Particularly in the West, Buddhism is considered a calm, almost passive religion. Its adherents are known for spending long periods of time meditating. But recent headlines regarding activities in Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) would be contrary to that notion.
Ashin Wirathu is a 46-year-old Buddhist monk and spiritual leader in Burma. He has been accused of hate speech, and is active on YouTube and other social media forums. Due to his vitriolic speeches against the Rohingya Muslims, he was sentenced in 2003 to 25 years in prison, but was released in 2010.[i] The July 1, 2013 edition of Time magazine featured Wirathu’s face on the cover, with the cover article’s title, “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”[ii]
On May 4, 2015, the Associated Press reported the arrest of three Thai officials and a citizen of Burma (Myanmar) after the finding 26 graves on the southern border of Thailand near Malaysia.[iii]
By May 6, CNN reported that number had grown to 30 to 40 graves of people believed to have been held by human traffickers. Southern Thailand is known as a “hot-spot for human trafficking.” Last year, the U.S. State Department reported Thailand as a Tier 3, the lowest ranking, in its “Trafficking in Persons” report. The remains are thought to be of Rohingya Muslims, fleeing from the ethnic violence in Buddhist-majority Burma. They are smuggled and/or captured by human traffickers and held for ransom. If they are unable to pay, they are held until they die from starvation or disease.[iv]
During the police raid, one lone survivor was found. He was left behind, because he could not walk. During his nine month captivity, he was moved between seven different camps. He estimated that 200 people were being held. He told police that the camp they found is not the only one with graves. A Rohingya activist, Abdul Kalam, estimates that dozens of camps have been set up, and that this raid has revealed “just the tip of the iceberg.” [v]
Most Americans see Buddhists as non-violent. Most Americans view Thailand as idyllic and credit that to Buddhism. The reality is that both Thailand and Burma are deeply troubled countries, and Buddhists are not immune to committing violence.
[ii] “Ashin Wirathu: Myanmar and its vitriolic monk,” BBC.com, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30930997, retrieved on June 11, 2015. See http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2146000,00.html for the text of the Time magazine article, “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”
[iii] “Thailand arrests 4, vows crackdown on human traffickers,” DailyMail.co.uk, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3067019/Thailand-arrests-3-vows-crackdown-human-traffickers.html, retrieved on June 11, 2015.
[iv] “At least 30 graves found in southern Thailand, and a lone survivor,” CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/02/asia/thailand-mass-graves/, retrieved June 11, 2015.
[v] “Thailand arrests 4, vows crackdown on human traffickers,” DailyMail.co.uk, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3067019/Thailand-arrests-3-vows-crackdown-human-traffickers.html, retrieved on June 11, 2015.