October 05, 2012

Buddha Buzz: Buddhist News from Around the World, Week of October 1

Emma Varvaloucas

It all started in a small phone repair shop in southeast Bangladesh last Saturday, when a Buddhist man in his twenties accidentally Facebook-tagged himself in a photo of a burned Koran. Others in the shop saw the photo, and the news spread around the Muslim community.

By Sunday, a mob had gathered, converging on the Buddhist villages in the area of Cox's Bazar. Together they torched at least 10 Buddhist temples and burned and vandalized more than 100 Buddhist homes. The police had calmed the situation by dawn, but the damage had already been done.

Bangladesh Riots
Bangladesh Riots

On Wednesday, Buddhist monks in Bangkok protested in front of the United Nations office, demanding U.N. intervention to protect the Buddhist community, many of whom are now living in temporary shelters. The attacks came as a genuine surprise, as historically the Buddhist community in Bangladesh, which makes up less than 1% of the Muslim-majority population, has lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbors.

Speaking about living in harmony with our Muslim neighbors, yesterday three groups—Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, Sojourners (an interfaith social justice organization), and United Methodist Women—struck back against the anti-jihad advertisements that are currently hanging in NYC's Times Square subway stations with advertisements of their own. They read, respectively, "In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors," "Love your Muslim neighbors," and "Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed."

If you haven't beNYC adsen following this particular controversy, the American Freedom Defense Initiative posted ads two weeks ago that read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad," sparking a slew of protests and debates about what free speech really means in the United States. (I should make it clear, by the way, that the American Freedom Defense Initiative had to successfully sue the MTA before the transit authority would allow them to post the ads.)

At left, the original ad, the Rabbis for Human Rights ad, the Sojourners ad, and the United Methodist Women ad.

With the tragic events that unfolded in Bangladesh last weekend in mind, I was heartened to see this interfaith response of solidarity and peace in New York. As Sojourners' campaign manager, Rev. Beau Underwood, was quoted in a New York Times article about the ads, "In the face of religious extremism, the best response is to treat others like we would want to be treated"—a sentiment I hope will be remembered in Bangladesh in the coming weeks.

Plastic BuddhaIn another, more kitschy story of interfaith interaction, a plastic inflatable Buddha statue called "Floating Echo" has been riding the waves of Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens for the last month. Isn't he cute? The New York Times ran a story of his radiant equanimity last week.






Images: The Shima Bihar Buddhist temple at Ramu, burned on Sunday. AFP / Getty Images.

A Bangladeshi Buddhist monk reacts as he looks at a burned book shelf at a Buddhist temple on Monday. A.M. Ahad / AP.

"Floating Echo," a plastic inflatable Buddha statue in Queens, NY. From the New York Times.

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Will.Rowe's picture

I do not "jump to conclusions"; I read and do not deny the obvious, despite this being political incorrect. I stick to my claim: There is only one religion killing people in the name of their religion across the globe. From the Philippines to US to Spain, Britain, and France to Africa, India, Bangladesh, throughout the Middle East; virtually no large area is untouched by violence from Muslim Terrorists. No other religion does this across the globe, and especially not for some offending speech.
Just today I read how the brave Muslim Terrorists shoot a 14 year old girl intentionally in Pakistan because she said something they do not like. Any perceived slight and the Muslim Terrorists go on a killing spree. They have thrown acid in schoolgirls’ faces for daring to go to school in Afghanistan, so no atrocity is surprising, but the defense of Muslim Terrorism is surprising, especially in a country like the US where we have access to so much information concerning their horrible religious crimes.
The truth is not always politically correct; however, hiding from it does not end Muslim Terrorism any more than it ended Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Sadaam Hussein or Osama. You can disagree with me. It does not matter. But do you not owe yourself better than to hide from the facts?

kfcolle1's picture

I must respectfully disagree. It is by embracing extremism in all its myriad forms that the seeds of hatred, delusion and ignorance are sown. Buddha teaches the middle way. The acts you describe are from extremists who don't speak for the entire Muslim community. All of the men you list were those who could not embrace the ambiguities of life and resorted to hideous extremism in their thinking and behavior.

karladiane's picture

Um, Will, I hate to break this news to you, but Islam is NOT the only religion that has extremist members who resort to violence. Many Christians, and yes, sadly, even Buddhist groups have resorted to violence, not only in the distant past, but in present times as well. You might want to do a little fact-checking on this one before making sweeping generalization about Islam. Nigeria is a good place to see some mutual violence between both Christians and Muslims. And you may not be familiar with a recent book by Jerryson & Juergeusmeyer called Buddhist Warfare. And did you hear about recent violence AGAINST muslims in Burma? Look it up, and see who the aggressors were. And there was a place that was once called Yugoslavia, where two religions were equally violent toward each other.....

And of course, there's plenty of non-religious violence to go around - remember Cambodia of the 60's and 70's? Rwanda? Apartheid South Africa?

Yes, "facts" are hard to ignore - but cherry-picking facts is all too easy.

Will.Rowe's picture

Is promoting peace and good will not one of the most basic parts of a religion? Yet over and over again only one religion--Islam--murders across the globe in the name of religion. What is wrong with these people that something someone puts on a website or says about their prophet so inflames their hatred that they go on a murdering spree? Judging from their actions, I can only conclude that this one religion is not a religion of peace, but one of hate. I wish they were not this way, but the facts are too obvious to ignore.

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Hi Will,
Although I appreciate you commenting on here, unfortunately I really can't agree with the character of your post. To begin with, Islam is hardly the only religion that gets called in as a reason to wreak violence. Christianity, Judaism, and yes, Buddhism, have all been touted as reasons to launch violent offensives. Just a few days ago a group of Burmese Buddhist monks burnt down a mosque in retaliation, it seems, to the incident in Bangladesh. (It's also worth noting that what you call a "murdering spree" was not, in fact, a murdering spree, as no one was killed.)
I understand that it's easy to look at violence like this and jump to the conclusion that Islam must simply be a religion that promotes hate, especially with the poor reputation that it has earned in the United States in recent years. And I also understand that it's difficult to look at wasteful, seemingly pointless violence such as this and not become frustrated and upset.
But if there's one thing we should know as Buddhists—and as plain old human beings, for that matter—it's that jumping to conclusions is never a good idea, as it precludes the kind of understanding that comes from genuine and deep analysis of a complicated, interdependent situation. I would urge you to take a close look at the Koran, if you haven't already. You'll find that Islam is not the violent, hate-filled, unreasonable religion that you seem to think it is.