Pope should avoid complicating Rohingya crisis on visit

By Su Tan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/28 23:38:39

Pope Francis started his first papal visit to Myanmar on Monday amid wide speculation over how he will address the latest Rohingya conflicts that have led to more than 620,000 Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh.

Soon after his arrival in Yangon, the pope met with Myanmar's military chief Min Aung Hlaing to discuss "the great responsibility of the country's authorities in this moment of transition." On Tuesday, he stressed the importance of "unity in diversity" before meeting with Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, yet without mentioning the Rohingya issue.

While Myanmar is under international pressure, and the US and the UN have accused it of "ethnic cleansing" toward the Muslim Rohingyas, as a religious leader, the pope carries intense sensitivity and thus has to walk a religious tightrope during the trip. In fact, he was advised by the archbishop of Nay Pyi Taw not to use the word "Rohingya" at the very least, although he had already used it twice in appeals from the Vatican.

However, it doesn't make much difference whether he mentions the word or not. After Myanmar, he is going to Bangladesh, where he is expected to meet some Rohingya migrants in the capital Dhaka. This already suggests what his stance is.

Conflicts can easily break out in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Myanmar, the complexity of which goes beyond the West's imagination.

As other ethnic and religious groups in Myanmar have already had deep conflicts with the Rohingyas, any sympathy for the latter can be a trigger for public aversion to the unrecognized group.

Similarly, a careless act by the pope can risk putting the 650,000 Catholics in Myanmar - the minority in the country of 51 million people - in jeopardy.

It's always easier to find fault with others than be hands-on to grapple with the problems. While the West can show its righteousness just by criticizing the Myanmese government, the latter has to work to straighten out the complicated historical problems and to address the tightly woven hatred in the country, a difficult task. Simply pressuring the Myanmese government is more likely to backfire than be of help.

It is common to see religious conflicts in Southeast Asia and in the rest of the world. For the same reason, most recently the Islamic State launched heinous terror attacks at a mosque in Egypt, killing more than 300 people.

At this moment, it would be highly desirable if the world refrains from getting more involved in the Rohingya crisis, and thus the pope must delicately exercise restraint in the rest of his visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

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