Special Report: Myanmar gives official blessing to anti-Muslim monks
We have covered the ongoing collusion of the Myanmarese state and extremist Buddhist monks who preach an eliminationist theology that literally demonizes Muslims and Islam.
Now Reuters has filed a special report detailing the “official blessing” bestowed on anti-Muslim monks by state authorities. It is a must read and I am afraid that the tide of religious chauvinism and hatred is not far from reaching a crescendo that will witness a horrific genocide.
YANGON (Reuters) – The Buddhist extremist movement in Myanmar, known as 969, portrays itself as a grassroots creed.
Its chief proponent, a monk named Wirathu, was once jailed by the former military junta for anti-Muslim violence and once called himself the “Burmese bin Laden.”
But a Reuters examination traces 969′s origins to an official in the dictatorship that once ran Myanmar, and which is the direct predecessor of today’s reformist government. The 969 movement now enjoys support from senior government officials, establishment monks and even some members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Wirathu urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim shops and shun interfaith marriages. He calls mosques “enemy bases.”
Among his admirers: Myanmar’s minister of religious affairs.
“Wirathu’s sermons are about promoting love and understanding between religions,” Sann Sint, minister of religious affairs, told Reuters in his first interview with the international media. “It is impossible he is inciting religious violence.”
Sann Sint, a former lieutenant general in Myanmar’s army, also sees nothing wrong with the boycott of Muslim businesses being led by the 969 monks. “We are now practicing market economics,” he said. “Nobody can stop that. It is up to the consumers.”
President Thein Sein is signaling a benign view of 969, too. His office declined to comment for this story. But in response to growing controversy over the movement, it issued a statement Sunday, saying 969 “is just a symbol of peace” and Wirathu is “a son of Lord Buddha.”
Wirathu and other monks have been closely linked to the sectarian violence spreading across Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Anti-Muslim unrest simmered under the junta that ran the country for nearly half a century. But the worst fighting has occurred since the quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011.
Two outbursts in Rakhine State last year killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims. A Reuters investigation found that organized attacks on Muslims last October were led by Rakhine nationalists incited by Buddhist monks and sometimes abetted by local security forces.
In March this year, at least 44 people died and 13,000 were displaced – again, mostly Muslims – during riots in Meikhtila, a city in central Myanmar. Reuters documented in April that the killings happened after monks led Buddhist mobs on a rampage. In May, Buddhists mobs burned and terrorized Muslim neighborhoods in the northern city of Lashio. Reports of unrest have since spread nationwide.
The numbers 969, innocuous in themselves, refer to attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood. But 969 monks have been providing the moral justification for a wave of anti-Muslim bloodshed that could scuttle Myanmar’s nascent reform program. Another prominent 969 monk, Wimala Biwuntha, likens Muslims to a tiger who enters an ill-defended house to snatch away its occupants.
“Without discipline, we’ll lose our religion and our race,” he said in a recent sermon. “We might even lose our country.”
Officially, Myanmar has no state religion, but its rulers have long put Buddhism first. Muslims make up an estimated 4 percent of the populace. Buddhism is followed by 90 percent of the country’s 60 million people and is promoted by a special department within the ministry of religion created during the junta.