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When a microphone can be stronger than an assault rifle

Ma Ba Tha chairman Bhaddamta Tiloka Bhivunsa watches as a Thai monk signs a memorandum of understanding promising funding for the construction of two Buddhist radio stations in Burma, at Ma Ba Tha’s weekend conference in Rangoon. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

June 27, 2015

Funding radio stations for the ultra-nationalist burmese monks goes against buddhist beliefs of peace

In another setting, president of the youth wing of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth would be holding an assault rifle and making all sorts of noises about how much he wants to liquidate unbelievers from the face of the Earth.

In the case of Dr Pornchai Pinyapong, he was not holding an assault rifle, but a pile of money to put toward the setting up of two radio stations for the nationalist Buddhist monks who have launched an anti-Muslim campaign in Myanmar.

Though he may not have been armed, the very thought of him and the Thai-Buddhist community financing Myanmar's nationalist monks for their propaganda purposes is scary. 

He defends this by saying the money is going towards enhancing communi?cation channels for monks, but if there is a place where words can actually kill or encourage people to murder members of another race, then Myanmar is it.

Pornchai was leading a delegation to donate US$35,800 (Bt1.2 million) to Ma Ba Tha, or the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion - a network of ultra-nationalist monks behind much of the anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar. The money was for the construction of two radio stations. 

"We only had pens before, but now we've got microphones too. So thank you for the donation," the Irrawaddy quoted Wirathu, the most well-known Ma Ba Tha member, as saying.

While the Myanmar military was in power, people like Wirathu were kept at bay by draconian laws. Now however, with newfound freedom, Wirathu and his like can direct their frustration and anger towards the country's Muslims, especially the Rohingya. 

What's more worrying is that Myanmar's military leaders are quietly supporting the anti-Muslim campaign, which many say is close to genocidal. Also, the country's political leaders are either keeping their mouths shut or openly backing these hideous events. Clearly they are forgetting that they too once lived in the same hell they are creating for the Burmese Muslims now. "We will begin a revolution via our own media to protect our religion," Wirathu declared.

Pornchai said monks in Thailand and Myanmar need to aggressively defend their religion against threats from the minority Muslim population.

"We need to have monks like Wirathu. About 80 per cent of monks only act according to tradition; sometimes we need fighter monks," Pornchai said.

He told the Irrawaddy that funding the radio stations was justified because the Muslim threat was real, citing the ongoing conflict in Thailand's southernmost provinces, where more than 6,000 people have been killed since January 2004. 

Like many Thais, who are unable to let go of their racist and ethnocentric attitude, Pornchai and his ilk will see the conflict in the deep South the way they want to see it - especially if it advances their agenda. 

If Pornchai and Ma Ba Tha leaders want to win converts or to strengthen faith in Buddhism, then that's fine. But they should not try to achieve this at the expense of the country's Muslim minority. Instead, they should practice the teachings of the Buddha - especially those related to peace. 

Even if they are not out to convert anybody, but to contain Muslim people's influence and role in society, perhaps they should ask themselves if Buddha would approve of their tactics.

Like many people, Myanmar's nationalist monks have said they despise extremists like the Islamic State, yet these very monks are taking out their frustrations on Muslim people living by their side and slowly becoming more like IS members themselves. 

These monks may not tote automatic rifles, because who needs them when they have microphones to rouse anti-Muslim sentiments and instruct others to do the dirty work?

Forty years ago, a prominent Thai monk declared that it was not a sin to kill Communists. The following day, many Thais went on a killing spree against pro-democracy students.

Sadly, some of us still haven't come to our senses and obviously see nothing wrong with courting ultra-nationalists like Wirathu and Ma Ba Tha monks.

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