"The April 28 forced closure of two madrassas in downtown Yangon by a mob of ultra-nationalist protestors backed by Buddhist monks was the latest indication that anti-Muslim vehemence is still a virulent undercurrent of instability in Myanmar’s unconsolidated democratic transition.
Two Islamic schools in the former capital’s Thaketa township were padlocked by protestors who alleged the madrassas were serving as illegal mosques. Police stood by while journalists covering the incident were harassed and threatened by the mob. Five days later the madrassa’s remain shuttered and the neighborhood tense.
The incident was less a resurgence of Islamophobic bullying than a resurfacing. The ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement, known for its anti-Muslim 969 boycott campaign and sparking periodic riots against Muslim communities, may have been diminished by the 2015 election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). But they have clearly not disappeared," writes Mathieson.
The assassination of prominent constitutional lawyer U Ko Ni at Yangon’s airport in January was a thunderclap to any complacency that may have settled over the country’s politics. The prominent journalist Swe Win faced a possible jail-able defamation charge by a Ma Ba Tha supporter who became enraged by the reporter’s critical portrayal of monks who supported the Muslim lawyer’s assassination.
Anti-Muslim sentiments in Myanmar are often misinterpreted internationally as a byproduct of the repression of the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority. But this obscures the broader fears and distrust of Muslims throughout the country that have constantly simmered and not subsided under Suu Kyi’s and her NLD’s elected rule.
Recent attacks on Muslim buildings include the sacking of a mosque in the southern central Bago region in June 2016. Thereafter came an arson attack on a mosque in Hpakant town in Kachin State. Often these attacks are predicated on the alleged unlawful status of a building, giving local authorities the leeway to side with ultra-nationalist, anti-Muslim protestors.
Last week’s madrassa closure in Yangon revealed once again Suu Kyi’s government’s disinclination to repudiate the message of anti-Muslim ultra-nationalist groups and affirm its commitment to protecting minority groups against communal violence.