Thai Muslim leader fears violence could erupt against community

Thai Muslim leader fears violence could erupt against community
Islamic Religious Affairs Council president Nyunt Maung Shein.
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

A Muslim leader in Myanmar expressed concern and fear that possible violence could erupt against the Muslim community in the country as the election might bring uncertainty in the absence of a power deal.

With the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), there might be an "undesirable situation" created by government-backed groups as a pretext to keep the army-backed government in power, said Islamic Religious Affairs Council president Nyunt Maung Shein.

"From my experience and my age, I feel they might hand over some power [to the NLD], but sabotage the other things. The situation is very uncertain and if violence occurs, then there will be an excuse [for the army to seize power]," he said, noting: "Muslims are the usual scapegoats."

Myanmar authorities will take a few months in which to have a power arrangement with the NLD. "Anything could happen during the period of three months from now," Nyunt Maung Shein said.

The NLD was handed victory in Sunday's election, but there remains no clear result to give Suu Kyi's party full legitimacy so it can establish a single-party government.

The NLD experienced a landslide victory in the 1990 election, but the military junta refused to hand over executive power to the party to run the country.

There are now rumours within and outside the entire Muslim community that extremist Buddhists might create violence against Muslims to give the military an excuse to continue in power, he said.

Communal conflict between Buddhists and Muslims has wracked the western state of Rakhine since 2012. The violence escalated and spread to other parts of the country later in 2013 and 2014. The dispute has been fuelled by Buddhist extremists in recent years.

Nyunt Maung Shein blamed the government for supporting these extremists, including the nationalist 969 movement. Buddhist monks led by Wirathu have been spreading hate against Muslims, he said.

The Muslim leader said Islamic organisations have issued warnings to all Muslims in the country to keep from exposing their traditions or culture too much to avoid igniting a conflict with the majority Buddhists. Muslims should be careful during this transition period until the country gets a new government early next year, he said.

"Muslims in Myanmar are very sincere people, but they do not have enough knowledge to distinguish religion from culture, so there can easily be a cultural conflict with the majority," Nyunt Maung Shein said.

"They have nothing to do with the Islamic State group, the Taleban or any other kind of terrorists, but just wearing a Muslim outfit and growing a beard without proper knowledge could make them be seen as being against the culture and norm of Buddhists. But we cannot tell them not to wear a headscarf or grow a beard. We are just saying that it is not sinful if they go without these," he said and noted that he dressed like an "ordinary Myanmar person rather than wear a Muslim costume".

Nyunt Maung Shien urged Buddhists to "have open mind by understanding Muslims as they have never taken up arms against Myanmar".

However, the Muslim leader expressed hope that there would be a smooth transition of power or a power-sharing agreement among political leaders for the benefit of national interest and stability.

"I hope for peace for every citizen of Myanmar, including ethnic and religious groups," he said.

If power is indeed transferred to Suu Kyi smoothly, the Muslim leader believes she will exercise democracy for the sake of Muslims and other groups equally.

Although Suu Kyi has rarely expressed enough sympathy for Muslim minorities, Nyunt Maung Shein believes she will have policies to help the beleaguered Muslim community if her party wins overall power. 


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