Friday, August 18, 2017

Military chief condemns religious extremism

During a trip to Sittwe this week, head of the armed forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing urged citizens to avoid religious extremism.

The commander-in-chief told assembled military officials and families that adherents of every religion must safeguard their beliefs without resorting to extremism.

The township where he made the remarks has been subject to waves of nationalist protests, including most recently at the beginning of the month when monks and residents protested against the government dropping the term “Bengali” to refer to self-identifying Rohingya Muslims.

Rakhine State is also dotted with IDP camps home mainly to Muslim families who have been confined with severe restrictions on their movement since communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims ripped through the state in 2012.

“We must systematically maintain and safeguard our country and prevent any misunderstanding between national races in the post-independence period that can cause a lack of peace and stability due to various ‘isms’ and different political, racial and religious ideologies,” the military-run Myawady newspaper reported of the speech.

Last month, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing also said that the Tatmadaw would help shoulder the burden of protecting Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist character, a remark that triggered suspicion among ethnic minority political and rights groups.

U Thopaka, a member of the hardline nationalist Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion, better known as Ma Ba Tha, told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the commander-in-chief’s Sittwe speech should be seen as a warning.

“We don’t accept religious extremism and it can be damaging to our country. I hope that the Rakhine issue is resolved without racial and religious extremism,” he said.

Ma Ba Tha pledged at its recent three-year anniversary to continue campaigning against citizenship for Muslim Rohingya.

U Kyaw Nyein, a member of the Myanmar Citizens Muslim Association, said that the Tatmadaw and the government must take action against perpetrators of hate speech seeking to ignite violence between Buddhists and Muslims.

“Religious extremism is one of the effects of hate speech. So the authorities need to take stern action against them. But now, I see the authorities only say ‘do not share hate speech’, but they do not punish the people who spread religious extremism,” he said.

Attackers involved in two separate, recent bouts of mob violence directed at Muslims – one in Bago Region and one in Kachin State – have largely escaped punishment. Five people out of a mass of over 100 were arrested in Myitkyina, while the Bago chief minister said justice would not be pursued for fear of provoking more unrest.

Daw Naw Sar War, secretary of the Hpa-an Anglican missionary, said religious minorities feel targeted by Buddhist extremists in the country who wish to suppress other faiths.

“All people know that Ma Ba Tha provokes Buddhist extremism ... We are disappointed the government hasn’t taken action against them,” she said.