Ye Htut on Wirathu, Buddhist nationalism and religious freedom in Burma

Ye Htut on Wirathu, Buddhist nationalism and religious freedom in Burma

Following the publication of the July issue of Time that features notorious nationalist monk Wirathu on the cover along with the headline: ‘The Face of Buddhist terror”, Burma’s government says the magazine is undermining the religion in the eyes of the international community. 

During an interview with Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut, DVB’s Nay Thwin asks the official about the government’s official response to the article and what they’re doing to address sectarian tensions in the country.

How much impact does the government think Time magazine’s article can have given that the President’s Office has released a statement denouncing it?

It had to be done especially because Time magazine’s cover portrayed Buddhism in association with terrorism. Moreover, the article is written from a rather one-sided point of view and could create misunderstandings among the international community concerning Buddhism. And the article could potentially damage inter-faith trust-building efforts in the country.

So a statement has been published on the President’s Office Burmese-language website. Do you plan to send an official complaint to Time?

For now we are just stating our opinion on the President’s Office website.

We saw the 969 movement was mentioned in the statement and you also mentioned the government was working to promote mutual understanding and trust among different religions. But at the same time, there are certain Buddhist monks who are being criticised for inciting misunderstandings among religions. How does the President’s Office view this issue?

As provided in Article-362 of the Constitution, everyone is entitled to follow any religion of their choosing. Besides Buddhism, it recognises Hinduism, Christianity, Animism and Islam as faiths practiced in the country. So everyone is entitled to follow, in line with the law, any religion. Moreover, they have the freedom to express their opinion, but we do not allow for the instigation of violence against other religions.

What plans does that government have to take action against individuals inciting religious violence?

The responsibility to judge what Buddhist monks preach mainly lies with the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee. Today, various monks are preaching based on various concepts to promote their religion and we have not heard any complaints at the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee that alleges that any of these concepts are violent.

So does this mean that the President’s Office assumes that some of the sermons that are being preached in the country are not alarming?

The president mentioned in one of his speeches – we are in an era of transitioning into a democracy and must allow the practice of democracy, but on the other hand, we must also prevent violence and insulting others.

In order to do this, mutual-trust must be built among different religions and, just so, people will learn whether something they say about their religion could be harmful to other religions or not. To address that, we are organising inter-faith conferences and seminars to prioritise exchanging views. We have given serious concern to issues that may create misunderstanding, which is why we are committed to bringing about unity among religions.

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