SHAFAQNA -Â At first glance, the photographs look incredibly banal: young people smiling broadly and taking selfies. But these Burmese friends, who are from very different backgrounds, are making a statement by posing together. Some are Buddhist; others are Muslim or Christian. Some are from the majority Bamar ethnicity; others are from ethnic minorities like the Rohingya. Theyâ€™re taking these photos to fight back against prejudice in a country where hate speech runs rampant.Â
In the past few years, Burma has started down the path towards democracy, and its citizens have gained many freedoms. But it has also seen the spread of hate speech, notably towards Muslims, who make up an estimated 4 percent of the population.Â
Certain ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks â€“ chief among them Wirathu, a virulent cleric based in Mandalay â€“ have led anti-Muslim propaganda campaigns that inspired deadly riots in the countryâ€™s western Rakhine state in 2012. Thatâ€™s where the majority of the countryâ€™s Rohingyas â€“ a Muslim ethnic minority considered by some to be the worldâ€™s most persecuted people â€“ are concentrated, though many have fled Burma or are holed up in camps. Today, just months before the next elections, these anti-Muslim movements are still going strong.Â
It is in this tense context that the â€œMy Friendâ€ campaign was born.