World Bulletin / News Desk
Rampant Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar risks alienating minority religions in the country, according to the authors of a new survey.
The majority of the 2,000 people polled by the Myanmar Egress think-tank "equate citizenship with religion" and believe that for a person to be Burmese they must be Buddhist.
The report, Citizenship in Myanmar: Contemporary Debates and Challenges in Light of the Reform Process, is based on polling across the country's various ethnic regions.
It includes responses from Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority who are denied citizenship by Myanmar's government.
According to scholars, the link being established by Burmese between religion and citizenship was a consequence of British colonization in the 19th century.
“British and American brought Christianity among some ethnic minorities in the 19th century and Muslims started to come also under the British,” Gwen Robinson, a Myanmar expert at the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University told the Anadolu Agency on Friday.
“It reinforced the notion of Burmanness, which is a fairly modern concept. Before the British, there was a stronger sense of unity.”
At the end of March. Myanmar is set to hold its first census for over 30 years, after which accurate data on the number of people adhering to each religion will be available.
There are fears the new figures could inflame religious tensions by revealing that there are more Muslims in Myanmar than previously thought.
The last census, conducted under a brutal military dictatorship in 1983, is regarded as unreliable by some groups. It puts the number of Muslims at 4 percent of the population.
But the International Crisis Group says the figure is likely to be closer to 10 percent, while the Burmese Muslim Association believes it is between 8 and 12 percent.
The Myanmar Egress report recommends that citizenship and religion be kept separate under law.
The country's constitution cites the "special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union/”
“Technically, Myanmar is a 100 percent secular state, but there are deeply ingrained attitudes. When he travels, President Thein Sein always visit Buddhists places but I doubt very much he would attend the inauguration of a mosque," Robinson told AA.
A recent campaign to introduce laws that severely restrict interfaith marriage has been backed by a petition signed by 1.3 million people.
The proposed legislation is cheerleaded by a far-right Buddhist nationalist movement called 969.
The group has achieved global notoriety since a reformist government came to power in 2011 and relaxed restrictions on freedom of expression.
Its most famous leader, a monk named Wirathu, is adored by many of Myanmar's Buddhists but condemned internationally for allegedly fomenting violence with his anti-Muslim hate speeches.
He has stoked Buddhist fears that Muslims "breed quickly" and are bent on overrunning the country.
The advocacy group Burma Campaign U.K. has called for the census to be postponed, citing the potential for more anti-Muslim violence as a key reason.
Since ethnic violence erupted in Myanmar in 2012, hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced, mostly Muslims.
The Myanmar Egress survey, conducted between February 2012 and June 2013, focused on middle and lower middle-class people on the grounds that they would be "able to articulate their views" on the reform process.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby downplayed any disconnect with the White House and said U.S. officials were constantly reviewing Syria options
Kiir will be accompanied on his visit by a number of South Sudanese government ministers and officials.
Announcement follows unprecedented talks between Myanmar’s military, political leaders, major opposition parties
Tension has run high across the occupied West Bank since the Wednesday shooting of an extremist Jewish rabbi in Jerusalem
A perforation made in a subterranean water source during mining activities seemed to have caused the flooding
Al-Ahram said Egyptian authorities asked Moussa Ibrahim to leave the country at the request of the Libyan government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni
A fire broke out at France's public radio headquarters in Paris, forcing live programmes off the air as staff evacuated the vast Paris complex where major building work has been underway
Rula Ghani, spouse of Afghanistan's new president Ashraf Ghani, have already critised some Islamic norms welcomed by Afghan society.
At least 300 ISIL militants were killed and scores of vehicles captured in clashes
South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December, when Kiir accused sacked vice president Riek Machar of leading a failed coup attempt against his regime.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Burkina Faso on Friday to press President Blaise Compaore to step down, a day after the army dissolved parliament and announced a transitional government in the face of violent mass protests.
Erekat's statement came during a meeting with foreign officials in the West Bank city of Jericho
Catalan head Artur Mas plans to hold the Nov. 9 ballot, marshalled by volunteers, in place of a non-binding referendum on independence declared illegal by the Constitutional Court.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's comments show how the threat posed by ISIL has pushed some Shi'ites and Sunnis to overcome their sectarian differences and face a common enemy
The fresh violence comes amid rising tension in the holy city after Israel closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound
The absence of the three Muslim leaders means that only the majority Orthodox Christian countries will be represented