Feeling threatened by Hindu India, Communist China and Islam, Buddhists in south and southeast Asia are starting to develop a militancy of their own. Groups like the Buddhist Power Force (Bodu Bala Sena, or BBS) in Sri Lanka and 969 in Myanmar have become increasingly radicalized. They give voice to anti-Muslim sentiment that some think has inspired violence, like the anti-Muslim attacks in Sri Lanka in June that left three dead. According to a recent FT profile, leaders from 969 and the BBS signed a pact in September for “aimed at protecting global Buddhism.” Here’s some key text from the pact:
The Buddhist Society of the world has awoken to the ground realities of subtle incursions taking place under the guise of secular, multicultural and other liberal notions that are directly impacting on the Buddhist ethos and space. […]The endeavor of this memorandum of understanding is to counter the growing incursions and challenges faced by the Buddhist society in both countries and also in the south and Southeast Asian region, and the dangers of its long term consequences to the country and heritage.
The FT notes that though some of this rhetoric is directed against secularism, the groups talk about Islam too. And these countries are becoming more religious—the FT cites new “Buddhist Sunday Schools” and theologically-inflected laws in Myanmar.This won’t be the last of such surges in militancy. The 21st century was supposed to be a post-religious, post-modernist era of peaceful secularism. That now looks less and less like the world we are living in.