It is said that there is nothing more dangerous or deceitful in this world than when darkness comes in the form of light.
Imagine a gun, however big or small; this is a symbol of darkness, as guns are designed to kill. Now picture a monk: a holy and respected man is a symbol of light, as monks practice mindfulness and compassion. Finally, imagine a monk in his robes, standing upright with his hands clasped in the form of prayer, symbolising his commitment to Buddhism.
Now try to envision his right hand slowly reaching into his robe, and then slowly stretching out toward you with his index finger clutching the small trigger of a handgun.
Immediately, your whole perception of the monk changes. But it’s too late for you to react because by the time your brain attempts to process what to do in this situation, the cold-blooded killer has already put a bullet into your head. It’s a simple and cunning way to kill someone – but would monks really do this?
On September 25, 1959, Talduwe Somarama, a Buddhist monk, stepped into the home of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike, who was commencing one of his regular meetings with the public. As the prime minister started kneeling down to pay his respects in the traditional Buddhist way, Talduwe Somarama pulled out a revolver and opened fire at point-blank range. A Buddhist monk had assassinated the prime minister of Sri Lanka. And for what? Talduwe Somarama claimed he did it “for the greater good of his country, race and religion”.
This is a letter of concern from us and a few of our fellow students.
To our ignorant Buddhist brothers, we beg of you: please stop this madness. The purgation of the Rohingya people must come to an end. Bloodshed is not a solution; it is a sin.
We say to the imposters, the Buddhist monks who preach for a pure Buddhist state, that there is no purity in the slaughtering of Rohingya, or any other group. By spreading your lies into the ears of young men and women, you instill racism and hatred into their hearts. You disgrace the meaning of Buddhism with your violence and views. This is not the Buddhist Myanmar we know and grew up in.
To the leaders of our nation, we respectfully request you engage in peaceful negotiations with the Rohingya. It is important that the government takes an unbiased approach and recognises this as an internal conflict. However, President U Thein Sein has said that Myanmar “will take responsibility for its ethnic nationalities but it is not at all possible to recognise the illegal border-crossing Rohingyas who are not an ethnic group in Burma”.
This implies that he does not think we should be held accountable for this issue. But we cannot simply “hand over” members of this group to any third country that is willing to take them. People should not be passed around like a commodity; whether you call them Rohingya or Bengalis, they, like all of us, have their rights.
Furthermore, pathways toward granting citizenship must be considered by the government. What has the approach of denying them citizenship brought us? The ethnic violence that occurred hinders economic development and democratisation. When there is conflict, there is no trust, and without trust, how can we rebuild our country? If we are unable to come together, look past our differences, and find common ground, then how will we be able to address the pressing issues that hinder better living standards for all people? If this violence continues, we are only inviting the return of military rule. We are justifying the military regimes of the previous five decades, which used ethnic violence as an excuse to claim and cling to power.
To the citizens of Myanmar, we ask you to believe in a democratic Myanmar, a country where democracy is not used as an excuse to take what you want or act as you like. For the first time in decades we have a chance at freedom so let us seize this opportunity and not allow all those years of bloodshed and hard work go to waste. Instead of having to spend money feeding displaced people in relief camps and rebuilding homes, let us move past the violence and instead rebuild our economy through investments in education and healthcare. The world is watching us as we finally transition from a dictatorship to a democracy. Let us eradicate the racism of the past and work together toward a new beginning.
The sooner we resolve this issue, the sooner we can work toward building a better future for all. The bar is set high; let’s jump together.
(Nyi Nyi Ohn Myint, 17, from the International School of Yangon, and Okkar Kyaw, 20, from Grinnell College, are brothers with completely different personalities who want to work together for a greater cause.)