Myanmar’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Culture, Thura Aung Ko, has confirmed what everyone was thinking last week when he bemoaned an “extremist religion” that would soon turn Myanmar’s 87% Buddhist majority into a besieged minority — he was talking about Muslims.
But hey, only Rohingya Muslims, or as he refers to them, “Bengalis.” A key point to make when reassuring Myanmar’s other Muslim groups that you don’t mean them.
In a video he posted to Facebook yesterday, Thura Aung Ko said that Rohingya Muslims are being “brainwashed” into “marching” on Myanmar, invoking fears of a Muslim invasion on Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The invasion force would apparently consist of the 700,000 plus Rohingya who have been driven from their homes in Myanmar into refugee camps across the board amid army “clearance operations” that have been referred to as ethnic cleansing by the UN.
“When I talk about ‘another religion’, I am talking about Bengalis,” he told reporters at a conference in Naypyidaw yesterday. “When we asked [Bangladesh] to release them, they are not letting them return. They are giving them food, and brainwashing Bengali youths to march on Rakhine, to march on Myanmar. Their future plans are to march on Myanmar.”
Last week, Myanmar’s religion minister made remarks widely perceived as racist, referring to an “extremist religion” that would “become the majority” because of what he claimed was the practice of polygamy and higher birth rates, alluding to Myanmar’s Muslim community.
The remarks received an immediate backlash from Islamic groups.
The Burmese Muslim Association, an international association of Burmese Muslims from the United States, Canada, Britain and Myanmar, has called for legal action to be taken against the minister for promoting hate speech.
His comments came at the recent funeral of controversial monk U Thuzana, a figure known for stoking religious tensions between Muslims and Buddhists. The funeral was aired live on SkyNet DTH, a leading Myanmar television station.
“While the Buddha’s disciples follow the ‘one husband one wife’ policy, and give birth to one or two kids, followers of an extremist religion are marrying three or four wives, and give birth to 15 to 20 kids. It is certain that in the next 30, 40 or 50 years, in the Buddha’s country, national races who follow Buddhism will become the minority,” he told monks and followers of Thuzana at the funeral.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar after a brutal military campaign of murder, rape and pillage that has received widespread international condemnation.
This past week, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said there is “compelling evidence” that genocide was committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority and warned that other religious and ethnic communities in Myanmar — including the Kachin and Shan — are at risk of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity by the Burmese military.