Communal tensions are causing ripples in the Myanmar, after 200 Buddhists ransacked a mosque in central Myanmar, forcing Muslims to seek refuge overnight in a police station. Over the last few years, widespread rioting and clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims has resulted in a breaking point of sorts. What has culminated from such unrest is an anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, thought of as one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse countries in Asia over the past two years.
The nature of these violent attacks against the Muslims have been quite baneful. For example, in March 2013, an argument in a gold shop in Meiktila in central Myanmar led to violence between Buddhists and Muslims which left more than 40 people dead and entire neighborhoods razed. Also, in August 2013 rioters burnt Muslim-owned houses and shops in the central town of Kanbalu after police refused to hand over a Muslim man accused of raping a Buddhist woman
The authorities have failed to handle this dissension assertively. They have resorted to declaring states of emergency and night-time curfews in some instances but they have been unable to prevent incidents from breaking out in the first place. The government has yet to present any long-term proposals to resolve the conflicts.
With Myanmar flowering into a democracy from one of the most repressive governments on earth, this rising ethnic hatred and attacks could once again land the country into an inhibited hole. While Myanmar has made great strides in the past three years of reforms, without more proactive measures to halt ethnic and religious violence, the country could descend into chaos.
The people of Myanmar need to take matters in their own hands by realising that inter-communal harmony and acceptance will lead to economic gains and better standard of living. international institutions such as United Nations and World Bank can help with capacity building and other types of expertise such as enforcing the rule of law, facilitating discussion on shared history, and supporting inter-faith dialogue. This is because an open and inclusive dialogue enhances mutual understanding, which is an alternative to demonization which gives rise to communal violence.