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“Buddhist Bin Laden” Creating Division in Myanmar

quotBuddhist Bin Ladenquot Creating Division in Myanmar

April 22, 2013
Every religion has extremists. Buddhism
isn’t an exception, as a 45-year-old Burmese Monk dubbed as the “Buddhist Bin
Laden” is flaming social tensions between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in
Myanmar by advocating for violence against Rohingyas. In doing so, Wirathu is
invoking the call for a Burmese Buddhist national identity while gaining
popularity in the country to help his own rise as a significant influence in
Myanmar’s politics.
Wirathu is a 45-year-old
Buddhist monk who has used social media channels to convey
his hate-filled messages. The West’s conventional image of Buddhist followers
is one of a religion of peace, yet many are shocked that in a region that has
often been called one of the most peaceful in the world, there is an emergence
of such hate induced actions caused by his speech.

Wirathu was born near
Mandalay, and in 2001, created a national campaign to boycott Muslim businesses
in 2001. He was soon jailed 25 years for his actions. He was released in 2010
through a general amnesty.

Wirathu has been on the
stump since his release, and has been associated with violence in Rakhine and
in Mandalay. In Rakhine, more than 200 people were killed and
100,000 in 2012. His message of hate and violence against Muslims also led to
recent violence in Meiktila, where a dispute at a gold shop led to 40 deaths, and the destruction of a Muslim
community in the city.

Muslims comprise of 5% Myanmar’s 60 million people.
Wirathu’s rants and tirades against Muslims in Myanmar have also culminated in
the nationalist “969” campaign using the number 969 to demarcate homes so that
they can identify themselves as clearly Buddhists and create remnants of a
state divided not by sectionalism, but rather through religion. This has led to
hate-filled speeches where he has described Muslims as both “cruel and savage” and has
attacked many Muslim practices from the killing of cattle to convincing many
Buddhists in Myanmar that the population boom among Muslim communities in these
countries will lead to a takeover of the country.

Wirathu is clearly not in
Buddhist mainstream thought, since the Buddha’s teachings argue against hatred
and intolerance. He represents the other side of a growing sentiment in
Myanmar, as the world slowly comes to learn about Myanmar as it opens up to the
world after years of military repression.

Wirathu’s agenda is to
create a Buddhist national identity through violent measures. By pitting one
against the other in this region he is gaining prominence, power and influence,
with the military, the president and many other leaders such Aung San Suu Kyi
staying quiet on the issues of the Rohingya population. Wirathu poses a
thorn to democratic governance in the future with communal tensions stoking a
national argument over what to do on the minority Rohingya population, who are
also Muslim.

The world has seen
religious purification play out several times. It never ended well whether it
was in the South Asian subcontinent or in Europe with Nazi Germany.  While
there is a growing interfaith community in Myanmar dedicated towards fighting
polarizing oppositions such as Wirathu, the Burmese Bin Laden will pose a test
to Myanmar’s democratic experiment and governance issues in the future if his
hate speech is unchecked. 

Picture Credit: Dem Digest