Buddhist clerics are supporting Myanmar's junta

Buddhist clerics are supporting Myanmar’s junta

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on a visit to Myanmar in August that he supported the military’s efforts to “stabilize” the country. In an emailed response to Reuters, Russia’s embassy in Myanmar provided details of Sitagu’s visit and said Russia-Myanmar ties have been “deepening in many directions”, including trade, investment, education and energy. It added, ‘This will benefit the people of both the countries in the long run.’

A display of militancy by some monks has led to a rare backlash in Myanmar. Online memes and profanity-laden posts against the pro-military monks are now common.

Ten people interviewed by Reuters in cities including Yangon and Mandalay, among them a grocery store owner and a director of advertisements, said they have changed the way the monks give donations. Some were scrutinizing monks more closely to avoid aiding those who supported the junta, while others abandoned the centuries-old tradition altogether.

“This is the beginning of change,” said Naung Naung, a student in the central Magwe region, referring to a growing willingness among Myanmar residents to question the religious establishment.

Until recently, everyone in the country “recognized dictators as dictators”, said a monk in Wathwa’s hometown of Kantabalu. “The people and the monks were on the same side.”

In response, he said, the military organized “segregation”, particularly by cultivating patronage relationships with the most influential monks.

In addition, the army instilled hatred against other religions, he said.

masters and followers

After the monks joined the protests, the military began to give special privileges to religious leaders through a patronage practice known as “masters and followers,” said Nicky Diamond, a Burmese academic from Mandalay who has studied law in Myanmar. Wrote about religion and nationalism. His account was echoed by Kantabalu’s monk and another academic, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Monks in Myanmar teach lay people who in return provide them with essentials such as food and clothing. But monks with strong ties to the military were given gifts such as land, cars and monasteries, Diamond said, without identifying the beneficiaries.

“When the saffron revolution happened, the army was scared of it, and tried to divide the force,” he said, referring to opponents of the regime.

Meanwhile, a fierce strain of Buddhist nationalism was being propagated within the country’s monasteries, whose origins could be traced to an official within the previous military dictatorship who wrote and distributed xenophobic, anti-Muslim tracts.

The books, which sensationalized stories about Muslim misdeeds and Muslim men marrying Buddhist women, said the monks were “brainwashed into being Islamophobic”.

“My life has been spent in the prestigious monastic Buddhist centers of Myanmar,” he said. “When I was 14, I read books that condemned other religions.”

In the mid-2010s, Ma Ba Tha, an ultranationalist movement, advocated boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses, called for discriminatory race and religion laws, and erupted in waves of deadly violence against Muslims. At the time, the group denied inciting the violence and said it was only against Islamic extremists.

‘Many Militia’

General Min Aung Hlaing, who overthrew Suu Kyi in February 2021, has sought to carve an image as a defender of the country’s majority Theravada Buddhism, in the style of a long line of warrior-kings.

The day before he took power, he laid the first stone in a seated Buddha statue, which he says will be the world’s largest. He is also seeking donations for the world’s largest Buddhist pagoda “to show the world that Theravada Buddhism is shining brightly in Myanmar”, according to state media.

State news broadcasts displaying military support for Buddhism quadrupled in the nine months immediately following the coup, according to an analysis by the United States Institute of Peace, a US-funded institute that analyzes conflicts abroad. increased. Min Aung Hlaing has sought to justify the coup by claiming Suu Kyi failed to protect “race and religion”.

Despite standing with the army that oversaw the deadly cleansing of 730,000 ethnic Rohingyas in 2017, Suu Kyi’s government later attempted to rein in the hardline nationalist Ma Ba Tha monks who publicly supported the violence. Ma Ba Tha was disbanded and Wirathu, a monk who had toured the country stirring up hatred towards Muslims, was imprisoned on charges of treason.

Since last year’s coup, Suu Kyi and most of her government have been jailed on a range of charges, while the Ma Ba Tha monks, including Wirathu, have been freed. The junta did not say why he was released. Wirathu’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

In videos posted online, Wathwa, known locally as “Ma Ba Tha Sadhu” because of his ties to the group, praises Min Aung Hlaing as the “greatest leader” to ever rule Myanmar. Huh. He says he has personally raised “several militias” to fight pro-democracy groups and has more than 4,000 followers.

Taiga, a spokesman for the Taiz People’s Defense Force, a resistance group known by one name, said the figure was an underestimate and that Wathwa’s group was forcibly recruited from villages. Recruitment strategy or the size of the militia’s membership could not be independently verified.

He said that his group would be willing to kill monks if they were at war with the junta, adding “There are good and bad monks… We consider an enemy’s ally as an enemy, whether he is a monk or not.”

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