A very thoughtful article by Min Zin in The New York Times called ‘The People vs. The Monks’ makes some valuable points.
He summarises many of the recent issues about the 969 movement and the Mabatha (‘The committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion’) who are proposing extreme laws about restricting marriage by Buddhist women to non-Buddhists and conversion to other religions in.
As he explains, there is something of a rebellion against the monastics:
‘A coalition of almost 100 civil society groups, led by well-known women activists and ethnic minority leaders, immediately protested the president’s endorsement of the discriminatory laws. The Mabatha denounced them as “traitors,” but that only prompted more civil society groups to oppose the bills. Facebook lit up with posts and comments like, “Count me in; I am a traitor, too.” The publication The Voice criticized “crony monks” for trying to advance the government’s authoritarian agenda.’
He goes on to describe the extremism of the Burmese Buddhist Sangha:
‘Mabatha and the 969 Movement have run a broad anti-Muslim campaign, from organizing economic boycotts against Muslim businesses to, some charge, inciting pogroms. During a visit by a delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation last year, monks marched through Yangon with banners calling Islam “a faith of animals with uncontrollable birthrates.” Other monks have even been accused of instigating killings early last year in the town of Meiktila, in central Myanmar, where Buddhist mobs destroyed Muslim neighborhoods, killing at least 44 people, including 20 students and several teachers at an Islamic school.’
Min Zin concludes that the anti-monastic movement might be important for the emerging democracy within Burma:
‘The unprecedented chasm between the monkhood and the people is for now a source of tension and turmoil. But it augurs well for the country’s political and social development in the long term. The advent of a counter movement to Buddhist extremism suggests that the people of Myanmar are emancipating from traditional elites and taking a major stride toward modernity and democracy.’
Whether there are other voices (and I have offered examples) within the Burmese Buddhist Sangha that can also counter extremism within the Buddhist Sangha remains to be seen.