Myanmar’s navy turns to Buddhism in bid for legitimacy | Navy Information


A plan is underneath approach for Min Aung Hlaing, head of Myanmar’s navy and chief of final yr’s coup, to construct the most important sculpture of a sitting Buddha on the earth – a part of his try to forge a legacy as a protector of Buddhism.

However, within the final yr, troopers straight underneath his command have killed almost 1,500 individuals in a crackdown on the navy’s opponents that violates Buddhism’s first and most vital precept: to abstain from killing.

”Their Buddhism is a faux present, they don’t should be referred to as Buddhists. We don’t kill different individuals. What they’re doing proper now’s all reverse of Buddhism,” mentioned Agga Wantha, a 30-year-old monk from Mandalay who has been main protests in opposition to the coup.

“They’re simply saying that they’re Buddhist however they’re doing this simply to come up with the nation.”

Min Aung Hlaing has turned to strategies used prior to now to try to declare some form of legitimacy on this 90-percent Buddhist nation that has been underneath navy management for a lot of the previous 60 years.

That has meant alliances with high-profile monks and common reminders of the high-ranking officers’ devotion to the Buddha, regardless of a seamless marketing campaign of violence.

Obeisance, alms and scorched earth

In late October, the navy initiated a scorched-earth marketing campaign in Thantlang, in northwestern Chin State, destroying a whole bunch of buildings and forcing hundreds to flee their houses.

Days later, Min Aung Hlaing visited a number of monasteries in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest metropolis, making obeisance and giving alms. Among the many monks he met was Bhamo Sayadaw, chairperson of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, a government-appointed physique of high-level monks that oversees Buddhism and the clergy in Myanmar.

A man prays outside Yangon's landmark Sule Pagoda in the early hours of February 1 when the military seized power
Most individuals in Myanmar are Buddhist. Coup chief Min Aung Hlaing is planning to construct the world’s largest sitting Buddha as a approach of displaying his devotion and successful assist from the monks [File: EPA]

Navy management visits to high-profile monks are revealed nearly every day within the state-run media as a part of the general public relations effort. A report from america Institute of Peace final month confirmed that public shows of navy assist for Buddhism elevated nearly four-fold after the coup.

“The military has been very intelligent about utilizing faith as their promoting level. In the event you’re a monk within the society you might have absolutely the respect of the inhabitants. This is the reason the navy desires to make use of them as a result of it’s a very efficient software for them to govern society,” mentioned Sai Thet Naing Oo, Myanmar nation consultant on the Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue, which works to convey collectively totally different political voices in Myanmar.

“So although there are various different issues he may very well be doing, Min Aung Hlaing all the time takes time to go to the favored monks.”

‘Virtually all people hates them’

The navy has confronted appreciable opposition because it deposed civilian chief Aung San Suu Kyi and her social gathering, the Nationwide League for Democracy (NLD), in a coup it claimed was vital due to fraud within the November 2020 elections.

A robust resistance motion emerged nearly instantly, with demonstrations and a mass motion of civil disobedience resulting in the event of a decentralised community of armed teams, often called the Folks’s Defence Pressure (PDF), that’s now in common battle with navy troops throughout the nation.

The worldwide group has additionally condemned the regime with america and the European Union imposing sanctions in opposition to a number of navy leaders and military-owned companies. On the United Nations, the nation continues to be represented by the ambassador appointed by the NLD authorities.

With overwhelming resistance at house and a scarcity of assist internationally, the navy is determined for any assist it could possibly get, in accordance with Richard Horsey, Myanmar adviser on the Worldwide Disaster Group.

In early September, navy authorities introduced that they’d launched Ashin Wirathu, a monk identified for his Buddhist nationalist views, particularly his bigoted stance in opposition to Muslims.

Horsey says that whereas the navy has maintained far from Wirathu and has not but absolutely “thrown itself one hundred pc behind the Buddhist nationalist agenda”, they need to preserve the hardline factions available.

“They don’t have many associates. They’re seeking to preserve or achieve no matter associates they will in a context the place nearly all people hates them,” Horsey advised Al Jazeera.

“Clearly Buddhist nationalism is without doubt one of the playing cards they will play, one of many constituents they will attain out to, and it’s definitely one thing they’ve been sending alerts about, although they haven’t absolutely adopted by on that but.”

The navy’s efforts to make use of Buddhism and Buddhist nationalism as a legitimising tactic have additionally prolonged internationally.

Prominent monk Sitagu Sayadaw in traditional saffron robes sits in a carved wooden seat at a lavish ceremony in Naypyidaw
Min Aung Hlaing is courting Sitagu Sayadaw, left, seen at a ceremony in Naypyidaw in 2017, who beforehand defended the navy over its brutal crackdown on the Rohingya [File: Hein Htet/EPA]

When Min Aung Hlaing’s second-in-command, Common Soe Win, visited Russia in September to supervise an arms deal, he was accompanied by Sitagu Sayadaw, one other controversial monk identified for holding hardline views. Horsey explains that a part of this choice was most likely a “credibility subject” and that travelling with a monk “reveals that you’ve got some form of non secular backing”.

Sitagu, who’s a regime favorite, was one of many main monastic voices in the course of the 2017 “clearance operations” during which hundreds of principally Muslim Rohingya have been killed and a whole bunch of hundreds fled into neighbouring Bangladesh. Sitagu defended the navy’s actions, saying that “non-Buddhists aren’t human so killing them is justified.” The Rohingya crackdown is now the topic of a genocide investigation.

Whereas the navy is probably not embracing Buddhist nationalism in its entirety, it does appear to have resumed its previous technique of focusing its assaults on the components of the nation with massive non-Buddhist populations.

“You see extra of the armed battle lately occurring in majority non-Buddhist areas. They [the military] don’t say that they’re attacking a bunch of individuals from a unique faith, however you possibly can see who they’re focusing on. They let their actions communicate for them,” Sai Oo advised Al Jazeera, referring to latest assaults in Chin, which is 85 p.c Christian and Kayah, house to the nation’s largest group of Roman Catholics.

Non secular discrimination

The navy has additionally used Buddhism in its makes an attempt to tarnish the legitimacy of its opposition, launching smear campaigns in opposition to the quickly rising resistance motion and its detained leaders.

Articles revealed in state-run media accuse PDF fighters of murdering monks, claiming that “terrorist teams deliberately kill the monks of Buddhism as the religion professed by the nice majority of the residents.”

Earlier than the coup, the navy additionally portrayed Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD as “insufficiently supportive of Buddhism” to discourage assist from the clergy by sparking worry that the civilian authorities was overly liberal and secular, in accordance with Horsey.

This line of assault has continued for the reason that coup. In a speech in August, Min Aung Hlaing mentioned that “Buddha devotees have been disheartened of their religion in Buddhism in the course of the earlier 5 years”, referring to the interval during which the NLD authorities was in workplace.

However this propaganda, whereas embraced by some inside the monastic group, particularly its extra hardline members, presents a really totally different image to the expertise of non secular minorities in Myanmar.

Salai Za Uk Ling, who serves because the deputy government director of the Chin Human Rights Group, a rights-based group representing the Christian-majority Chin inhabitants, says that even when Aung San Suu Kyi was in workplace, Buddhism was a dominating power in politics.

“Christianity is regarded as a international faith in [Myanmar] and Christians have been handled like second-class residents. Below the civilian authorities we noticed nearly nothing change when it comes to insurance policies – the coverage manifested in a extra refined approach, however there was no actual, severe efforts to handle the basis causes of discrimination in opposition to non secular minorities,” mentioned Za Uk.

“And what we’re seeing now underneath the present navy junta is simply the continuation of this lengthy coverage.”

Nonetheless, regardless of the NLD’s comparable stance on Buddhism, the navy’s marketing campaign in opposition to Aung San Suu Kyi and now the resistance motion does seem to have had some affect.

Air attacks on Thantlang in northwestern Chin state in October sent columns of smoke rising into the air after parts of the town were destroyed
Some monks say the navy breaches the precepts of Buddhism with indiscriminate crackdowns and bombings just like the October assault in town of Thantlang, Chin [File: Chin Human Rights Organization via AP Photo]

Throughout earlier intervals of political unrest, monks have been usually on the forefront of the protests. In 2007, the “Saffron Revolution“, named for the color of the monks’ robes, erupted in response to a rise in gas costs and for greater than a month hundreds of monks flooded the streets all throughout the nation.

However monk and protest chief Agga Wantha says that monks’ lack of visibility within the anti-coup motion is just not as a result of the clergy helps the navy. Reasonably, he says, many monks haven’t been in a position to take part brazenly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the involvement of those that have is being overshadowed by the high-profile monks who’ve aligned themselves with the navy.

“Because the navy coup, Min Aung Hlaing has bribed and gained favours for monks to be on his facet however we don’t want civilians to assume that we aren’t supporting the [protest movement]. We, as monks, additionally don’t agree with the navy taking up the nation,” mentioned Agga Wantha.

But, because the navy leans on faith and its alliances with the clergy to strengthen its grip on energy, the navy is popping on others inside Myanmar’s Buddhist group who’re making it more and more clear that they won’t assist the exploitation of their faith by a regime that kills its personal individuals.

“We’re affected by their ruling too. If we encounter them on the road, they shoot at us and, if we’re unlucky, we get arrested too,” mentioned Agga Wantha. “This isn’t what we do as Buddhists so we are going to proceed to protest.”


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