By Johan Galtung
IAIS-International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies & IIUM-International Islamic University of Malaysia
Yes, Islam and Christianity are on old Buddhist lands; with Muslim-Buddhist clashes in Sri Lanka, Myanmar.
Occident is the big space of the three Abrahamic religions Judaism-Christianity-Islam, with the secularisms of the first two, excluding each other. Indonesia-Philippines are in the Occident.
Orient is a big space spanned by Buddhism, which does not exclude others, not even violent state power; hence more complex. There are pure Buddhist countries: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam; and mixed Buddhist countries, with other non-exclusive world views: in China with Daoism-Confucianism, in Japan with Kami shinto-Confucianism, and in Korea with Confucianism and Christianity.
The world religioscape started with Naturism, invoking Nature’s blessings – sun, water, soil, fertility; offered by Mother Earth. The worst treated civilization of all, not even called “civilization”.
Then came 3000+ years ago Father Sky in the Abrahamic religions; the Father-Mother mix in Hinduism; and the advanced Naturism of Daoism in China and Kami shinto in Japan, and Confucianism as social Naturism in both, and Korea. Hinduism was challenged by Buddhism over caste and was driven out; Judaism as tribal by Christianity driving out Judaism.
Occident vs Orient can be seen as Abrahamism vs Buddhism+ with very different world views. Nature: Herrschaft vs Partnerschaft. Self: individual Egos vs relations between them, knots vs nets, I-culture vs we-culture. Society: vertical-competitive vs horizontal-cooperative (sangha). World: globalism, Center vs Periphery vs Evil vs localism, each part a center. Time: limited from creation to the end vs from infinity to infinity. Transpersonal: one God-Satan-soul-Paradise-Hell, exclusive vs none of the above, inclusive of others. Episteme: atomistic-deductive, no contradiction vs holistic-dialectic like in Daoism, holism contradictions, yin/yang. Reality is like that.
Christianity and Islam, driven by “the only true faiths for the whole world” went as missionaries West and South, conquering Naturism; and East: Islam with Sultanates, Christianity with colonies-companies.
But Hinduism-Buddhism went East before them.
Buddha, 563-483, lived half a millennium before Christ and a millennium before Mohammed 622 hegira. Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to Sri Lanka -250, then went East to Myanmar-Thailand-Malaya-Indonesia-Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam, China +100 on the Silk Road, Japan +532, mainly peacefully. The epic Mahawamsa is a narrative about much of this, with triumphalism.
Islam moved East: the desert-tundra way, the sea lane from Yemen: (from Spain to) Persia 750, Central Asia, Delhi Sultanate 1192-Aceh 1496-Pattani 1516-1902 Sultanates-the Philippines 1390 with Sulu 1405 – Maguindanao 1490 Sultanates, Malaya, Indonesia; mainly peacefully [i].
Christianity moved East; first Portugal-England conquering the East China-East Africa Silk Lane 1500 for their Kings, then as Anglo-French++ conquests: much of India 1805, Sri Lanka 1815, Burma 1852-75, Vietnam 1859-85; attacking China, Opium Wars, burning the Imperial Palace 1860; “opening” Japan 1853, boycotting-fighting-nuclearizing 1941-1945. Few Christian converts, but often settled at the top of colonies and still there. The Philippines became Catholic, colonized by Spain 1521-USA 1898; all this mainly by war. Hardly stable.
Islam has today four clashes. Two borders: the Thai conquest of Pattani Sultanate in 1785 recognized in the 1909 Anglo-Siamese Treaty; China Xinjiang with Muslim Uighurs, next to Muslim Kazakhstan. Two migrations: from Bangladesh to Myanmar, and Malaysia to Sri Lanka; all four in the UK Empire, partly moved by the UK as the key responsible.
There was migration from Buddhist lands, China!, and conversion. But attacks only from State shinto – a construction making Emperors similar to Kings – Japan: North, Russia; West, China; South, Muslim lands 1941-45; East, Pearl Harbor–as self-defense, and aggression.
The conflict? Buddhist historical rights vs Muslim human rights.
No religious conversion to the other, no secular neither-nor, no half-Buddhist/half Muslim compromise, no both-and amalgam: Buddhism with State power is also exclusive [ii]. How about political solutions?
Southern Thailand, Western China: Muslim autonomy in federations. China is already, but Thailand is a unitary state. Or independence: a Pattani Sultanate Darussalam of three Thai and a Malay province. Or as a region within ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations – with open borders: the Basques in Spain-France may be moving toward that in EU. So may China-Kazakhstan within SCO.
Sri Lanka-Myanmar: Ethnocide-“slow genocide” of Muslims. A Muslim province in East Sri Lanka; Rakhine state for Rohingya in Myanmar? Conquest by migration? But Mahawamsa is now a doctrine in Sri Lanka as Promised land by the Buddha, for a Chosen people, the Buddhists.
Here Human Rights enter. Article 18, Universal Declaration:
“Everybody has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and in public or private, to manifest his religion –“.
This overrules Mahawamsa “convert to Buddhism” or “get back to where you came from”. But the UN Human Rights Committee went further 21 Nov 2014: the persecuted 1.3 million Rohingya should be allowed “access to full citizenship on an equal basis”. If not, Chapter VI sanctions?
Hopefully respecting the good Buddhism, and language of the host.
In Sri Lanka the Buddhist extremist group Bodu Bala Sena is supported by the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, now raising stupas in all nine provinces to commemorate those who died in the genocidal fight against the Tamils. INYT (16 Oct 2014) editorializes strongly against the islamophobic alliance between him, Thein Sein of Myanmar and Modi of India favoring an anti-Muslim Hindu-Buddhist Peace Zone. Buddhist Seeds of Peace points accusing fingers at Buddhist violence.
And the reaction to all of this from “Buddhist lands”? Daoism-Buddhism, China, is doing what Japan failed to do, moving all over in all compass directions – but peacefully. Hopefully staying that way.
[i]. Except Tamerlane, Timur (1320-30s-1405), but it is hard to see him as Muslim if he wanted to restore the Mongol Empire even if he used Muslim symbols. Anyhow, it was short-lasting.
[ii]. There may be some possibility between Sufism as soft Islam and Daoism, see Tushihiko Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism, University of California Press, 1983.
Originally published at Transcend Media Service here.