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Opinion

Obama and Myanmar (Burma): 4 points about conflict there

A long-simmering ethnic conflict in Myanmar (Burma) recently broke into American newspapers: At least 89 people have been killed and more than 35,000 displaced in what is being described (not entirely accurately) as Buddhist-Muslim violence. With President Obama as the first US head of state to visit this country, there are four points to bear in mind about this detour from Myanmar’s road to a more open society:

3. Religious stereotypes don’t match

Stereotypical views of religion (especially Islam) may fit poorly with real-world facts. The political scientist Samuel Huntington famously wrote that Islam has “bloody borders.” Many pundits and ideologues have echoed this sentiment in legislatures and on television screens. The charge is that Islam, by its very nature, is somehow more violent and more expansionist than other faiths.

Few anthropologists of religion would support such a claim. The plight of the Rohingyas is but one counterexample: In this case, the victims of the violence are overwhelmingly Muslim, and the perpetrators overwhelmingly subscribe to a faith (Buddhism) that holds nonviolence to be a cardinal virtue.

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