ICC Note: Ethno-nationalist monks have resisted a state bid to restrict their views and activities targeting Muslim and other religious minorities, including Christians. Ma Ba Tha nationalist group, headed by U Wirathu, the monk referred to by some international media as the ‘face of Buddhist terror,’ has become virtually synonymous with U Wirathu’s activities and pronouncements – anti-Muslim and other religious minorities. The alignment of U Wirathu and his disciple U Thuzana through anti-Muslim Buddhist activism threatens to heighten religious tensions across the country, including between Buddhist and Christian communities. Over the last two years U Thuzana has made his mark in the local news by overseeing the building of Buddhist pagodas in Christian church compounds and alongside existing mosques.
08/13/2017 Myanmar (Asia Times) – In May, Myanmar’s Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, a state appointed organization representing over 500,000 Buddhist monks known as Ma Ha Na, issued a controversial order against the Ma Ba Tha nationalist group to remove its signboards across the country.
The committee’s order came in response to Ma Ba Tha’s association with anti-Muslim activities and amid calls from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government that the Buddhist nationalist group was provoking instability. Ma Ha Na also accused Ma Ba Tha of acting against basic Sangha principles, rules and regulations.
While most Ma Ba Tha chapters have agreed to adhere to the directive, in the central city of Mandalay and Karen state capital of Hpa-an the deadline passed on July 15 with local affiliate groups refusing to comply.
At the central Thayettaw monastery in Hpa-an, an old discolored Ma Ba Tha signboard was replaced with a shiny bright new version, a testament to the town’s resistance to the order. Hundreds of Karen people gathered at the monastery to protest the decision in support of Ma Ba Tha and, as one young woman at the rally said, in the defense of Buddhism.
Ever since Ma Ha Na’s order in May for Ma Ba Tha to disband, images of its firebrand monk leader, U Wirathu, referred to by some international media as the ‘face of Buddhist terror’ for his provocative anti-Islam pronouncements, have circulated widely over social media in Karen state.