Muslim Activists Denied Chance to Speak at Mandalay Literature Event

Myanmar, Burma, The Irrawaddy, free speech, Buddhism, Islam, 88 Generation

88 Generation Peace and Open Society leaders Mya Aye, right, Min Ko Naing, center, and Ko Ko Gyi. (Photo: Generation Peace and Open Society)

RANGOON — Three activists in Burma, including a leader from the influential 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, were prevented from appearing at a public event in Mandalay over the weekend, after dozens of Buddhist monks protested their inclusion on the roster of scheduled speakers.

The three activists had planned to give remarks at a literature discussion in Mandalay’s Mye Par quarter on Saturday, but about 40 monks approached organizers in advance of the event and demanded that the trio be removed from the list of speakers. The event was ultimately cancelled.

The activists—Mya Aye, who is a leader from the 88 Generation, Ko Ni, a High Court attorney, and Ma Thida, a well-known writer—told The Irrawaddy that the monks’ stated objection to the three speaking at the event was their Muslim affiliation. Two of the three activists are practicing Muslims.

Despite the monks’ ostensible reason for protesting, the activists said they suspected a “hidden political agenda” was behind the incident.

Mya Aye, a Muslim who has campaigned for democracy in Burma as a member of the 88 Generation for more than 20 years, said the weekend confrontation in Mandalay could tarnish the image of Burma as a country increasingly open to freedom of expression. The monks’ ability to force the event’s cancelation was indicative of the fact that rule of law remained a distance reality for Burma, he said.

The activist linked the monks’ unruly behavior to a recent joint statement by Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and 88 Generation members, who pledged to cooperate in pursuit of amending the 2008 Constitution.

“Behind this is a hidden political agenda because there are people who want to create religious problems to get political power as our country prepares for elections,” Mya Aye said.

Burma is slated to hold national elections in 2015.

The weekend incident follows a similar cancellation last week in Rangoon. In both instances, it was monks objecting to Muslim speakers who disrupted the planned events. Ko Ni and Mya Aye were also scheduled to speak at a Rangoon literature discussion that was called off under similar circumstances on Wednesday of last week.

The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society released a statement on Tuesday saying a total of four literature events, including the ones in Mandalay and Rangoon, have been cancelled this year.

“We issued this statement to protect the right of writers who want to have democracy in this country and an end to the military system,” the statement said.

The activists who were denied the chance to speak on Saturday called on all people of Burma’s varied religious affiliations to work together for peace in the country and in support of religious freedom.

Ma Thida is a writer and activist who is not a Muslim, but previously served as a doctor at Rangoon’s Muslim Free Hospital.

“This action could disturb peace in the country. It is sad to see this,” she said, adding that opposition to the country’s ongoing political reforms was likely a motivating factor.

Anti-Muslim violence has broken out in several states and divisions in Burma, much of it blamed on instigators who adhere to the so-called 969 Buddhist nationalist ideology. The 969 movement, led by the Mandalay-based monk U Wirathu, has become increasingly controversial in the last two years after the campaign—claiming that Burma’s Muslims are threatening the Buddhist majority—gained traction nationwide.

The 969 movement calls on Buddhists to shun Muslim communities and buy only goods from Buddhist-owned shops. Critics of the movement say 969 sermons constitute hate speech and can be linked to outbreaks of Buddhist mob violence against Muslim communities throughout Burma.

Since 2012, such violence has left more than 200 people dead and displaced more than 140,000 people, most of them Muslims. Northern Arakan State has been the worst-affected after long-standing tensions between Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority exploded and mob attacks led to the death of 192 people in June and October of 2012.

“They cannot force people to believe only one religion,” said Ma Thida. “All Burmese are not Buddhists … It is not appropriate in a democratic system to force a religious belief on someone. They should not act similarly to the [former] military dictatorship.”

11 Responses to Muslim Activists Denied Chance to Speak at Mandalay Literature Event

  1. If left un-tackled, the religious fanatics will become the greatest problem for Burma. If the monks intervene in everything, try to involve in day-to-day affairs of people’s lives, Burma will be no difference from Afghanistan under the Taliban rule.

    With limited exposure in life and authoritarian nature of the doctrine under which they live, monks expect the absolute obedience and submission and full kowtowing from their subordinates and followers. No reasoning, no discussion, no debate whatsoever is allowed. They become addicted to that type of live style and demand the same treatment from the people of other religions and the world.

  2. Fake Buddhist monks are trying to bully the citizens of Myanmar under the cover of monks’ robes. Real Buddhist monks must try to prevent them from interfering secular politic and business. These fake monks are believed from NUP and USDP parties.

  3. what is so called leader of democracy doing. she only eager for her seat.

    extremist budhist should be arrested

  4. USDP regime fails to bring love and acceptance in the multi-ethnic Union of Myanmar. Hatred and bitterness become the brand name of USDP Regime.

  5. Ma Thida and fellow Myanmar Muslims, this world is not a FAIR PLACE take MALAYSIA, unless you are a MUSLIM BUMIPUTRA you are a second class citizen, Christians when saying prayers in Malay are not allowed to use the word Allah, Pictures of Pigs are not allowed to be published in magazines..etc. and Malaysia is a relatively moderate Muslim majority state, what about the other exterme SAUDI ARABIA.

  6. After unexpected defeat from NLD in 2012, USDP realized their status in the minds of general people from Burma. Now they are playing their dirtiest cards for their survival. They allowed the most extremist Monk to preach hate speech against Muslims. First they initiated against Rohingya and slowly to all Muslims. You will find very few old Monks among current hate mongers but feel as if young military men are sent from Military Barak.

  7. Burma is still under military rule. Its leaders are fooling the International community and the West leaders are only interested in business. The monks are paid servants of the junta. Most of them are fake. The good monks never gets unto politics.
    I will urge the ethnic minorities not to give up but should fight for their rights.

  8. Buddhism had been known as a peace loving religion. What is wrong with these monks who are hostile to people of other faiths? All muslims are not illegal aliens like Bengali in Arakan State. Mya Aye sacrificed his life for democracy in Myanmar. He feels like a real citizen. If these monks treat Mya Aye this way, they may think we the Christians the same way. Religious belief must be respected and every individual citizen of Myanmar must have freedom of faith without any harassment. Muslims, Buddhists and Christians must practice faith without attacking each other.

  9. I’m completely in favor of the separation of Religion and State. … These two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.

  10. According to these follow-up reports on re: the Cancellation of Literary talks, it seems like some ultra-nationalist monks are trying to suppress any Muslim representation from the entire Burmese social and political life. This objective, you might say, is of silly, idiotic and racist mentality entirely eminating from small-mindedness and political illitracy. Surely, these sentiments of intolerance can be found resonating within Burmese common masses. Such dangerous ultra-nationalist agenda against racial or religious minorities is not limited to societies in transition, such as Burma. It can also showed-up too often even in the matured democracies.

    What is most important in this case is, the NGOs, such as PEN, and eminent politicians such as 88 Groups, including the Burmese Government, had spoken out against the excesses of the PBMU monks. Such efforts should be commended. Remember the saying, “When good people do nothing, the evil will triumph”. Good people within society must speak-out and speak-up aganist such ultra-nationalist movements.

    In Solidarity,
    U Ne Oo, Australia.

  11. acts which have outraged the conscience of our society and that the human rights of every human being should be protected by the rule of law.
    I am a Rohingya and our rights should be protected because ‘ All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
    We Rohingyas are human beings and we deserve right to life, liberty and security of person.

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