CAIRO – Pleas for mercy from an elderly 94-year-old paralyzed Daw Aye Kyi could not save her when a Buddhist mob stabbed her six times after they stormed through a rice-farming village hunting for Muslims.
“For a culture that has such great respect for the elderly, the killing of this old lady should have been a turning point, a moment of national soul searching,” Richard Horsey, a former United Nations official in Burma, told The New York Times on Sunday, November 10.
“The fact that this has not happened is almost as disturbing as the killing itself.”
Paralyzed from the waist down, Aye Kyi was too heavy for her daughter and granddaughter to carry into the surrounding jungle when the Buddhists attached their farm.
Carrying machetes and knives, three men stabbed the elderly woman six times, leaving her body slumped next to the smoking cinders of her wooden house.
Aye Kyi was one of five Muslims killed in the attack on Thabyu Chaing last month during the rampage which destroyed more than a dozen homes.
Though the killing of a helpless elderly woman was one of the clearest examples of anti-Muslim feelings in this Buddhist-majority country, a lack of sympathy appeared from the country officials who reported the killing as casualties” without offering any details.
Muslim villagers accused the authorities of ignoring their calls for help, confirming that authorities were well aware of the danger because they asked villagers a day before the attacks to erect a gate at the entrance to the village.
A few hours later in early October 1, villagers received reports that a mob of several dozen men was approaching, making urgent phone calls to the police and military units a few miles away.
U Myint Aung, a Muslim farmer, says the security forces responded with skepticism. “They asked us, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’ ” he said.
“We told them, ‘Yes, we are sure. Come quickly!’ ”
A single police vehicle arrived and dispersed a first wave of attackers before dawn.
Yet, the mob that killed Aye Kyi returned midmorning, and the police fled after firing into the air, villagers say.
When the local police chief, U Tin Maung Lwin, inspected the body of Ms. Aye Kyi, her daughter and granddaughter remember his saying, “How cruel.”
But in a telephone interview, he denied using “cruel” to describe the murder. “I did not use words that favor one side or the other,” he said.
Us vs. Them
Burma Muslims accused extremist Buddhist monks of flaming anti-Muslim tension, in the country where Muslims and Buddhists lives intertwined for centuries.
“They hate Islam, and they want it to disappear from the country,” said Daw Than Than Nwe, a Muslim woman from the village.
The life of Aye Kyi herself was an example of close relation between Muslims and Buddhists.
Raised as a Buddhist, Aye Kyi married a Muslim man before reverting to Islam. Three of her four children chose to become Buddhist.
Buddhists and Muslims planted rice together and attended one another’s weddings and funerals. Even when violence broke out elsewhere last year, the village remained calm.
Yet, recently, Buddhist families hoisted Buddhist flags in front of their homes, the first time in living memory that villagers had done so, that allowed the mob to know which houses to spare.
The change in the small village followed a campaign championed by Buddhist monks against what they call “the enemy”, in reference to Muslims.
They have given sermons and firing speeches against Burmese Muslims, which resulted in several bouts of violence against the sizable minority.
More than 200 people were killed and thousands of Muslims were displaced from their homes after attacks against Muslims in western Burma last year.
More than 42 people were also killed in a new bout of violence against Muslims in central Burma in April.
Monks were blamed for inciting hatred against Muslims by preaching a so-called “969 movement” which represents a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism that urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.
Wirathu, who takes pride as a Buddhist Bin Laden, has thousands of followers on Facebook and his YouTube videos have been watched tens of thousands of times.
He also leads the extremist nationalist "969" campaign, encouraging Buddhists to "buy Buddhist and shop Buddhist", seemingly with the intention of creating an apartheid state.
Hateful messages reached U Einda Sara, the abbot of a large Buddhist temple in Myanmar’s most famous beach resort, Ngapali.
In an interview in his monastery, the abbot appeared as a typical of extremist Buddhist monks who have great influence in Burmese society and are rarely publicly contradicted.
Sara claimed that the 94-year-old woman, though she is reportedly paralyzed, “ran away and died from lack of oxygen.”
In a stark contradiction with the police version, the abbot claimed that her body was probably mutilated by fellow Muslims to make Buddhists look bad.
He even justified the killing of Muslims on the grounds that it was self-defense.
“If you encounter a tiger, you run away if possible,” he said.
“But if you cannot run, you have to fight back.”
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