07/14/2015, 00.00
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"My Friend" campaign to counter Myanmar’s anti-Rohingya violence

A few months before the country’s election, a group of students has launched a social media campaign in favour of peace and dialogue. By posting selfies showing Buddhists and Muslims together, a Buddhist student wants to prove that "Friendship has no boundaries." For a young Muslim, technology can be used “for the betterment of society."

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A group of students launched a social media campaign (Facebook and twitter) to promote tolerance in Myanmar and fight hatred and violence between Muslims and Buddhists.

This is especially noteworthy in a country that will go to the polls at the end of the year to elect a new parliament and president.

In fact, as the elections approach, nationalist movements and extremist groups have flooded the political arena with words of hatred and attacks against the Rohingya minority.

To counter this, the promoters of the ‘My Friend’ campaign have begun posting multi-ethnic selfies on social media, showing Buddhists and Muslims together.

The goal is to show, especially to young people, that they can live in peace and harmony, irrespective of race, ethnicity or religious beliefs.

The ‘My Friend’ campaign began on Facebook a few days ago and met with success with scores of likes.

"Everyone loves to take selfies in their own way, so why don't we use it in a proper way, for the betterment of society?" said campaign co-founder Wai Nu, who hails from Myanmar's heavily persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority.

As the country prepares to head to the polls, campaign organisers hope their message of friendship gains traction.

As Han Seth Lu, a recent contributor to the campaign's Facebook page, put it in a post showing him standing alongside a woman in hijab: "I'm Buddhist and my friend is a Muslim."

"We are different but we accept each other," he added, "because friendship has no boundaries."

The group launched the campaign this summer hoping to generate some momentum ahead of Myanmar’s elections in November, during a period in which Buddhist nationalists are expected to continue inflammatory speech again the Rohingya.

Since the end of outright military rule, cheap mobile technology has ignited an Internet revolution in the former junta-run nation as it emerges from decades of isolation.

However, since June of 2012, violent clashes have pitted Buddhists and Rohingya in the western Burmese state of Rakhine, with at least 200 dead and 250,000 homeless.

According to UN figures, Myanmar is home to about 1.3 million Muslim Rohingya in a country of some 50 million people and 135 different ethnic groups. Local authorities consider the former as illegal immigrants, and because of their precarious status, they have suffered abuse and persecution.

At present, about 140,000 displaced people are living in refugee camps. According to Myanmar authorities, they have to accept to be classified as Bengali to obtain citizenship, or remain in camps where they are deprived of basic rights, including health care, education and work.

Myanmar’s Catholic Church has spoken out on several occasions against the marginalisation and neglect faced by the Muslim minority.

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