Myanmar minister praised after deemed anti-Muslim barb

Ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha says unacceptable for Muslims to demand apology after new minister’s ‘anti-Muslim’ comments

Myanmar minister praised after deemed anti-Muslim barb

World Bulletin / News Desk

A hardline Buddhist group has applauded weekend comments by Myanmar's new religious affairs minister that appeared derogatory to the country's Muslim population.

A statement by ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha (the Race and Religion Protection Organization) late Tuesday lashed out at Muslim organizations for demanding an apology from Thura Aung Ko after he described Islam in Myanmar as “a religion by the minority associate citizens”.

Thura Aung Ko was only last week elected as the religious affairs and culture minister in Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government.

In a statement, Ma Ba Tha defended the minister’s comment as “right” and matching the group’s stance, while claiming that it was “totally unacceptable” for Muslim groups -- such as the London-based Burmese Muslim Association and five local organizations -- to demand an apology.

Anadolu Agency was unable to receive further comment from Ma Ba Tha on Wednesday as its chairman and spokesperson were away from their Yangon headquarters.

A firebrand monk from the group, however, took to his Facebook page Wednesday to applaud Thura Aung Ko, whose native town of Kyaukpadaung was home to an influential anti-Muslim movement in the past.

“Poor Muslim organizations,” Wirathu posted. “Don't even call yourselves Myanmar Muslims as you guys don't deserve to be Myanmar.”

In an interview with Voice of America radio Saturday evening, Thura Aung Ko said Islam in Myanmar is “a religion by the minority associate citizens” who acquired citizenship through the 1948 Union Citizenship Law.

He went on to say that Buddhists were full citizens, and described Christianity as the country's minority ethnic group.

Buddhist nationalists have long used such allegations to suggest that the country's persecuted Muslim Rohingya are not the Myanmar citizens they claim to be, but interlopers from neighboring countries who have no right to be in Myanmar.

On Sunday, the London-based Burmese Muslim Association issued a statement strongly objecting to what it called "the irresponsible comments of Thura U Aung Ko”.

“Islam is stated as a religion of full citizenship [descendants of residents who lived in Burma prior to 1823, or were born to parents who were citizens at the time of birth] in three constitutions of the country drafted in 1947, 1974 and 2008," it said.

"The Islam religion had arrived in Myanmar since before Bagan era [AD 652-660],” it underlined.

Local Muslim organizations orginally told Anadolu Agency that they suspected the minister was misquoted, but have since demanded an apology.

Ma Ba Tha was formed after communal violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in 2013 left 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, around 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.

The organization has a focus on what one of the group's monks has called the Islamic "invasion" of Myanmar, and is responsible for a series of laws seen as designed to stop Muslims having multiple wives, large families and marrying Buddhist women.

It draws its support from the country's uneducated Buddhist masses, and has rapidly become one of the country's most powerful religious organizations.

Analysts have said that the case once again illustrates the pressure that the National League for Democracy (NLD) party -- which took power last week -- is under to solve religious discrimination, while at the same time acting without offending hardline groups which hold tremendous political sway.

Last Mod: 06 Nisan 2016, 16:42
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