A Portrait of Incredibly Dangerous Buddhist Islamophobia

“A man holds a DVD with sermons of Buddhist monks promoting the 969 movement at a DVD shop in the Kyimyindaing market in Yangon, Myanmar on April 4, 2013. Buddhist monk Wirathu says, “969 doesn’t accept terrorism.” But human rights groups have documented a pattern to the anti-Muslim violence of the past year. Human Rights Watch says that before the October violence in Rakhine, monks distributed anti-Muslim pamphlets with rhetoric similar to 969′s and political parties advocated ethnic cleansing. The Burma Campaign U.K. found anti-Muslim leaflets, without the 969 logo, that were circulated in Meikhtila before the March attacks, and some monks and journalists say 969 graffiti, stickers and speeches accompanied them.” Photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe for the Associated Press.

A few days ago, I made mention of Burma’s “mad” Buddhist monk Wirathu. A former prisoner, put behind bars for nine years on the charge of inciting violence against his country’s Muslim population, he is referred to as the “Burmese Bin Laden” and has called for a boycott of Muslim businesses, made baseless claims about the Muslim minority, and used explicitly racist and Islamophobic language in his social media work.

The Associated Press has just published a careful, clear, and absolutely horrifying profile of Wirathu that you really must read. While they take great pains to avoid exaggerating the importance of their subject, noting that “to suggest that Wirathu is the main force behind anti-Muslim propaganda is to overstate his influence and underestimate how dispersed the ideas he espouses are,” the press service also offer some chilling perspective:

Human rights groups, however, have documented a pattern to the anti-Muslim pogroms of the past year: Words precede the bloodshed. Human Rights Watch says that before the October violence in Rakhine, monks distributed anti-Muslim pamphlets with rhetoric similar to [Wirathu's] 969 [campaign]’s and political parties advocated ethnic cleansing. The Burma Campaign U.K. found anti-Muslim leaflets, without the 969 logo, that were circulated in Meikhtila before the attacks. The riots radiated from Meikhtila to Bago region, where Buddhists marked their homes and shops with 969 so they would not be harmed, said Tun Kyi, a Muslim activist from Yangon who visited two townships there. “Even in their homes they have to write 969 with chalk,” he said.

“The 969 campaign is more than a boycott. It’s clearly becoming a rationale for violence,” says Jim Della-Giacoma, South East Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group. “It’s creating an existential threat to Buddhism and the country that’s not there and then blaming Muslims for it. Then what we see is this violence.”

You can read the rest here.


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