QUESTION: In light of Medecin Sans Frontiere’s recent comments on the Rohingya, and the backlash against Aung San Suu Kyi, I wonder if you might be able to post on the site about your thoughts.
SHORT ANSWER: Violence springs from delusion and we strive to overcome it and bring compassion into the world, but understanding the roots of particular delusions is complex and difficult.
LONGER ANSWER: I have no solution, but I can, as you ask, post some thoughts. This is not a situation that I have followed in detail so there is a danger that I may be misinformed. That said, it appears that the Myanmar government decided to drive the Rohingya out of their country and set about doing so in a brutal manner, but have now agreed to let many of them back in, though understandably many are frightened to return as there has been killing and persecution. The Myanmar government has a different version of events, but most of the international media are not taking that account seriously. Although the recent dreadful events are suddenly shocking there is, presumably, a long history to this problem and it is difficult to understand the whole situation without knowledge of this.
The Buddhist view is easy to state in regard to immediate events: hatred is not overcome by hatred, by love alone is hatred overcome. This is a clear principle. On this basis, one prays for an end to the killing and ill-treatment and some reparation for damage already done. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, lethal violence is not the answer. But where is the love?
One then comes to the really difficult question of what should be done. Stop the killing, certainly, but what then? How ease the tensions that led to the killing in the first place? Is it better for the Rohingya to go back to Myanmar or to go back to Bangladesh? Where did they come from in the first place? Why did they go to Myanmar? To the Burmese, I gather, they appear as interlopers, unwanted illegal immigrants. The USA is currently trying to get rid of illegal immigrants and this is causing a lot of social friction in that country. They are not shooting people, but they are breaking up families in many cases. The problems caused by the strong feelings people have about immigration are troubling many countries at the moment and passions can run very high indeed.
I would prefer a world in which people were free to move from country to country as they wished, but I can see that when this happens on a large scale with people of a culture deemed alien by those already resident in a country, it is experienced as invasion, and the historic response to invasion has generally been armed resistance. My ideal, therefore, may not be attainable in the real world. This means that many real life situations actually require delicate diplomacy and compromise. This leads me to ask how it has come about that this situation has got so bad that nobody notices until people start being slaughtered. The international community - if one can make such a sweeping generalisation - seems not to have seen this coming and not to have done much, if anything, to avert the catastrophe.
Issuing condemnations rarely does much good. The popular media want to have heroes and villains and when somebody seems to have switched from one of these categories to the other it causes great confusion, but this confusion is really the result of a way of thinking that was wrong from the beginning. People are people and they have to deal with the situations that come before them and in those situations there are often a complex balance of forces in play. What decisions has Aung San Suu Kyi actually made? What were the influences that she was juggling when she made those decisions? Why did the pope not even mention the Rohingya during his visit to Myanmar? How is a newspaper reader in a country on the other side of the planet to make sense of what is happening? What is needed is not the passing of moral judgements. What is needed is for help to be mobilised, informed by an in-depth understanding of the full situation. I myself cannot claim to have such an understanding, but there must be people in positions of authority who do.
The resolution of complex international problems requires more than knee jerk reactions. It requires in-depth understanding and resolute compassionate action that somehow helps all the main parties. This is, however, asking a lot since all the players who have the power to assist also have vested interests. These comments do not just apply to the Rohingya crisis - they apply to refugee problems all over the planet and all the other actually or potentially lethal political situations - N Korea, Syria, the stand-off in the Gulf, Ukraine, and so on. We pray and work for a wiser, more compassionate world, an end to bloodshed and enmity, reconciliation and repair, while all the time knowing that there are few certainties and real progress requires the wisdom of Solomon.
Who actually loves the Rohingya? Where will they find a secure home? What have they themselves done to make this development more likely? Who else can help and how? Why do the Burmese feel so angry? What can bring peace? These are the kinds of questions that need to be understood.