In defiance of an order passed down three weeks ago by the highest Buddhist authority in Burma, the local Karen State chapter of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion has issued a statement saying it will not change its name and will instead continue to refer to itself by its original name and Burmese acronym, Ma Ba Tha.
“The Ma Ba Tha does not violate the principles of the Sangha [Buddhist monkhood], the 2008 constitution or the Associations Act introduced in 2014. Therefore, the Karen State chapter of the Ma Ba Tha will continue to use its original name,” it said in a statement issued after a “special conference” held at Mae Baung Monastery in the state capital Hpa-an at the weekend.
The statement noted that the Karen branch of Ma Ba Tha would continue to follow instructions from the chair of the newly formed Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation.
Following the 23 May order by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee for the group to cease using the Ma Ba Tha name and banner, the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion announced that it would adopt the new title of Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, but continue its operations and agenda otherwise unaffected.
The hardline Buddhist group was given until mid-July to comply with the Sangha committee’s decree, lest the matter be turned over to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Ma Ba Tha has frequently been accused in recent years of fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment. Its most prominent voice is invariably the firebrand, Mandalay-based monk Wirathu. He infamously appeared on the cover of an issue of TIME magazine’s Asia edition in July 2013 accompanied by the headline “The face of Buddhist terror.”
Many observers lay blame on Wirathu and Ma Ba Tha for Burma’s sporadic inter-communal violence, which peaked in 2012 when Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhist nationalists attacked each other during a series of mob riots that left hundreds dead and over 100,000 people displaced from their homes.