ICC Note: As Myanmar heads into elections, Buddhist monks are pushing their brand of Burmese “nationalism” very hard. According to their political philosophy, to be truly Burmese one must be Buddhist. This has an obvious negative impact on religious minorities in Myanmar, such as Rohingya Muslims and Christians. Pray that Myanmar’s elections do not negatively impact the lives of religious and ethnic minorities living there.
By John Zaw and Simon Lewis
06/22/2015 Myanmar (UCA News)
Myanmar’s radical monks this week staked a claim as a political force, pledging to urge the public to vote with a “nationalist spirit” as the country enters the final months before all-important elections.
The monk-led Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, or Ma Ba Tha, has grown in influence since it was formed two years ago this month, an anniversary marked by a conference this weekend at a monastery in northern Yangon’s Insein Township.
Large video screens showed supporters the face of Myanmar’s best-known nationalist monk, U Wirathu as he delivered a speech. Books by the monk were on sale alongside other nationalist literature, and copies of a news journal published regularly by Ma Ba Tha.
U Wirathu told the crowd of at least 1,300 monks — plus scores of lay people — that the group would continue to lobby the Myanmar government to protect Buddhism and Buddhists against a perceived threat of expansionist Islam.
The government must not allow people rescued from the Bay of Bengal in the past month to stay in the country, he said.
Following international and regional pressure, Myanmar rescued two boats carrying in total more than 900 people, some from Bangladesh but many thought to be Rohingya born in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The government has deported more than 150 people to Bangladesh, but it is not clear what will happen to the rescued Rohingya, who are not Myanmar citizens and are labeled “Bengalis”.
Ma Ba Tha also pledged to step up its lobbying to have a set of laws on race and religion passed.
Four such laws — on population control, interfaith marriage, religious conversion and polygamy — have been drafted by the government at the monks’ behest, with only the population control law so far passed.