Monks protesting in Yangon on Monday. Photo published by Burma VJ on Facebook
Burma’s government has blocked a global Islamic body from opening an office in the country, bowing to pressure from protests led by Buddhist monks. One of our Observers, a Burmese Muslim, shares his disappointment.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, an international organisation comprised of 57 member states, had obtained the green light from the government to set up a temporary office in Yangon, from which it would be able to continue its investigation of the deadly clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the country’s west last June. However, sectarian tensions have remained high since the violence, prompting numerous rallies to kick the Rohingya – a Muslim minority involved in the clashes – out of the country. Thousands of Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine are currently living in refugee camps, unwilling to go home for fear of retribution.
On Monday, several thousand Buddhist monks took to the streets of the country’s economic capital Yangon, shouting slogans specifically targeting the OIC. Thousands more protested in Mandalay, Burma’s second-largest city. By the end of the day, the government had given in: “The president will not allow an OIC office because it is not in accordance with the people’s desires,” an official from President Thein Sein’s office told the AFP.
Four percent of the Burmese population is Muslim. They belong to a variety of ethnic minorities. Some are Burmese citizens; others, like the Rohingya, are stateless.
Photo published by Burma VJ on Facebook.

“They call the OIC a terrorist organisation, when in fact it has a permanent delegation to the United Nations!”

Pathi Kyaw Oo is an imam who lives in Pyin Oo Lwin township, near Mandalay. He is from the Pathi ethnic minority.
It has to be said: the majority of people in Burma hate all Muslims, not just Rohingya. So when the OIC wanted to come to Burma, detractors immediately labelled it a terrorist organisation, when it’s anything but – the OIC has a permanent delegation to the United Nations! With so few people willing to help us, we Muslims would have been very happy to have the OIC come here and see how we are treated.
The monks protesting the OIC are mixing up religion with ultra-nationalism. In fact, like many Burmese, they falsely believe that Muslims – even if they have been here for generation upon generation – are somehow foreigners. Buddhism is a great religion, and many monks are peaceful and democratic. But some, unfortunately, are power-hungry, and discriminating against others is a way to gain power. In my town, monks recently distributed anti-Muslim pamphlets on the street. They said Muslims were criminals, and that people shouldn’t buy from Muslims shops. They’re bullying us.
“Muslims are now wondering, when will the violence arrive in my town? In my house?”
Of course, it’s not just the monks. A few days ago, a Muslim friend of mine in Yangon told me that his son, who goes to dental college, was forced by his teachers to cut his beard off – or get kicked out of the school. You’re treated like a nobody.
Ever since the violence in Rakhine state in June, discrimination against Muslims has become worse and worse throughout the country. It had been getting steadily worse over the past few decades – in terms of access to education, housing, economic opportunities - but now we’re truly fearful for our future. Because of these tensions, Muslims are now thinking, When will violence arrive in my town? In my house?