Buddhist monks in Myanmar have called for a government-enforced ban on headscarves in schools across the country.
“When [Muslims] live in Myanmar, they need to obey the laws and regulations of the country. We are not targeting or attacking their religion,” U Pamaukkha, a monk calling for the hijab ban, said.
The Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, known locally as Ma Ba Tha, is the group advocating the ban. They claim that religious head coverings Muslim women often wear are “not in line with school discipline.”
“We will demand seriously for the government to ban Muslim students wearing the burqa in school,” a statement from the group read.
Several other places around the world, including parts of Russia and China, have bans on burqas and other religious head coverings in place, but only Belgium, France, and Chad have national anti-burqa laws.
Belgium and France both face a growing Muslim immigrant population, which is challenging the national culture of both European states. Chad banned the burqa this week, following an unprecedented jihadist bombing in its capital, N’Djamena.
The monks of Ma Ba Tha have also asked the government to ban the “killing of innocent animals” on the Islamic holiday of Eid.
Ma Ba Tha has also encouraged the people of Myanmar to vote for candidates who “will not let our religion and race disappear,” and who will back Ma Ba Tha’s ultranationalist agenda.
The group was founded in 2013, when conflicts between the Muslim and Buddhist populations boiled over into open violence. Since then, the group has monitored “crimes by non-Buddhists” and actively promotes their ultranationalist agenda in Myanmar’s capital city.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is home to a sizeable population of Rohingya Muslims. About 800,000 live in the country, but the government refuses to recognize them as citizens. Powerful Buddhist groups persecute the Muslims, and the conflict has been growing over the past few years.
Several Buddhist groups have been harshly criticized by the international community for what is condemned as “increased militancy.”
Earlier this year, one of the leaders of the militant Buddhist movement in Myanmar, Ashin Wirathu, came under fire for calling the UN special envoy to Myanmar Yanghee Lee a “bitch” and “whore.”
In the past, Wirathu, called the “Burmese bin Laden” by some, has called for moving the Rohingya Muslims, who have lived in Myanmar since the 1400s, to another country.
Wirathu spoke at the Ma Ba Tha conference this Saturday, where he gave a speech praising Ma Ba Tha for the group’s rapid growth and ascension to a place of serious power in Myanmar politics.
“The Ma Ba Tha have become an unaccountable… political force based on extremist religious and social views,” a senior researcher from Human Rights Watch, David Mathieson, said. “[The group] is like a fifth column using Buddhism to serve shady political and economic interests.”