RANGOON — Ma Ba Tha will trade in their bullhorns for broadcast towers after a Thai religious delegation pledged funding to construct two radio stations for the Burmese Buddhist nationalist group.
The Thai delegation, which included the president of the youth wing of the World Federation of Buddhists, signed a memorandum of understanding and formalized an offer of 40 million kyats (US$35,800) to finance equipment and construction of the stations during the two-year anniversary conference of Ma Ba Tha—also known as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion—which was held in Rangoon’s Insein Township over the weekend.
“We only had pens before, but we’ve got microphones now, so thank you for the donation,” said outspoken Ma Ba Tha member U Wirathu. “We will begin a revolution for our own media to protect our religion.”
Dr. Pornchai Pinyapong, the president of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth who was presence at the Ma Ba Tha anniversary conference, told The Irrawaddy that Thailand and Burma both needed Buddhist monks to aggressively defend their religion in the face of what he characterized as threats from minority Muslim populations.
“We need to have some monks like Wirathu. About 80 percent of monks only act according to tradition. Sometimes we need fighter monks,“ he said.
Dr. Pornchai, who has since 2009 served as an advisor to various committees on Buddhist matters in the Thai parliament, justified the establishment of Buddhist radio stations by raising the specter of the 55-year-old Thailand insurgency, which has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 Thai Buddhists and ethnic Malay Muslims in the country’s far south.
Known for their anti-Muslim activism, including the sponsorship of legislative measures to reduce the reproductive rights of the country’s Muslim minority, Ma Ba Tha members have been vocal critics of the international media’s coverage of the Rohingya crisis in western Arakan State.
On several occasions, Ma Ba Tha leaders have rallied demonstrators to protest against the United Nations and international news networks, accusing them of mischaracterizing inter-communal violence and discrimination, and denying that the Rohingya Muslims constitute a legitimate ethnic group.
At the weekend’s conference, Ma Ba Tha representatives also called on the Buddhist clergy to support the incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party in the coming election, and proposed a ban on schoolchildren wearing Muslim headscarves.