Ethnic and religious tensions have plagued Myanmar for years now. But this selfie campaign proves there’s still hope – there always is.
Nearly 1.3 million Rohingya, a Muslim minority, live in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. They are officially stateless. The government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. But Bangladesh has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.
However, the situation for the community deteriorated in 2012 when the “969 Movement” was initiated by "Buddhist Bin Laden" Ashin Wirathu. Apart from instigating violence, Wirathu and his followers endorsed and proposed several legislative measures and policies against the Rohingya.
Since then, the genocidal campaign caused hundreds of deaths and displaced more than 140,000 Muslims in almost three years.
With the passage of time, the right-wingers in Myanmar are making integration between the Rohingyas and Buddhists more difficult. Earlier in July, the country’s parliament approved a law that limits women's right to wed non-Buddhists. It is believed the bill was passed under pressure from hardline monks to prevent Buddhist women from marrying Muslims.
However, as Wirathu’s hate-mongering lobby is hard at work to ruin peace, there are people who are fighting against his vitriolic rhetoric.
Enter the “My Friend” campaign – a Facebook initiative that seeks to promote friendship between people from different cultures, ethnicities and background.
Wai Wai Nu, who is a human rights activist based in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, and one of the campaign organizers told France 24:
“I am a Rohingya Muslim; some of my best friends are Barma Buddhist. We have always gotten along just fine. They are tolerant people, who see past labels. But I know that due to all the hate speech floating around, many people’s friendships have indeed suffered, and probably even more so for people who live outside Yangon.”
Wai Nu added she is worried tensions might flare up again during election time in November, noting it’s not just the extremists responsible for the deteriorating situation.
“The government needs to abolish all sorts of discriminatory practices against the Rohingya, which they don’t consider to be Burmese at all,” she continued.
The objective of “My Friend” is:
• To raise awareness about the strength of diversity, by promoting love and friendship between diverse people.
• To reduce all forms of discrimination, hatred, hate speech, and extreme racism based on religion, ethnicity, nationality, color and gender.
Here are some of the posts from the campaign’s official Facebook page.
With so much bad news involving hate and death coming out of the region, this campaign surely proves that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.