (who is an idiot) and so-called Christians who picket soldiers' funerals and the people who work on the 12th floor of my building who dress like it's Saturday and they're going to spend the day shooting up. But I've never taken a machete to any of them and I never will. When I took refuge and accepted the Five Precepts it meant something. A religion is not a cafeteria, people. If you're going to live by a set of values, live by them. Full time. Not only when it's easy but especially when it's hard.