Looking Back: Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions


May 20, 2015

Looking Back: Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions

By Jonah Fisher

This week (in August 2013), religious violence has once again flared in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Hundreds of Muslim homes have been burnt to the ground in Sagaing region after being attacked by Buddhist mobs.

In just over a year, more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed and many more displaced as unrest has spread from Rakhine state in the west to towns across the country. Many are blaming a controversial monk and the nationalist organisation he helps lead for the rising tensions.

wirathuMonk Shin Wirathu at work.

This morning, he is lecturing on the importance of avoiding sexual misconduct.”Yes, venerable monk,” the young men chant in unison, as Wirathu softly delivers his advice on the need to avoid temptation.

When the class is over, he shows me outside. On the wall of the monastery courtyard are graphic posters of the Buddhist victims of recent religious and ethnic violence in Rakhine state in western Myanmar.

They are unpleasant viewing. The pictures from October last year show dead children with their heads cut open and the bodies of women with their internal organs spilling out of their torsos. Wirathu said he put them up as a reminder to Buddhists that the country is under attack from Muslim “invaders”.

“Muslims are only well behaved when they are weak, ” he said. “When they become strong, they are like a wolf or a jackal; in large packs they hunt down other animals.”Wirathu believes there is a Muslim “master plan” underway to turn Myanmar into an Islamic state.

If he is right, it is a long-term project. Latest estimates suggest that of Myanmar’s 60 million people, 90% are Buddhist and about 5% Muslim.

“Over the past 50 years, we have shopped at Muslim shops and then they became richer and wealthier than us and can buy and marry our girls,” Wirathu said. “In this way, they have destroyed and penetrated not only our nation but also our religion.”

Master Plan

_69534222_joonmosque

Wirathu’s solution lies in a controversial nationalist organisation called 969. It calls on Buddhists to shop, sell property and marry within their own religion.Small, brightly-coloured stickers have been distributed to clearly brand businesses as Buddhist-owned.

Supporters of 969 argue it is a purely defensive organisation, created to protect Buddhist culture and identity. Listening to the rhetoric of Wirathu and 969’s leaders, there is no doubt it is squarely aimed at Muslims.

“In the past, there was no discrimination based on religion and race. We all stayed together in a brotherly way,” Wirathu said. “But when their [Muslim] master plan has been revealed we can no longer stay quiet.”

From Rakhine state in the west, to more central towns like Meiktila and Okkan, the link is being made between heightened religious tensions and the preaching and activities of monks and 969.

The outbreaks of violence usually have a depressing symmetry. A small flashpoint, often a crime or perceived insult, perpetrated by a Muslim against a Buddhist, triggers a disproportionate wave of reprisals against the entire Muslim community.

Ten years ago, under the military junta, Wirathu was jailed for his anti-Muslim views. Now in these times of change, his message is widely disseminated through social media and DVDs. Far from being condemned, Wirathu now has backing from the very top.

In June, as his infamy reached its peak, Wirathu appeared on the front cover of Time magazine labelled “The face of Buddhist terror”. Burmese monks were outraged and Myanmar’s President Thein Sein quickly leapt to Wirathu’s defence. The Time issue was banned and a statement released with the President lauding Wirathu as a “son of Lord Buddha”.

‘Obstacle to reform’

_69534220_smarnyinyiSmar Nyi Nyi 

There is no shortage of theories inside Myanmar as to why Wirathu is now flavour of the month. One theory is that continuing ethnic and religious violence could be used by the military as a pretext for maintaining a dominant role in Burmese politics. It is certainly an argument Myanmar’s generals have made before.

kaylarsa

“We are also wondering about this,” Kaylar Sa (above), a monk jailed for his part in the Saffron revolution of 2007, told me as he chain-smoked his way through a pack of Red Ruby cigarettes. He pointed out that the government has acted decisively and violently to end monk-led demonstrations against an army-backed copper mine last year, and yet now was unwilling to tackle them over hate speech.

“At the moment, we firmly believe that the 969 movement is unnecessary,” he said. “If this movement continues to be taken seriously, it could become an obstacle to democratic reform.”

A short drive from Wirathu’s monastery, Muslim volunteers guard Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay, each night. The men told me that in the event of a Buddhist attack, they expect no protection from the (Buddhist-dominated) police or the army.

Smar Nyi Nyi, a veteran of the 1988 student uprising and one of the elders at the mosque, took me to one side. He expressed views that many Burmese share, that shadowy elements within the establishment are stoking the unrest.

“Everybody is talking about the violence between Buddhists and Muslims,” he said. “Nobody is interested in the dam on the Irrawaddy River. No one is interested in the gas pipeline. If somebody is controlling things, he is a smart man!”

Some Muslims cling to the hope that there exists a silent majority of moderate Buddhists appalled by recent events, secretly rooting for them.

“Most of the Buddhists, they are just onlookers ” a retired Muslim doctor tells me with a shrug. “A few might pass a heartfelt regard and say they’re sorry, but that doesn’t come above the surface.”

For Wirathu, each fresh outbreak of religious conflict reinforces his view that Myanmar is part of a global war on militant Islam and that he is being badly misunderstood.

“We don’t use drones – we haven’t killed [Osama] Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or the Taliban,” he told me.”We are just preaching and posting on the internet and Facebook for the safety and security of our nation. If we are all protecting our own nation who’s the bad guy – Wirathu or Barack Obama?”

7 thoughts on “Looking Back: Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions

  1. ‘religious violence has once again’ and they say religions are peaceful or promote peace.
    Greedy/selfish and self interest people use religion for personal benefit but it is the Almighty who gets blamed.

    Looks like all the pilgrimages to the so called holy places do not appear to make their followers peaceful.

  2. Let’s call a spade a spade.
    This “monk” is nothing more than a clerico-fascist.

    We have some of that here in 1Malaysia too.
    Including a Chinese convert and his brand of radical “Islam”.

  3. In the names of religion, maybe 1rd or half the world was in a mess. People use it for,
    gaining power
    get rich
    to kill
    to discriminate
    to spread peace and unite
    to teach good value and so on
    too much for me to go on
    The good and the bad. One can be good to their own community but not to others. Some can be good to all, but deem by their own as bad. U can walk in the jungle that has no animals or human that can harm u but who know u won’t be strike by lighting. It seem no end.

  4. They will always be people be discriminating others in the name of religion be it Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, etc. Thus, the good people must stand up and condemn such actions!

  5. “Looking Back: Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions”

    Dato’,

    Just to share this…

    “The Truth on the Issue of Rohingyas” –
    http://malaysiaflipflop.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-truth-on-issue-of-rohingyas.html

    Also to add this from one commenter…

    civilsu
    June 11, 2012

    Maung Daw, Rakhine State, Myanmar

    8,June,2012

    In this afternoon, thousands of Bengali known as Rohingyas gathered and burned many houses of local residents, Rakhines.

    Most of local Rakhines (Arakanese) fled away from their homes for security purposes. Maung Daw at Rakhine State in Burma is now in chaos and needs immediate control over such riots.

    Many Buddhist temples were set on fire by Bengalis while rioters have destroyed local stores and shops owned by Rakhines (Arakanese).

    Few days ago, an Arakanese lady was gang-raped and murdered by three Bengalis. Her neck was purposefully cut and vagina was found severely penetrated with sharp weapons. That case has raised tensions among local residents, Arakanese and newly occupying illegal Bengali immigrants. In response to such sexual assault, ten Muslim travelers to Rakhine state were beaten to death at Taung Gote township. Such consequential cases have sparked riots in Rakhine state.

    Conditions seem to become worse when Bengalis started to shoot with their secretly stored guns from a three storey house of a money broker called Zaw Hein at Maung Daw. They shot into the running Rakhine crowds and reports say that injured were sent to Sittway hospital, capital of Rakhine state. An army official confirmed the news that they have already received information about collection of arms by Muslim terrorist forces in that area. Latest news suggests that Myanmar Army in Maund Daw is now confronting with armed Bengalis. Moreover, according to Lay Wa Dee media, Bengali guerilla forces were prepared before tensions started to rise which is why it may be considered as a planned action and foreign invasion.

    Maung Daw is now under carfew and military control. Police forces are ordered to fire directly towards armed rioter Bengalis. Meanwhile, a well-known local GP Dr Khin Maung Latt and his wife were stabbed seriously by their Bengali housemaid. Resources approve that they are now at hospital and fatally injured.

    Ko Ko Kyi, a student leader of 88 generations in Myanmar, made a press conference today regarding such riot issues in Rakhine state.

    “I want to say clearly that Rohingyas are not belonged to any ethnic group in Burma. They have no cultural and religious ties with any ethnic group in Burma. Although we have avoided any potentially conflicting issues like racial riots, we have to say today that we will not accept any foreign intervention on rohingya issue without knowing true history of rohingya Bengalis. If some countries want to pressure on Burma/Myanmar for such rohingya problems, we will view it as a threat to our national security.” Ko Ko Kyi says.

    In the mean time, Myanmar Muslim Association in Mandalay released a statement about serious condemnation on Rohigyas actions on local resident Rakhines (Arakanese). Currently, according to Yangon Press International, 14 villages were burned down and causalities were not known yet.

    Contemporarily, famous exile media such as BBC Burmese, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Radio Free Asia Burmese( RFA Burmese), Voice of America Burmese (VOA Burmese), Irrawaddy Magazine and Mizzima Media were viewed by strong nationalists and social activists of Myanmar as major lobbyist for causing such racial tensions. Ko Ko Kyi warned that exile pressures can be one of the contributing factors for such chaotic conditions. On official facebook of a Myanmar Government officer, he requested that exile Burmese Media should not state rioting situations as Religious conflicts.

    On facebook, a number of Burmese calling for boycotting such media and lobbyists were spread like wildfire provoking an idea that exile media are lobbying just for their self-interests but not for Burma as they officially announce. On BBC official web page, it was expressed that Maung Daw Islamic residents are protesting as a response to rising religious tensions. In fact, those Bengalis rallied at a central mosque and started to destroy local stores near Central Hall at Maung Daw. Political activists say that such transnational issue is not simply a religious conflict but a huge problem with Immigration Bureau of Myanmar. They said that local Rakhines (Arakanese) were long suffered from troubles created by corrupted staff of Border Security Forces at Maung Daw.

    Han Yaung Wai, chairman of DVB, is usually accused of anti-rohingya campaigners as a conspirator in case of rohingya promotion due to released photographs in which he was signing a suspiciously rohingya-promotion agreement with some Arabs. Since there is no cultural and political connection between Myanmar and Arab world either in positive or negative way, Arakanese activists and nationalists accused Han Yaung Wai of bribery for suspected rohingya-promotion agreement.

    Others campaigns are Burma Campaign UK, Rohingya Organization UK where Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, daughter of Mya Aye who is a student leader of 88 generati”

    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-800910

    “…Rohingya controversy

    Some activists criticised Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the 2012 Rakhine State riots.[167] After receiving a peace prize, she told reporters she did not know if the Rohingya could be regarded as Burmese citizens.[168] Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, most Rohingya are unable to qualify for Burmese citizenship. As such, they are treated as illegal immigrants, with restrictions on their movement and withholding of land rights, education and public service.[167] Some describe her stance as politically motivated.;[167] however, she said that she wanted to work towards reconciliation and that she cannot take sides as “violence has been committed by both sides.”[169] According to The Economist, her “halo has even slipped among foreign human-rights lobbyists, disappointed at her failure to make a clear stand on behalf of the Rohingya minority.”

    However, she has spoken out “against a ban on Rohingya families near the Bangladeshi border having more than two children.”[170]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi

    Apr 20, 2013 – Aung San Suu Kyi on the Rohingya Muslims – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3WQE-hVucI

    Dec 28, 2013 – Talk to Al Jazeera – Aung San Suu Kyi: ‘There is no rule of law’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXj9AF_x_s8

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/26/burmas-favorite-scapegoat/

    “…Regional experts, however, fear that facing threat to their life and property from Buddhist mobs and discrimination by the military government, the Rohingyas might yet become the latest recruits in a Southeast Asian jihad. As Bertil Lintner notes, “Islamic extremists have taken advantage of the plight of the Rohingyas. Most Rohingyas are poor farmers, or refugees, but also, because of their plight, easy prey for radical elements.”

    Rohingyas are not yet a name popping up on the radar of counter-terrorism experts but if Myanmar’s single-minded generals and bigoted monks have their way that could change.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nayan-chanda/rohingyas-vs-buddhists_b_4950999.html

    If nothing is done with the racial & religiuos “Bigots” that we have here in Bolehland this could arise…!

    You be the judge.

  6. “Looking Back: Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions”

    Also to share this…

    “…Rohingya controversy

    Some activists criticised Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the 2012 Rakhine State riots.[167] After receiving a peace prize, she told reporters she did not know if the Rohingya could be regarded as Burmese citizens.[168] Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, most Rohingya are unable to qualify for Burmese citizenship.

    As such, they are treated as illegal immigrants, with restrictions on their movement and withholding of land rights, education and public service.[167] Some describe her stance as politically motivated.;[167] however, she said that she wanted to work towards reconciliation and that she cannot take sides as “violence has been committed by both sides.”[169] According to The Economist, her “halo has even slipped among foreign human-rights lobbyists, disappointed at her failure to make a clear stand on behalf of the Rohingya minority.”

    However, she has spoken out “against a ban on Rohingya families near the Bangladeshi border having more than two children.”[170]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi

    Apr 20, 2013 – Aung San Suu Kyi on the Rohingya Muslims – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3WQE-hVucI

    Dec 28, 2013 – Talk to Al Jazeera – Aung San Suu Kyi: ‘There is no rule of law’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXj9AF_x_s8

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/26/burmas-favorite-scapegoat/

    Dec 25, 2014 – This eye opening program exposes the plot hatched by the government of Myanmar to stir up tension between the Buddhists majority and the Muslims minority, the communities that used to live in peace for generations.

    Violence flared up in the western Rakhine state in 2012, leaving hundreds of Muslim Rohingyas dead, and many more homeless.

    In Mandalay, Myanmar’s cultural center and former royal capital, like the rest of the country, the Rohingya Muslims fear for their lives because of unfounded accusations brought against them. Hundreds of thousands of them now live in camps and are dying due to lack of health care.

    Living in the world’s most persecuted communities, the Muslim Rohingyas consider the government and the security forces as the hands behind the violence.

    Dec 25, 2014 – The Racist Monk of Myanmar (Ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims by the government in Myanmar) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdMWN7SR7qE

    You be the judge.

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