MEETING OF THE INTERNATIONAL FORUM ON MUSLIM-BUDDHIST RELATIONS @ 9 JULY 2018, BANGKOK, THAILAND

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September 15, 2018

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SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION POINTS

1. BMF structure & organisation
A key strength of the BMF is precisely its loose network, which allows each member organisation to pursue different methods and approaCh different parties for collaboration. That arrangement can be retained to afford flexibility in the project while at the same time, a wider spectrum of alliance should also be forged.

To that end, the BMF will be structured along three concentric levels:
(i) the nucleus or core group – consisting of the principal organisations viz. INEB, Religions for Peace, Muhammadiyah and JUST. This group will undertake major decisions and constitute the back bone of the forum.
(ii) the country focus – comprising organisations from countries with both Buddhist and Muslim populations (mainly from SE Asia, but also Sri Lanka, India, China, Bangladesh)
(iii) the wider network – comprising organisations from other parts of the world, which may include Muslim or Buddhist countries, or those with none but are dedicated to dialogue between the two faith groups. It was also noted that some organisations in Europe for example, are very dedicated to the Rohingya cause even with minority Muslim/Buddhist population.

In that connection, member groups may employ different strategies that may take into account sensitivities of the parties they engage with.

2. Member activities

(i) JUST – JUST has two updates: firstly, the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Rohingya, which was held in September 2017. The tribunal found liability for genocide on the part of Myanmar but registered reservation on the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ partly because there is no legal definition but also because the term itself is laden with moral objectionability implying the ‘impurity’ of the group in question. On inquiry it was explained that evidence of the crime came from various sources, including testimonies at the trial among others by authors of reports documenting atrocities and figures like Maung Zarni and Kyaw Win, and also interviews with victims themselves. There is also a dedicated website to the tribunal containing all the relevant information.
Currently JUST is working with Universiti Malaya’s Law Faculty to publish the findings and related documents from the tribunal. The university has agreed to publish them as a special issue in one of its academic law journals.
Secondly, JUST has also been collaborating with a regional civil society initiative for the restoration of the rights of the rohingya people, currently still at the incipient stages.
(ii) Muhammadiyyah – hitherto the key figure for interfaith dialogue had been Din Syamsuddin and thus with his departure, Muhammadiyya had been relatively less vigorous. On a positive note, it has received warm response to crowdfunding exercise though the funds were generally channelled to humanitarian relief causes than peace building initiatives. Muhammadiya also welcomes assistance in the form of knowledge input & resources.
(iii) Religions for Peace – RfP has been engaged with several key figures including Aung San Suu Kyi and the Supreme Patriarchs of Sri Lanka and Cambodia. An important take away from these projects is the need for diplomacy to straddle difficult dialogues, eg in Myanmar, Rohingyas should be referred to as “Muslims in Myanmar”. RfP also has been in touch with prominent monks (eg Sitagu Sayadaw) and has expressed strong objections when they express anti-Muslim practices.
(iv) INEB – for the past two years INEB has engaged with Buddhist leaders including monks affiliated with MaBaTha (hard to dialogue directly with the latter). The process includes community & environmental projects and other activities bringing Muslims and Buddhists together. According to INEB’s findings, the project has shown positive results. Currently, INEB is planning for dialogue activities in anticipation of upcoming 2020 elections in Myanmar, which is likely to witness exploitation of ethno-religious sentiments. Next month INEB will invite Myanmar political leaders as part of such engagement, plus other activists and intellectuals such Filipino scholar Walden Bello.

3. Activities

Several activities have been planned:
(i) Advocacy
(ii) Public education & outreach
(iii) Community projects, services & groundwork activities
(iv) Media awareness campaign
(v) Art as medium of dialogue

It was also proposed that we pick one concrete area from present conflict areas to focus: some identified include (a) changing demographics, (b) conversion, (c) halal certification issue, (d) economic and business monopoly. The suggestion was that these issues were addressed head on. However, as these were where the tensions arise, it was decided that emphasis should be on building common grounds and nurturing trusts first, through other activities.

4. Fundraising

Funds have been solicited from such agencies as the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). On inquiry it was explained that funds were solicited from various channels so that no one body exercises dominant influence. Furthermore, the loose structure of BMF as aforementioned should also translate into flexibility in fundraising by different member organisations.

End of report.

 

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