Summary of Religion and Violence in Myanmar

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Many think of Buddhism as a religion of peace, but as events in Myanmar make clear, Buddhists, including monks, may willingly embrace violence if they believe that their religion is under threat. Indeed, Myanmar’s most revered Buddhist monk, Sitagu Sayadaw, preached a sermon offering explicit religious justification for the mass killing of the Muslim minority Rohingya. Political scientist Matthew J. Walton explains how nationalism and Buddhism intersect in Myanmar, complicating efforts by human rights groups and politicians to broker peace.  

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why the Rohingya are treated as outcasts in Myanmar and
  • How a widely revered Buddhist monk in Myanmar justifies violence against the Rohingya.

About the Author

Matthew J. Walton is Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Research Fellow in Modern Burmese Studies and director of the Asian Studies Center at the University of Oxford.



State-led violence against the Rohingya – a Muslim minority residing mainly in Myanmar’s Rakhine State – has intensified, causing more than 600,000 Rohingya to flee the country. Myanmar’s government does not consider the Rohingya rightful citizens and does not grant them minority rights. Many in Myanmar fear that recognizing the Rohingya as an ethnic group would embolden them to seek political independence. Furthermore, because the majority of people see Buddhism as a key aspect of national identity in Myanmar, the Rohingya face an even greater stigma as a result of their faith. The advent of the worldwide “war on terror” has granted Myanmar’s ruling classes greater justification for cracking down on the Rohingya – on the premise of undercutting extremism. Meanwhile, attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army have only lent more weight to the false claim that all Muslims are inherently violent. 

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