On “Buddhist Atrocities”

One of the odd substrains of commentary on the ongoing Rohingya genocide in Myanmar is Americans (mostly, as near as I can tell) shocked that a Buddhist society is capable of the kinds of cruelty we associate with Western imperialism and 20th century totalitarianism.

As I said on twitter:

People saying that Rohingya genocide proves that “Buddhist atrocities” can happen apparently ignored Sri Lankan civil war, Imperial Japan.
The hell of it is, Buddhism is as much a ‘religion of peace’ as Islam,Christianity. Same basic lessons, most adherents perfectly nice people
Like Islam, Christianity (I’m just covering major world religions here), Buddhism intersects with systems of power that implement violence.
Like Islam & Christianity, Buddhist institutions have, historically, validated state violence when it was in their institutional interest.
Buddhism’s reputation in the West benefits greatly from being not associated with any particular 20th century power (unless you’re paying
close attention to states like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and their treatment of non-Buddhist populations) and being strongly associated
with countercultural, anti-imperialistic movements (centered in 60s, but not exclusively) including association with Gandhian nonviolence.
(Gandhi was Hindu, not Buddhist, but *ahimsa* is common value among Jain, Buddhist, some Hindu traditions. Plus, sloppy Western orientalism)

I doubt any readers of this blog need me to fill in the historical details.


  1. As the link above notes, there’s also a significant contingent of atheists who are apparently thrilled that a religious culture with a reputation for peace and harmony has proven itself to be no better than the other religions they consider dangerous delusions.
    I don’t know that atheism is, itself, immune from this line of critique…

    1. While not officially either religious nor atheist, Nazi Germany proved perfectly capable of destroying any vestige of outside power in the form of religion. The Soviet state was officially atheistic and we all know their record.
      The bottom line, I think, is that destruction of out-groups is a pervasive Human characteristic not limited to any particular culture.

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