‘White Rose’ Campaigners Defy Nationalists to Show Solidarity With Muslims

Interfaith activists have launched a campaign of “solidarity” with Muslims after a nationalist mob descended on South Dagon last week to shut down Ramadan prayers.

The mostly-Buddhist activists were inspired by a monk who showed up with supporters in the township the day after the mob arrived to hand white roses to Muslims after their prayers.

“I came here to show solidarity and humanitarian spirit after what happened last night,” said U Seintita, the abbot of a monastery in Pyin Oo Lwin near Mandalay.

“I’d like to show appreciation to all our Muslim brothers [for showing patience]… It’s not only a gesture of peace to those mobs but also a goodwill message to all other citizens,” he added.

The next morning, Buddhist activists handed white roses to Muslims after their prayers at a mosque in Dagon township, saying they wanted to oppose “bullying” of people of different faiths.

Then on Monday a group of Buddhists in Sagaing, near Mandalay, launched their own white rose campaign at the Myoma mosque in the city.

“It’s a campaign intended to show our loving kindness to our Muslim friends here in Sagaing, following the forced shutdown of three prayer houses in Yangon,” said Ma Su Chit, a local resident leading the campaign.

She and her fellow activists plan to hand out more white roses in other towns throughout Ramadan.

“We are also doing it again in Yangon,” said Ma Su Chit.

Nyi Pu Lay, a prominent Mandalay-based writer, travelled for an hour to Sagaing to show support to the Muslims praying there.

“I came to the event out of my own interest,” he said. “I believe in freedom of religion, and I stand on the side of human rights. I’ve no other reason.”

After handing out flowers, the activists organized a panel discussion on how to prevent religious conflict and live in harmony.

The panelists were U Seintita, Thet Swe Win, who led the white rose campaign in Yangon, Zaw Win Aung, a pastor from Mandalay, and Saung Lwin, an Islamic preacher.

Thet Swe Win became well-known after he led a fundraising effort in support of a Muslim vendor who was forced by nationalist monks to stop selling snacks at Shwedagon pagoda in 2016.

He later founded a group called Synergy to promote interfaith harmony.

Police in South Dagon have charged two of the leaders of the mob with causing “fear or alarm” to the public under section 505(b).

Michael Kyaw Myint and Thiha Myo Naing have so far evaded arrest but a police warrant says they are due in court on Thursday.

Thet Swe Win asked why the police have been slow to apprehend the men when they often seem so quick to crack down on protestors. He also alleged that some members of the mob were already wanted by police before they arrived in South Dagon last week.  

“Some members of the mob that night are fugitives, including some monks, who had been previously charged with 505(b)… I spotted four or five fugitives in the crowd. [The authorities] know where those fugitives live but no one has bothered to arrest them,” he said.

“We don’t see [the police] strictly performing their duty to arrest those rioters. So far, issuing warrants to arrest them has been their benchmark,” he added.

He also said that ordinary citizens were within their rights to apprehend members of the mob. “If the police don’t arrest the fugitives, the public can do so.”

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