Religious extremism looms over Myanmar

Story highlights

  • David Scott Mathieson says Myanmar is facing rising Buddhist extremism
  • New laws look set to target Rohingya Muslims, he says

David Scott Mathieson is the senior Burma researcher for Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)The impact of Myanmar's repressive policy toward Rohingya Muslims was made clear in recent weeks with scenes of desperate people crammed into boats, an escalation of a miserable maritime flight in which an estimated 90,000 people have fallen prey to smugglers and traffickers since early 2014. The United Nations estimates that around 1,000 people have died on the way.

The root cause is the long-term reprehensible treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar (also known as Burma) -- stateless, officially and socially reviled, with severe curbs on their rights to work, travel, get health care and education, and practice their religion.
    Yet even as this anguishing exodus has gripped international attention, it has obscured a connected and equally troubling pattern of rising religious extremism in Myanmar. At the height of the boat drama, parliament passed the "