Why not quote Buddhists in news about Buddhist mistreatment of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingyas?

Here at GetReligion we're constantly going on about the sources journalists rely upon when reporting religion stories. We keep asking, for instance, why religious liberals are the only voices quoted in stories critical of this or that traditionalist position.

One reason for this is Kellerism, the GetReligion term for when editors at a news outlet decide that it only needs to quote one side in a debate because the other side is simply on the wrong side of history or is flat out wrong.

However, there are many other times when appropriate voices and their positions are missing simply because journalists do not know they exist or how to find them.

That’s the case with Buddhist views on the goings on in Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are being harshly persecuted and forced to seek safety in neighboring, and Muslim, Bangladesh. Even the presence of a Nobel Peace Prize winner as Myanmar’s ostensible leader has not helped the Rohingya minority.

Why? Because Myanmar’s overwhelming Buddhist majority simply has little sympathy for its Muslim neighbors.

Surely, though, there must be some Buddhist leaders who are more sympathetic and who can be contacted for a quote or two that expresses another Buddhist viewpoint? Or do we have to make do with global political leaders and humanitarian groups for comments critical of Myanmar’s handling of the situation, as has generally been the case.

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No, we don't. #JournalismMatters

Still, other than the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader that Western journalists, in particular, seem to think speaks for all Buddhists everywhere, prominent Buddhist voices are generally absent from the many stories being produced about the plight of the Rohingyas.

(While the Dalai Lama is the acknowledged [though not by China] religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism’s various movements he does not speak for Myanmar Buddhists, who follow a strikingly different form of the faith. In short, his comments about Myanmar have about as much authority as a statement by Pope Francis critical of some action taken by the Russian Orthodox Church or the Southern Baptist Convention. Click here for thumbnail descriptions of Buddhism's major divisions.)

So who else can journalists call upon in the Buddhist community for background and quotes?

Fortunately, Lion’s Roar, a leading American pan-Buddhist print magazine and online outlet, has provided such a list. It's in the form of an open letter to Myanmar’s Buddhist religious leadership.

Among the 160 prominent global Buddhist teachers and communal leaders who signed the letter are a host of leading American Buddhist figures who are researchable and reachable via the web. Here’s the heart of the letter. (The Buddhist monks referred to in the first paragraph are Myanmar religious leaders). This is long, but essential:

We are greatly disturbed by what many in the world see as slander and distortion of the Buddha’s teachings. In the Dhamma [teachings] there is no justification for hatred and violence. Mean-spirited words and direct provocation led by [militantly nationalist] Ma Ba Tha monks (the Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, formerly known as the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion) stand in stark contradiction to monastic precepts and Buddha’s teachings on universal morality, peace, and tolerance.
* Therefore, we call on the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee to uphold Buddhism by further enforcing its recent rulings against Ma Ba Tha, taking a strong stand against hate speech and ethnic cleansing.
* We call on the government and military of Myanmar, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, to apply their full resources in support of peace and for the protection of vulnerable communities of all religions and ethnicities.
* We call on member nations of the U.N. and the U.S. State Department to use all peaceful means at their disposal to promote a peaceful resolution of ethnic tensions in the country; to see that the survival and safety of the Rohingyas is ensured; and to ensure that steps are taken to provide them with full rights as citizens of Myanmar.
* We call on Buddhist friends around the world to make our concerns known to all parties in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and to give generously to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other international humanitarian organizations providing aid to Rohingya communities. As Buddhists, we are channeling funds through the UNHCR. Our dana [generosity] can say to Rohingya peoples and to the world that the rain of Buddha’s compassion falls on all beings equally.

As of now, it appears that the international community lacks the will to actually do something about the treatment of the Rohingyas. That is, other than loudly wringing its hands and issuing virtually meaningless United Nations resolutions.

This New York Times piece makes clear why. As with so many other small-time authoritarian nations, a giant in authoritarian government has decided to shield it for its own geopolitical purposes. In this case, it's China.

Also, this analysis piece from The Globalist underscores that the sort of geopolitical meddling in Myanmar that China’s engaged in is nothing new — and a direct contributor to the problem.

I'm referring to Myanmar’s founding as Burma, which previously was administered as part of India when the British Empire held sway.

The result of its ruling South Asia as one colonial unit -- now broken up into Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar -- was a mixing of ethnic and religious groups, which is how the Rohingya ended up in Myanmar. Thus, the stage was set.

It appears that the Rohingya crisis will, unfortunately, be with us for some time to come. That's even more reason to secure Buddhist sources now rather than later.

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