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Religion and Government: A Call to Action Against Violence

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While murder of any kind is wrong and painful, the murdering of religious leaders seems to affect not only humanity but also further wounds those religious communities. Recent events have sparked memories of past violence, including the murders of several Buddhist monks by the Tatmadaw in 2008.

As a journalist, I feel a moral duty to raise my voice to crimes. I believe that being complicit is a crime in and of itself and I am honored to preserve this moral virtue for this nation and the people of my country. Not only do I feel obligated as a person of society to uphold social harmony and non-violence principles, but also as a journalist to report the truth.

However, it is not only a matter of our humanity, but also our economic security. The US Congress passed a resolution condemning the actions of both the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, calling on the Myanmar (Burma) government to end the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, and calling on the government to allow UN humanitarian access to the state of Rakhine as well as unrestricted access to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (Burma). This was passed in September in the 115th Congress 1st Session. This is a reminder that the international opinion on Myanmar (Burma) greatly determines our economic stability. We can see here that violence is an act of anger that not only affects the members involved, but also the people of that community or nation.

Unfortunately, experiencing violence firsthand is not an uncommon thing for the citizens of Myanmar (Burma). I was a Buddhist monk for 10 years in Myanmar (Burma). In 1988, I was in Yangon (Rangoon) during the massive public protest where hundreds of monks, students, and civilians were killed. The painful memories of those times have left a permanent wound on my soul that recent events have only brought back to the forefront of my memory.

Despite rural monks inability to become politically engaged, many progressive, urban monks have been supporting student-run protests for a long time. In my time living in Yangon (Rangoon) from 1986-1994, I found that many monks believed that peaceful democratization under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi was the best option for the country. Religious leaders hold a lot of social authority, reaching large groups of people and therefore have the power to encourage social and political movements.

When the senior military government ordered security guards to shoot and kill Buddhist monks in 2008, they made a statement that they were not attempting to reach peaceful transitions into democracy or that they were working toward building a safe country. Religious leaders constantly preach peace and have a moral duty to protect their fellow citizens. While Buddhist monks have attempted to make connections with other religious leaders (such as Christians) to build a social cohesion of inter-ethnic communities in the country, the military council (formally known as the State Peace and Development Council) consistently thwarted their efforts.

However, it is important to remember that religious leaders are not exempt from corruption. During the 1980s when monks were involved in the support of protests and political change, a new wave of extreme nationalistic views fostered toward non-Buddhist communities. It is important for all religious leaders to abide by the teachings of their religion. All religion promotes peace and understanding between individuals, and religious leaders who succumb to nationalist ideology ignore the main principles of their religion.

For years the military council misused funds for education, health, and social welfare. If we continue to ignore the voices of our religious leaders, our international trading will continue to consist of extracting our natural resources and harming our environment. The Myanmar (Burma) government should see religion as an asset to breaking up deadlock in the country and not waste this ample opportunity for peace. Indeed, the only way for religious life to flourish is if political life is also stable, and vice versa.

As global alliances call on us to make political and social changes, we must rise to the occasion. A crime is an act of anger and ignorance that can only be combatted by love and peace. The nation must confront it morally, intellectually, legally and professionally to establish social justice. Myanmar (Burma) is a home of spiritual and intellectual people with an intense sense of justice, tolerance and humility. It is time that the nation restores a peaceful society free of abuse, torture and discrimination.

**This article was first published for Kaowao News in 2008 but updated on 18 November 2017 for Mon News Agency.

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