Friday, August 3, 2012

An Open Letter from the Buddhist Community on Islamophobia

By Joshua Eaton
With help from Rev. Danny Fisher and input from other Western Buddhists
Originally posted 7/31/12

Click here to sign the letter.

As disciples of the Buddha who live in the West, we would like to take the holy month of Ramadan as an opportunity to express our growing concern about Islamophobia, both within our governments and within the Buddhist community worldwide.

In North America and Europe, the past decade has seen peaceful Muslim communities targeted by hate crimes, police profiling, and even challenges to their basic human rights of free religion and free assembly. The New York Times reports that the New York City Police Department infiltrated peaceful Muslim groups across the Northeastern United States for indiscriminate surveillance. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Murfreesboro, Tennessee has faced vandalism, arson, and legal challenges opposing their new mosque, while France and Belgium have outlawed wearing niqāb in public over concerns about immigration, the status of women, and the diluting of European culture.

In the wider Buddhist community there have been media reports of Buddhist leaders—including monastics—endorsing human rights abuses against Muslim ethnic groups. For example, The Independent reports that Buddhist monastic organizations in Burma are blocking aid shipments to refugee camps for ethnically Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine. The article also accuses monastic associations of encouraging ethnically Rakhine Buddhists not to associate with Rohingya. Ethnic tensions have resulted in human rights abuses and loss of life on both sides of this conflict.

Meanwhile, Newsweek reports that the Thai government has set up military encampments inside Buddhist temples—even using some of them as torture chambers—in their ongoing fight against a violent Malay Muslim insurgency in the southern states of Patani, Yala, and Narathiwat. More disturbingly, Newsweek reports the Thai government is paying ethnic Thais to resettle in majority-Malay areas in order to dilute the Malay population. Once again, there have been many human rights abuses and much loss of life on both sides of the conflict.

In this time of conflict, we believe that the life and teachings of the Buddha can be a shining example for the world. He taught us to practice mutual respect among all people without prejudice, to work for the mutual benefit of all beings, and to try to solve our problems without resorting to violence. In those rare instances where violence is necessary, he taught us to practice restraint and to protect innocent lives. It is in this spirit that we are writing.

In our own countries, we ask law enforcement agencies to stop targeting Muslim communities with indiscriminate surveillance and profiling. And we call on Americans to see their Muslims neighbors as fellow citizens, bound together with them through the shared values of democracy, equality, and freedom.

In the wider Buddhist community, we ask our fellow Buddhists to refrain from using the Dharma to support nationalism, ethnic conflict, and Islamophobia. We believe that these values are antithetical to the Buddha’s teachings on loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

The vast majority of Muslims the world over are peaceful, law-abiding people who share much the same dreams, hopes, and aspirations as their non-Muslim neighbors. They are our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, our neighbors, and our fellow citizens. Most importantly, they are our fellow sentient beings, all of whom, the Buddha taught, have loved and cared for us in the past. We stand with them during this holy month of Ramadan and denounce Islamophobia unequivocally.

Joshua Eaton is a freelance editor, a Tibetan translator, and a writer on Buddhism, politics, ethics, and culture. His full bio and more of his writings can be found at his website,

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