The communal violence has hit Mandalay – a city that had all along prided itself in its civic cooperation and tolerance. The frightening regularity of such cases is beginning to tell, and some community leaders are convinced that the violence is being instigated and manipulated for nefarious ends. Well, the anti-Muslim sentiments are already there and very much alive, and it only needs a spark from somewhere.
Compared to Meikthila and elsewhere last year, the police response has been swift, although the effectiveness remains to be seen. But overall, it makes the government and its commitment look weak. As for the reading that all this is to delay the next elections, that cannot be done without invoking the Constitution i.e. declare a period of emergency rule. I don’t think the establishment stands to gain by doing this. It is a measure of public distrust of the government that blame is being apportioned for its role, overt or covert.
I still think working on society is key, and for that one cannot rely on the state alone. Indeed it is doubtful whether the state as
the capacity or the willingness to do this. Unknowingly, Bamar Buddhist society is facing an internal crisis and Buddhist leaders – lay and clerical – do not seem to be finding a way out. Extrapolating this paralysis to other ethnic issues and the civil war does not produce a very encouraging picture.
All right, a bout of sectarian violence has happened. In its wake, interfaith groups in Mandalay and in the whole country will just have to redouble their efforts. Some political leaders have been clamouring that the present constitution is not democratic and has to be amended. But even if one accepts that, does a more democratic constitution mean that society also takes on stronger democratic values, like tolerance for minorities? Not necessarily.
Amending the Constitution is only one aspect of building a democratic Burma, and the other tasks are sadly being neglected. Too much attention is being paid to the superstructure of a democratic system and not enough to the real substance of such a system.
The government and security forces have primary responsibility for controlling the violence, but preventing it is a task for all. It shames us as a nation to see it recurring with such regularity.
Khin Zaw Win is the director of the Tampadipa Institute in Rangoon.