“You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk notorious for his rants against Muslims, said in a sermon in reference to Muslims, The New York Times reported on Friday, June 21.
“I call them troublemakers, because they are troublemakers,” the Buddhist monk said.
I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist.”
Buddhism was often defined by the gentle image and words of exiled spiritual leader of the Tibet the Dalai Lama.
But the image totally changed over rising attacks by radical Buddhists against Muslims in Burma as well as Sri Lanka.
Burmese Monks are blamed for inciting hatred against Muslims
In Burma, Buddhist monks have championed a campaign against what they call “the enemy”, in reference to Muslims.
They have given sermons and firing speeches against Burmese Muslims, which resulted in several bouts of violence against the sizable minority.
More than 200 people were killed and thousands of Muslims were displaced from their homes after attacks against Muslims in western Burma last year.
More than 42 people were also killed in a new bout of violence against Muslims in central Burma in April.
Monks were blamed for inciting hatred against Muslims by preaching a so-called “969 movement” which represents a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism that urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.
Wirathu, who takes pride as a Buddhist Bin Laden, has thousands of followers on Facebook and his YouTube videos have been watched tens of thousands of times.
He also leads the extremist nationalist “969” campaign, encouraging Buddhists to “buy Buddhist and shop Buddhist”, seemingly with the intention of creating an apartheid state.
Its message is spreading through regular sermons across the country that draw thousands of people and through widely distributed DVDs of those talks.
Buddhist monasteries associated with the movement are also opening community centers and a Sunday school program for 60,000 Buddhist children nationwide.
Stickers with the movement’s logo are now ubiquitous nationwide on cars, motorcycles and shops.
The movement has also begun a signature campaign calling for a ban on interfaith marriages, and pamphlets are distributed at sermons listing Muslim brands and shops to be avoided.
Wirathu describes the massacre of Muslim schoolchildren in the central city of Meiktila in April in recent sermon as a show of strength.
“If we are weak,” he said, “our land will become Muslim.”
The new extremist notion of Buddhism in Burma is being criticized by rare voices from monks in neighboring countries.
“Myanmar (Burma) monks are quite isolated and have a thin relationship with Buddhists in other parts of the world,” Phra Paisal Visalo, a Buddhist scholar and prominent monk in neighboring Thailand, said.
Visalo believes that the notion of “us and them” promoted by Burma’s radical monks is anathema to Buddhism.
He also lamented that his criticism and that of other leading Buddhists outside the country have had “very little impact.”
Among the most disappointed with the outbreaks of violence and hateful rhetoric are some of the leaders of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a peaceful uprising led by Buddhist monks against the military rule.
“We were not expecting this violence when we chanted for peace and reconciliation in 2007,” said Ashin Nyana Nika, 55, the abbot of Pauk Jadi monastery who attended a meeting earlier this month sponsored by Muslim groups to discuss the issue.
Facing parades of extremist monks, Taunggyi Muslims were terrified by a visit by Wirathu and other 60 honking motorcycles.
“I’m really frightened,” he said, stopping in midsentence when customers entered his shop.
“We tell the children not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.”
Rights groups have accused the Burmese police of turning a blind eye to attacks against Muslims.
The anti-Muslim violence has raised doubts on the success of Burma’s transition from 49 years of oppressive military rule that ended in March 2011.
Burma’s Muslims — largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent — account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population.
Muslims entered Burma en masse for the first time as indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent during British colonial rule, which ended in 1948.
But despite their long history, they have never fully been integrated into the country, widely considered as foreigners.