Myanmar Monk Rejects Terrorist Label Following Communal Clashes

2013-06-21
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Wirathu (C) attends a conference about religious violence on the outskirts of Yangon, June 13, 2013.
AFP

Prominent Myanmar nationalist Buddhist monk Wirathu on Friday said the media has wrongly labeled him the “Burmese Bin Laden,” rejecting claims that he is responsible for a recent surge of communal violence against Muslims.

Wirathu, 46, from Mandalay’s Masoeyein Monastery, is the leader of the “969” Buddhist movement— the name of which refers to the various virtues of the Buddha and which calls on its followers to boycott Muslim businesses and social circles after deadly violence erupted in the middle of last year.

Wirathu said his group was not responsible for the violence and rejected claims—including one recently made in the July issue of Time magazine—that he was a self-proclaimed terrorist waging a holy war against Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

“[Time] referred to me as the ‘Burmese Bin Laden,’” Wirathu told RFA’s Myanmar Service, referring to the name several media organizations say the 969 leader has himself used in the past.

“I told their reporter when they came and met me that it was the Muslims who gave me this name. I didn’t refer to myself this way, but [Time] used this name in the story,” he said.

About 200 people have been killed and 140,000 displaced in two waves of sectarian unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Rights groups say that the region’s Muslim Rohingya group bore the brunt of the violence.

Violence between Buddhists and Muslims, who account for some 4 percent of the country’s 60-million population, also spread to communities in central Myanmar’s Meikhtila, near Wirathu’s base, in March and to Shan state last month.

‘Time to rise up’

In the report, Time quoted Wirathu, who was jailed for seven years after inciting anti-Muslim violence in 2003, as preaching a message that “crackles with hate” towards the religious minority.

“Now is not the time for calm … now is the time to rise up, to make your blood boil,” it quoted him preaching during a sermon delivered to hundreds of worshippers in Mandalay.

“Incendiary rhetoric from Wirathu … and other hard-line monks is fanning the flames of religious chauvinism,” the report said, quoting the monk as saying that “[Muslims] would like to occupy our country, but I won’t let them” and “we must keep Myanmar Buddhist.”

But speaking with RFA, Wirathu referred to his as “the hand that holds the pen,” not the sword, and said that he abhorred violence to the point that “I don’t even like to respond rudely.”

“I was described as a terrorist, which is really the opposite of what I stand for and how I act,” he said.

The monk leader accused unnamed “wealthy people” of trying to “control Myanmar” through the “use of the media, weapons, manpower, and technology,” adding that it was “obvious that the Muslim world was behind the Time magazine article.”

Wirathu said that he was not behind the Rakhine state and Meikhtila clashes, claiming that he was unaware of the violence in Rakhine state until it had spread significantly in the region and that the Meikhtila clashes grew as a result of a Buddhist monk being killed by Muslims.

“The places where we [969 monks] have preached haven’t had any problems because we have made clear our policy—not to provoke [violence] and not to be aggressive,” he said, adding that even if adherents are confronted, they should solve conflicts according to the law.

The 969 group distributes stickers and placards prominently displaying the numerals to Buddhist shops so that other Buddhists will know to do business there instead of at Muslim establishments.

“Some people describe 969 as a bad group. Perhaps they believe that Myanmar can be occupied if 969 is shut down,” he said, without identifying the organization he feared would take over the country.

Rohingya ‘problem’

But Wirathu said that his movement was mostly concerned with defending the country from the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state, who he referred to as “Bengalis," echoing a widespread belief among most people in Myanmar that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

He said it is important to make a distinction between the Rohingya, who he labeled “enemies of the people” who “embrace violence,” and Muslims in other parts of the country.

“When the Rakhine problem erupted, I told Muslims who are close to me and live outside of Rakhine State to reject and condemn the violence by Bengali Rohingyas,” he said.

“By doing so, the public would understand that other Muslims in Myanmar are not the same as the Bengalis. If they refused, all Muslims could be considered enemies of the people that embrace violence.”

‘786 plan’

Wirathu also referred to the “786 plan,” which he said was “founded many years ago by other Muslims,” as part of the motivation behind the conflict between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

The numerals 786 are used in South Asian Muslim tradition as a representation of the Quranic phrase “In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful” and signs portraying the numbers are often hung in Muslim food establishments to signify that the store sells halal items.

But according to the online Irrawaddy journal, the people of Myanmar have long misinterpreted 786 as a Muslim conspiracy to take over the world in the 21st century, as the sum of the three numbers is equal to 21.

The 969 monks took their name as a symbol of a religious movement in opposition to 786, the Irrawaddy said.

“If today’s Muslims separate themselves from 786 and the movement is abolished, the people of Myanmar won’t view 786 negatively, and if people no longer have the negative view against 786, we would have peace between the Buddhists and Muslims,” Wirathu said.

“Muslim and Buddhist leaders must collaborate to prevent this conflict from growing, and we must educate the people to solve their problems according to the law.”

Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Comments (5)
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samuel

i understand why this is reported from one side?
muslims are permanently destroying the buddhists memorials and their temples around all Asia. Bangladesh made huge genocide of Buddhist population just few month before the Myanmar buddhists struck back. most of those clashes were provoked by muslims themselves. In Thailand muslims declarate war and kill all Buddhists who cross their way. in Indonesia and Malaysia muslims are destroying temples and oppress local buddhists. with the help and support of own governments. i don't see why Buddhists in Myanmar should sit and watch until muslims start to kill them and bulldoze their religion, culture and history.

Jul 08, 2013 05:32 AM

HopefulBuddhist

I am ashamed to call myself a buddhist when I read these stories and read about the 969. Killing is never acceptable in the dharma. Vengeance and blanket hatred toward any group/religion is never justified. I have lost family to islamic radicalism, been a target of christian radicalism and I will not stay silent as to the corruption of buddhism. If you fear muslims/any religion, will not sell or marry persons because they are muslim/whatever you have in fact left the teachings of the Buddha I follow behind. It never matters what muslims/religions/groups/factions do to you, peace and love is our teaching and it is up to all to be strong and choose the right path. Let go of samsara and be in peace

Jun 28, 2013 01:12 AM

Zaw Myo Aung

from U,S,A

The rest world knows absolutely who are terrorist? Which religion makes a terrorism? Why U.S. Gov has formed the Homeland Security Department? Why all U.S. Air ports scanned check every traveler? Is this Buddhism makes Terrorist in U.S.A. other countries.

Jun 25, 2013 04:02 PM

Buddhist Terrorist

from Nay Pye Daw ( Monetary)

... this fake terrorist group.. I hate buddha now.. disgusting monks in the history,.. RFA is lair media..


[This comment has been edited by RFA Editorial staff per our Terms of Use]

Jun 24, 2013 10:23 AM

Vijalangkaro

from Yanggoon

This dangerous Osama Binladen monk of Burma always teaches his people against other beliefs, I have watched his clips on Youtube and learned from my Burmese friends that he only urges the people to use the violent means to resolve the problems. His real attention by my analysis, he wants to become world number one on wanted lists after Binladen gone that slot is empty so he wants that place it's the reason he preaches hatred among religions instead of following Buddha's teachings, he follows the extremist views of Islamist Fanatics. His stupid actions endanger many another innocent Buddhists around the world. This monk, the Burmese government should send him to the Middle East.

Jun 22, 2013 02:10 AM

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