The majority Buddhist and Hindu societies of South(East) Asia are not traditionally associated with conflict and intolerance. Yet recent years have seen a surge in international reports of religious tensions and violence by Buddhist and Hindu majorities towards Muslim minorities in the region. A seminar on this topic was organized by VU University’s Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology and the International Institute for Asian Studies on Monday 15 June 2015.
The seminar was opened by Ton Salman and Maaike Matelski from VU University, who explained the department’s interest in the apparent rise in intolerance towards Muslim minorities in the region. Recent news reports of Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing Myanmar by boat are a reminder that this has now become a matter of regional or even global concern.
In the morning session, speakers Jonathan Spencer (University of Edinburgh) and Iselin Frydenlund (PRIO/University of Oslo) focused on the situation in Sri Lanka, while Ward Berenschot (KITLV Leiden) discussed the causes of eruptions of violence towards religious minorities with reference to India and Indonesia. The afternoon session focused on Myanmar and Thailand, with presentations by Khin Mar Mar Kyi (University of Oxford), Matthew Walton (University of Oxford), and Alexander Horstmann (University of Copenhagen). Nira Wickramasinghe (Leiden University) and Gerry van Klinken (KITLV Leiden/University of Amsterdam) acted as discussants. The lectures were followed by a panel discussion led by Thijl Sunier (VU University Amsterdam), in which the speakers tried to identify commonalities and differences among the cases, and discussed the transnational dimension of this rising intolerance in the region.
It was concluded that the recent increase in intolerance towards Muslim minorities in the region can be attributed to a combination of local developments, including significant political transitions in various countries, and transnational factors that may reinforce local perceptions of Muslims as a threat to society. An adequate response would therefore take into account local specifics, but also strengthen transnational inter-religious dialogues as a means to counter rumours and the sense of threat that gives rise to feelings of insecurity, which in turn have the potential to be mobilised into hate speech and/or violence.
For a detailed report about the seminar, the lectures and discussions, please visit the IIAS website.