Before Ma Ba Tha came to prominence, a Buddhist nationalist movement called 969 shook Burma to its core with its anti-Muslim sentiment and instigation of communal violence in 2012. After attracting local and international criticism for its radicalism, 969 members rebranded the group in 2014 as The Patriotic Association of Myanmar, more commonly known as The Association to Protect Race and Religion (known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha), with nationalist monks in leadership positions. Since then, the association has continued to spread anti-Muslim hate speech across the country. The following story that appeared in the June 2013 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine reflects the then situation on the ground in Mon State’s capital Mawlamyine, a stronghold of the 969 movement.
MAWLAMYINE, Mon State — It’s around 8 pm on a recent evening in Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon State, and U Wimala Biwuntha, a Buddhist monk, is about to arrive to deliver a sermon at a temple in the city’s Aut Kyin Quarter. Despite his reputation as a charismatic speaker, however, there are barely a hundred people inside the main religious hall, and perhaps another hundred—mostly children—outside.
“Please go in,” some women tell me and a few others who are standing outside. “There are not so many people here tonight, so the Sayadaw might be upset.”
A few minutes later, U Wimala, who looks much younger than his 40 years, makes his appearance. After chanting a short Buddhist prayer, he begins his sermon with an ominous warning: “We Buddhists are like people in a boat that is sinking. If this does not change, our race and religion will soon vanish.”
“And so,” he adds, “tonight’s sermon will be about 969.”
He pauses briefly, then asks, “What is tonight’s sermon about?”
“969,” his audience replies...
Kyaw Zwa Moe