2.5 million Burmese support a measure to restrict marriage between Muslims and Buddhists

July 18, 2013
July 18, 2013

Here’s one way to fail at integrating Myanmar’s Muslim minority: don’t let them marry into the larger community. A Buddhist monk in Myanmar is calling on the government to bar Buddhist women from marrying Muslims without the consent of their parents and local officials.

According to the monk, U Wirathu, 2.5 million people have now signed a petition for the measure. (Some may have believed the petition was simply a call to protect Buddhist women, the Bangkok-based paper, The Irrawaddy, reports.)

Violence between Buddhists and Muslims has taken over parts of the formerly reclusive Southeast Asian nation, which has only just started to open up its economy and political system. The measure—which will be sent to Parliament, according to Wirathu—only adds to tensions. In Youtube and DVD sermons, U Wirathu has been saying that Myanmar’s Muslim men marry Buddhist women and pressure them to give up their religion. He’s also accused Muslim women of purposely having more children in order to boost their numbers; Muslims currently account for just 5% of the population.

Fighting in Myanmar over the past year has killed hundreds and displaced over 150,000 people, mostly Muslims. (Myanmar is now the largest source of refugees in Southeast Asia.) The government’s meager efforts to stop the violence is chipping away at Myanmar’s image as Asia’s next frontier of economic growth. One worrying sign, according to a June report by the political risk firm Maplecroft, is that violence has spread far beyond the Rakhine State where it started last year. Clashes taking place near the capital and in Yangon, Myanmar’s most populous city, could be destabilizing for foreign investment and development. Wirathu and other monks have called on a boycott of Muslim businesses, which dominate in sectors like transportation and construction.

It’s unclear how seriously lawmakers would consider Wirathu’s proposal. Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi opposes the measure, as do several women’s rights groups in the country.

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