Putting Myanmar’s “Buddhist Extremism” in an International Context

Putting Myanmar’s “Buddhist Extremism” in an International Context by Aye Thein, 01/09/2017, Tea Circle (Oxford)

Aye Thein argues that the international influences on “Buddhist extremism” have been overlooked.

This article further develops an idea I had briefly discussed in an earlier piece written for New Mandala in February 2017. A recent phenomenon in Myanmar, which has been called by different names by commentators depending on their preference, has put the country in the international spotlight. It has been characterised, among others terms, as “Buddhist nationalist”, “ultra-nationalist”, “militant Buddhist” and “Buddhist extremist”, the latter being used in the title of this article. MaBaTha or the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion, being the largest of the groups described by these various terms, has triggered a good deal of scholarly and journalistic attention.

What is problematic with the articles such as the ones using the terms quoted above is that most of them overemphasise the role of these groups as promoters of Islamophobia. In order to advance our understanding of this worrying trend, I will make the case here that more attention needs to be given to another role Buddhist nationalist groups play, which has hitherto been glossed over or commented on only in passing: that is, that they are in fact voracious consumers, albeit uncritical and selective, of global media coverage on Islam. This is where the international factor comes in.

Based on my reading of recent literature of the Buddhist nationalists in the Burmese language, I have observed at least three ways in which the international factor feeds into Islamophobia, as consumed and purveyed by these groups in Myanmar.

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