Is anyone paying attention to this? Buddhist militancy appears to be the next wave of terrorism in Asia -- and it could go global. It's been happening recurrently in Sri Lanka since the end of the ethnic civil war in 2009, with Buddhist monks attacking minority Muslims (as well as minority Christians). Similarly, in Myanmar since 2012, Buddhist monks have been openly attacking minority Muslim groups, including the Rohingya. But now, extremist monks in both countries have formally linked up to form a global anti-Islamist pact.
In September, Buddhist monks in Myanmar, including Ashin Wirathu who once referred to himself as the "Burmese bin Laden", flew over to Sri Lanka to officially launch the global Buddhist alliance against Islamist militants. We haven't seen any follow-up on what this alliance means exactly. But at the time, they said their goal was to get more Buddhist groups to join their cause against Islamist militants -- partly as they felt their governments would fail to tackle this perceived threat.
Yes, public figures like the Dalai Lama have "urged" the Buddhist militants in these countries to stop their apparent crusade. U.S. President Barack Obama expressed the same rhetoric in his November visit to Myanmar. Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton has frequently remarked how such Buddhist-led violence "sickens the world". And yet we don't see specific strategies being offered for how such militancy should be stopped; nor do we see local governments fully acknowledging the problem exists.
So, what can be done to derail this form of militancy to prevent its expansion from a regional threat to a global one? Strategies to tackle Islamist militancy include drone strikes, foreign intervention and militant rehabilitation camps. But none of these make sense for tackling Buddhist militancy at this early stage. Here are three preemptive steps for the world to consider in 2015:
First, in order to determine how to stop Buddhist militancy, we need to be clear on why it has spread. Historians have explained it as a phenomenon rooted in an ancient narrative of the Mahavamsa in Sri Lanka, while in Myanmar it was a response to British colonialism. But what about today? Foreign governments, universities and/or international organizations need to commission studies on why such hatred has now surfaced in such a significant way, especially if local governments are not yet in a position to fully acknowledge the problem. Let's put some academic experts and ambitious PhD students to work.
Second, we need to consider where else Buddhist militancy might spread. Members of the new anti-Islamist pact have said their goal is to build "networks" with more Buddhist societies globally. Where might this happen? Besides Myanmar and Sri Lanka, historically there are accounts of Buddhist violence in Thailand, Japan and Tibet; other countries with a notable Buddhist population (though not necessarily representing the same branch of Buddhism) are Cambodia, Bhutan, Laos and Vietnam -- could these all be potential recruitment pools for the extremist Buddhist alliance? And, outside of Asia, are there particular Buddhist centers in the EU or the U.S. that might be targeted by these militant monks? For the moment, we don't yet see this Buddhist alliance having a global reach through social media or other avenues, but it's likely part of their game plan and needs to be monitored by tech experts.
Third, who might financially support this Buddhist alliance against Islamist militants? If part of the goal of this anti-Islamist pact is to create an "international Buddhist force" and "pool resources to fight for the faith," this would logically require some form of fundraising effort. We know the funding strategies of Islamist extremist groups like al Qaeda (who favor ransoms) and ISIS (who profit from oil). But who will fund this growing Buddhist alliance globally? Intelligence agencies need to start investigating possible donors or funding strategies.
If we look the other way now, Buddhist militancy will continue to gain ground in Asia and beyond in 2015. Yes, it is not as serious a global threat as Islamist militant groups like ISIS, the Taliban or al Qaeda. But let's note that the war of extremist words has begun. Islamist extremist groups have acknowledged public plans to avenge their "Muslim brothers" who've been killed by Buddhist extremists. If we don't launch a pre-emptive strike now, we may be witnessing a bloody battle between religious extremists - Buddhist vs Islamist -- posing a new threat to global stability in the coming years.