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Support for radical Burmese monk is misplaced

March 20, 2016

Thai Buddhists who hail Ashin Wirathu and his anti-Muslim dialogue are embracing a misguided xenophobic logic

Sad to say, but the Maha Chulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU), a public Buddhist university in Thailand, is playing with fire.

The Dhammakaya Temple, whose abbot is in hot water with the law, reportedly gave an award to a radical anti-Muslim monk from Myanmar, also known as Burma, in recognition of his promotion of Buddhism in his country.

Prachathai news website quoted a Buddhist scholar, Somrit Luechai, as saying the kind of welcome that the Thai monks gave the controversial Burmese monk, Ashin Wirathu, has surprised and frightened him.

Somrit pointed to the anti-Muslim movement that Wirathu pushed in Burma and suggested that such action and activities have no place in Thailand.

The scary part is that "it seems as if this is normal", Somrit wrote.

Photos of Thai monks welcoming Wirathu were posted on social media with the words "We Love Wirathu".

According to Prachatai, on the same day, Lalita Harnwong, a Thai historian lecturing at Maha Sarakham University who also posted the same set of pictures on her Facebook page, wrote "the behaviour of Dhammakaya and CMU in opening their arms to welcome Wirathu shows the xenophobic logic and thoughts of certain Buddhist groups in Thailand".

The radical Burmese monk, Lalita said, monk is trying expand his network in Thailand.

It is sad and unfortunate that some monks and institutions in Thailand are overlooking the hateful message that has been generated by Wirathu over the years as he successfully painted Burmese Muslims as part of an evil plot to destroy and take over his country.

In June last year, Pornchai Pinyapong, president of the youth wing of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth donated a large sum of money to Wirathu to help set up two radio stations so that the controversial monk can continue his anti-Muslim campaign in Burma.

Pornchai defended his move by saying the money is going towards enhancing communication 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 that very place. Evidence and reports by international human rights organisations have shown that this to be the case.

In fact, the Burmese government has been accused of not only turning a blind eye to vicious attacks against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine State, but also providing tactical support for mobs conducting anti-Muslim riots.

Pornchai led a delegation to Myanmar to donate Bt.1.2 million to Ma Ba Tha, or the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion that Wirathu had set up.

As democracy opens up space in Burma for various sectors of society to voice their opinion, it is troubling that people like Wirathu have been able to take the lead in terms of this new-found freedom.

Ma Ba Tha became so successful in stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment that even politicians were afraid to confront them for fear that they would be accused of being unpatriotic by the movement, which could be costly in political terms.

The narrative that Wirathu created suggested that ethnic Burmese are victims of Muslims, who are just a small minority in the country, and that every Buddhist in the country has a moral obligation to see to it that the Muslims do not prosper. This meant the public should boycott their businesses.

While Wirathu has his own agenda, the silent majority of Burmese, who have lived under brutal military dictators for decades, are not speaking out against such injustice.

Sadly, the treatment of the Muslims in Burma suggests that Myanmar's new democracy has been reduced by a "what's in it for me" phenomenon, as opposed to a society that cherishes the principles of justice, fairness and equality for all of its citizens.

Pornchai was quoted in Irrawaddy news magazine as saying that 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 other Buddhist nationalists in Thailand, Pornchai is using the Patani Malay insurgency in the far South to advance his agenda while conveniently forgetting that Thai Muslims in the rest of the country are just as Thai and just as patriotic as him.

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