"Buddhist missionary group launches border projects" is bad news

by Visakha Kawasaki, Colombo, Sri Lanka, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 16, 2010

When I first saw the headline “Buddhist missionary group launches border projects” I dared to hope that it meant that one of Burma’s great missionary monks was going to organize humanitarian relief on Burma’s various war-torn and impoverished borders. Then I saw that the story was coming from the Myanmar Times and knew that it was bad news.

Who is this Dr Khin Shwe (sic), who is chairman of the “Buddhist Association for the Promotion of Theravada Buddhism in Border Regions” anyway? In the ‘90s, he was awarded an “honorary degree” from Washington University, a fake institution. His other connections in Washington, DC are also phony– he paid big bucks to hire the US public relations firm Bain and Associated in a failed attempt to improve the Burmese generals image.

The Burmese army acts with brutal impunity in every border region. The military government’s human rights record is one of the worst in the world. As Human Rights Watch observes, the army continues to attack civilians in ethnic conflict areas. “Abuses such as forced labor, sexual violence against women and girls, extrajudicial killings, torture and beatings, and confiscation of land and property are widespread. There are an estimated 450,000 to half a million internally displaced people in eastern Burma. The Burmese army and non-state armed groups extensively use landmines, including near civilian settlements and food production sites - a clear violation of international humanitarian law.”

Perhaps these activities are going to, as Khin Shwe put it, “smooth their missionary works.” I have to shudder when he says that “We will conduct our missionary activities in the farthest corners of the hilly and border regions because we want all Myanmar citizens to come into contact with the teachings of the Buddha.”

The ethnic minorities have already come in too much contact with the Burmese army! Just who are these missionaries aiming to convert (or pacify?) in Mon State, anyway? The Mon were Buddhist before any other group in all of Southeast Asia! It must be the Karen he’s talking about. But the Burmese army is waging a vicious war against the Karen and have been brutalizing Buddhist, Christian, and animist Karen villagers for years without discrimination.

Buddhism is not to be spread by force or by indoctrination teams with a 1.4 billion kyat budget from 35 well-connected donors including Khin Shwe. This association to convert Christians and animists stinks to high heaven and signals more human rights abuses to be carried out against the ethnic minorities of the border region.

Given the Burmese generals record of brutality towards non-violent monks and their monasteries and charitable organizations, given their crude oppression of dissent, their use of torture and imprisonment, and their ongoing wars against ethnic minorities, how could anyone learn about Buddhism from these people?

This is not a news story, this is propaganda pure and simple and it really describes a further assault on the Burmese peoples’ freedom, their freedom from forcible conversion, their freedom to believe what they wish and practice what they believe. To do this in the name of Buddhism is an insult to the Triple Gem.