CAIRO – A global Muslim body is planning to take the issue of persecution of Muslims in Buddhist-majority Burma to the United Nations to help stop continuing attacks against the minority.
“The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) intends to raise the issue in the Security Council and the Human Rights Council to find a solution that contributes to putting an end to religious persecution against Muslims in Burma,” an OIC official told Arab News on Sunday, March 31.
“The OIC had previously tried to contact government officials in Burma to no avail.”
The Jeddah-based group plans to hold a meeting in Saudi Arabia on April 14 to discuss attacks against Muslims in Burma.
OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said the organization was “ready to take all necessary measures and actions” in dealing with the impending crisis.
Ihsanoglu also urged the Burmese government to “put an end to Buddhist extremism and hate campaigns, as well as ethnic cleansing.”
The OIC move follows attacks against Muslims, which left at least 43 people dead and several mosques burnt in a week of sectarian violence in the central city of Meiktila.
The violence started by an argument between a Buddhist couple and gold shop owners and spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma.
“Violence has extended to target all Muslims in Burma,” the OIC official said.
“The recent violence in the central regions of the country confirms all too well that there is religious persecution.”
In October, the OIC tried to open an office in Burma to help Muslims there, but the move was blocked by President Thein Sein following massive protests by Buddhist monks.
“The OIC attempted to open an office in Myanmar (Burma) over the past year to supply aid to Muslims in Myanmar but extremist Buddhists demonstrated against this attempt,” the official said.
“There has also been an Egyptian proposition to send a special delegation headed by the Secretary General of the OIC, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and includes a number of foreign ministers of member countries to Myanmar, but this visit has been postponed.”
With Buddhist mobs chasing Muslims from village to another, experts blame radical monks for the new wave of sectarian violence in Burma.
“It is clear that there are some agents provocateurs with radical anti-Muslim agendas at work in the country — including influential Buddhist monks preaching intolerance and hatred of Muslims,” Jim Della-Giacoma, a Burma expert with the International Crisis Group think-tank, told The Week.
“Also, the systematic and methodical way in which Muslim neighborhoods were razed to the ground is highly suggestive of some degree of advance planning by radical elements.”
Tension between Buddhists and Muslims has been simmering since last year’s sectarian violence in western Rakhine state, which displaced thousands of Muslims.
Monks were seen igniting the violence by preaching a so-called “960 movement”, which represents a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism that urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.
“When the profit goes to the enemy’s hand, our nationality, language and religion are all harmed,” said Wirathu, a monk from Mandalay known for his radical anti-Islam rhetoric.
“They will take girls with this money. They will force them to convert religion. All children born to them will be a danger to the country. They will destroy the language as well as the religion,” he said in a speech put online.
Burma’s Muslims — largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent — account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population.
Muslims entered Burma en masse for the first time as indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent during British colonial rule, which ended in 1948.
But despite their long history, they have never fully been integrated into the country.
“We need to fight this incitement by a group of bad people,” said Thet Swe Win, a human rights activist who co-organized a recent prayer service for Burma’s peace.
“We must prevent racial and religious disputes.”