Shun hateful Buddhists

The Bangkok Post, July 6, 2015

Bangkok, Thailand -- An agreement was signed in Yangon less than two weeks ago for Thai Buddhists to provide equipment and expertise for Myanmar's first Buddhist radio station. The National Thai Buddhism and Culture Mass Media Association produces radio and TV programmes in Thailand.

But the Thais have chosen to ignore the Myanmar Buddhist mainstream and basic Buddhist tenets. The small group they are helping, the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, is a nationalist movement whose chief concern is divisive and destructive attacks on Myanmar's Muslims.

The Myanmar group is better known as Ma Ba Tha, from its Burmese-language initials. It has been implicated in every act of violence against Muslims in the past three years. That includes clashes involving Rohingya people in western Rakhine state, and against Myanmar Muslim communities in other parts of the country. Ma Ba Tha is a prime backer of the movement for so-called "protection of religion" laws. It states clearly that Muslims deserve and should expect discrimination because they are "enemies of Buddhism".

Like most pro-violence religious groups, Ma Ba Tha represents neither Theravada Buddhism in general, nor the Buddhist community of Myanmar. Because of the ethnic attacks spurred on by Ma Ba Tha, whole villages have been burnt to the ground. Most of the country's Rohingya now live in camps. More tragically for Myanmar, the Ma Ba Tha militants have attacked all Muslims, including peaceful communities in Yangon and other major cities. The 1.5 million baht worth of equipment to be donated to Ma Ba Tha will, in the words of the rrawaddy magazine, help the hard-line group "trade bullhorns for broadcast towers". Instead of preaching to a crowd, the group will be able to reach entire regions with every speech. This will only multiply the hateful messages of Ma Ba Tha. It will crush messages of peace from the mainstream of Myanmar Buddhism, which has no broadcasting ability.

Significantly, and sadly, one of the prime backers of this poorly considered aid agreement is prominent Buddhist lay leader Pornchai Pinyapong. Dr Pornchai is serving his third consecutive term as president of The World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth (WFBY). At the Yangon ceremony to sign the agreement, he claimed the troubles of Rakhine state and the Rohingya are "the same problem as the southern part of Thailand".

This is false on virtually every level. So is Dr Pornchai's poorly thought-out support of Ma Ba Tha. They "just want to protect Buddhism for the next generation", he told the media. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. They want to destroy Islam and get rid of all Rohingya for their own generation. Every such move risks harming the religious tolerance and peace that Thailand has worked to earn. Thai Buddhists and the Muslim mainstream often reject so-called hardline groups that want to create religious strife. Thai Muslims in general refuse to support the southern insurgency. Thai Buddhists have never accepted so-called "leaders" of rogue mosques calling for less tolerance and more confrontation.

Buddhists, Muslims and other great religions have plenty of problems within the ranks of their faithful. At least in Thailand, there is no legitimate group that supports antagonistic messages aimed at other religions. Thais deserve to be proud of this. Religious figures abusing freedom of speech to call for strife and even violence deserve to be shunned and ignored. The Buddhist mass media experts would do the religion and their nation a favour by rethinking the Myanmar venture.