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Thai Buddhists have offered to help a network of hardline anti-Muslim Burmese monks set up a radio station to spread their message across a nation where communal hatred is on the rise.
More than a dozen Thai Buddhists were among hundreds who attended a two-day conference in Rangoon over the weekend organised by the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, commonly known by its Burmese acronym Ma-Ba-Tha.
During the meeting a Thai group which produces religious radio and television programmes in the kingdom promised to donate US$44,000-worth of radio equipment to the Burmese movement.
The offer was of “support not with money, but with equipment and the installation of a radio station, worth about 1.5 million baht,” Woottisarn Panaree, vice-president of the National Thai Buddhism and Culture Mass Media Association, who attended the meeting, told AFP on Wednesday.
“Radio and television plays an important role in preaching Buddhism in Thailand. It will help them preach Buddhism in Myanmar [Burma],” he added.
Burma is wrestling with growing Buddhist nationalist sentiment driven by hardline monks, who have urged boycotts of Muslim shops and proposed a raft of deeply controversial laws that critics say are discriminatory.
Their rise has accompanied several bouts of religious violence between Muslims and Buddhists, mainly in Arakan [Rakhine] State.
In recent weeks nationalist monks have been at the forefront of protests against the country’s Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority in Arakan who have fled in their tens of thousands since communal violence broke out there in 2012.
Compared to its western neighbour, Thai Buddhist nationalism plays a less prominent role in the country’s politics and is not as openly hostile towards Islam.
Pornchai Pinyapong, president of the Bangkok-based World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth, said he attended the meeting in a personal capacity.
He said both countries had “difficulties” with Islam that needed to be addressed to protect Buddhism.
“When we see Rakhine State in Myanmar, it’s the same problem as the southern part of Thailand,” he told AFP, referring to Thailand’s long battle against ethnic Malay Muslims in the country’s deep south.
Unlike Thailand’s south there is no Muslim insurgency in Arakan. Instead more than 100,000 Rohingya live in fetid camps after dozens were killed by Buddhist mobs in the 2012 bloodletting.
Pornchai rejected suggestions that Burma’s hardline Buddhist monks routinely use hate speech against Muslims.
“They don’t encourage anyone to destroy the mosques or kill Muslim people, they just want to protect Buddhism for the next generation,” he said.
“I think it’s good for monks to get together to protect Buddhism,” he added.