Forget revenge, learn forgiveness

Sept 29 and 30 this year must have been one of the most depressing weekends in decades for Buddhists around the world. That weekend there was a news photo showing a Buddha statue standing amid wreckage, with rows of coconut trees in the background. My heart sank and I immediately wanted to know which temple in which part of the world had been hit by a cyclone.

Reading the accompanying story my heart sank even deeper. The temple turned out to be one of a dozen in a Buddhist community in southern Bangladesh that had been torched by angry Muslims. More than 40 homes were set on fire too.

This was quite shocking for me. It's the first time in my life I had seen a Buddhist community become the target of sectarian violence in which many temples were burnt to the ground on the same night.

But what prompted the attack? According to the report, Muslims in Bangladesh were enraged by a photo of a burned Koran, Islam's holy book, posted on Facebook allegedly by a local Buddhist boy.

I finished reading the story with mixed feelings. At least there were no fatalities, which was a relief. But questions still lingered in my head.

Wasn't this just an extreme case of overreaction? Did it really make sense to those angry attackers to go out and destroy the properties of other people merely because they were offended by the actions of one stupid member in the community? And why does history always repeat itself?

I believe many people have similar questions they want answered. The scenario, while sad though, was nothing new. We've witnessed similar incidents caused by Muslim extremist groups in many parts of the world many times over the years, every time leading to nothing but losses on both sides.

One example is the violent protests triggered by the publication of a controversial cartoon in a Danish newspaper mocking the Prophet Mohammed seven years ago. Some 50 people died in the ensuing rage that soon spread across the globe.

Five years later the man who drew the cartoon, quite advanced of age, was nearly killed by an axe-wielding fanatic, and he admits he still lives in constant fear. Isn't that horrible? And hell broke loose again just last month after a US-produced video, Innocence Of Muslims, allegedly ridiculing Islam's holiest figure, was posted on YouTube. More than 30 people died in retaliatory attacks carried out by enraged Muslims, culminating in the assassination of a US diplomat in Libya, the storming of US and other Western embassies, and a deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan. Isn't that a shame?

And a week later a French magazine further fuelled the anger by running several caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. And this prompted fears for French embassies around the world too.

To me it seems we can't see an end to the turmoil any time soon. There are still many people out there who are ready to rock the boat with "insults" delivered in the name of "freedom of speech".

Sometimes I can't help sympathising with those hot-headed Muslims. We Buddhists know well how it feels to see our beloved master insulted. We've been through it before.

Of course, we complained, condemned and protested against those ugly insults. But we chose to act in a measured and peaceful manner.

We know with all our hearts that the way other people disrespect or insult our master can never ruin the inner values of our religion.

That's why we can stay calm and pay little attention to provocative remarks and behaviour.

I wish those hard-core Muslims could learn something from us. They should not have ruined the reputation of Islam as a religion of peace.

They should have realised that their overprotective frenzy has done more harm than good.

If they can develop the right perception, I'm sure they will be able to simply ignore such tasteless jokes and movies by these senseless people.

I don't know if the torching of Buddhist temples on the weekend of Sept 30 had anything to do with the impoverished Rohingya Muslims _ viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and a target of racial discrimination because they were displaced by sectarian clashes with Buddhists in Myanmar several months ago _ or not. But I wish to see no retaliatory actions against each other any more.

We all are living in a world of great diversity where conflicts are commonplace.

But religious confrontation can be kept to a minimum if everyone learns to respect each other's faith and leave behind all the hard feelings.

All religions are good and they all teach followers to be good.

In principle every religion promotes values consistent with mutual respect, understanding, tolerance and peaceful co-existence among fellow humans.

I believe that those who truly get to the core of the Prophet's teachings will no longer harbour the word "revenge" in their hearts but find it replaced by "forgiveness".

Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for the Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Patcharawalai Sanyanusin
Position: Writer