The rebirth of respectability that Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has enjoyed as it pursues democratization is at risk of evaporating. The government is standing by while members of the Asian nation’s overwhelming Buddhist majority persecute its small Muslim minority.
In such a poor country, being Buddhist provides the religion’s adherents with employment advantages in government and the military. An extreme Buddhist and nationalist movement called 969 has been attacking Myanmar Muslims, sometimes called Rohingya. The campaign includes burning villages, driving thousands into exile in Bangladesh and Thailand, and killing close to 100 people over the past year.
Whether or not this campaign can be called ethnic cleansing, it falls into the category of religious warfare. The 969 movement bases its name on Buddhist religious precepts and is led by a senior monk named Bhikkhu Wirathu.
Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, who was received by President Obama at the White House this year, has praised the monk. He has let 969 thugs run loose instead of using security forces to bring the movement under control and end the persecution of Muslims.
As Myanmar took steps to shed its outlaw image, the United States and the European Union relaxed some economic sanctions they had imposed. President Obama now needs to contact Mr. Thein directly to tell him that Myanmar’s improved world standing is in jeopardy, and that he needs to impose law and order on the 969 movement before it destroys the country’s progress.