BANNED - Faced with ban, Myan­mar’s Ma Ba Tha changes name

Faced with ban, Myan­mar’s Ma Ba Tha changes name

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

The mes­sage was loud and clear. Myan­mar’s ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist Ma Ba Tha move­ment an­nounced on May 28 at a pub­lic meet­ing that it was re­brand­ing un­der a new name, days af­ter Bud­dhist au­thor­i­ties banned the net­work which has been ac­cused of stok­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia.

Myan­mar’s Bud­dhist Sangha has a prob­lem – a group not lis­ten­ing to the hi­er­ar­chy. Af­ter months of dis­tanc­ing it­self from the radical group, Myan­mar’s top Bud­dhist clergy on May 23 or­dered the Ma Ba Tha to cease all ac­tiv­i­ties by mid-July or face prose­cu­tion.

The Sangha Maha Nayaka Com­mit­tee, Myan­mar’s high­est Bud­dhist au­thor­ity, sent a let­ter to gov­ern­ment min­istries or­der­ing the group to cease all ac­tiv­i­ties by mid-July or face prose­cu­tion.

“Peo­ple, either as in­di­vid­u­als or as a group, can­not take any ac­tions un­der the name of Ma Ba Tha,” said the let­ter, and car­ried the sig­na­ture of sev­eral monks in­clud­ing se­nior fig­ures from Ma Ba Tha.

“Ma Ba Tha sign­boards across the coun­try are to be taken down com­pletely by July 15 at the lat­est,” the Sangha com­mit­tee added, warn­ing any in­frac­tions would be pun­ished un­der both Bud­dhist and civil law.

But the threat did lit­tle to de­ter thou­sands of monks, nuns and lay fol­low­ers from at­tend­ing a week­end sum­mit at a Yan­gon monastery dec­o­rated with Ma Ba Tha ban­ners, with many de­fi­antly declar­ing their in­ten­tion to keep the move­ment go­ing.

On Sun­day, the group re­leased a state­ment say­ing they would use a new name: the Bud­dha Dhamma Phi­lan­thropy Foun­da­tion.

“We urge all mem­bers in all re­gions and states around the coun­try to work for the coun­try, peo­ple and re­li­gion us­ing the name of the Bud­dha Dhamma Phi­lan­thropy Foun­da­tion,” said the state­ment, signed by its monk leader Ti­lawka Bi­wun­tha.

The new name is no­tice­ably less con­tro­ver­sial and con­fronta­tional than the orig­i­nal. Ma Ba Tha is the Burmese ab­bre­vi­a­tion for a phrase that trans­lates as “The As­so­ci­a­tion for the Pro­tec­tion of Race and Re­li­gion” - a name the group would also give as its of­fi­cial English ti­tle.

The monk-led move­ment grew in strength un­der the coun­try’s pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary-backed Thein Sein gov­ern­ment, ped­dling a form of hard­line Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ism that in­ten­si­fied sec­tar­ian ten­sions with mi­nor­ity Mus­lims.

With the help of no­to­ri­ous fire­brand monk Ashin Wi­rathu, who at­tended and spoke at the week­end gath­er­ing and has a sig­nif­i­cant Face­book fol­low­ing, Ma Ba Tha be­came known for ser­mons and protests that helped fo­ment the idea that Bud­dhism in Myan­mar is threat­ened by Is­lam.

Mus­lims have lived in Myan­mar for cen­turies but only make up around five per cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

In re­cent months Bud­dhist hard­lin­ers have shut down re­li­gious events across the coun­try and forced two Yan­gon schools ac­cused of il­le­gally dou­bling up as mosques to close their doors. Po­lice ar­rested sev­eral na­tion­al­ists this month af­ter a fight broke out in a Mus­lim neigh­bour­hood of Yan­gon, when dozens of peo­ple raided a house be­lieved to be hid­ing Ro­hingyas - a Mus­lim mi­nor­ity ma­ligned by many Bud­dhists.

Ear­lier this year the rul­ing clergy, a body known as Sangha Maha Nayaka Com­mit­tee, banned Wi­rathu from preach­ing for a year, though he still spoke at the gath­er­ing on Satur­day.

The same day Ti­lawka Bi­wun­tha sig­nalled the group had no in­ten­tion of dis­band­ing.

“If you write Ma Ba Tha, you can erase the words. But no one can erase Ma Ba Tha from your heart,” he told sup­port­ers.

The group is chang­ing its name. Photo: Mizzima

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