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Buddhist Chauvinism running riot

Burma/Myanmar (1)

by Yu-Kyung Lee, Bangkok, 08 April 2013

It was a small town named Pokoku in central Burma. There, I sat down with a few monks in dark room of monastery about a month after the monks-led saffron revolution was brutally cracked down in September 2007. The monks in dark were "revolutionaries" and Pokoku was one of the pioneering towns of "revolution" along with Sittwe, the capital of Rakhaing state in western Burma. Monks of the two towns had braved guns and bullets, which must have inspired other cities and towns including the former capital Rangoon to make it all out "revolution".

   

Novices in one of monasteries in Pokoku, Central Burma are studying and praying. Pokoku was one of pioneering towns of the monks-led Saffron revolution in 2007. Yet, some revolutionary monks have demonstrated their deeply-rooted hatred towards Muslims, which phenomenon can be seen among former political prisoners and activists. photos: Yu-Kyung Lee

“It was a revenge that we attacked on the army vehicles, because the army shot at monasteries in 2003 when (monks had) clashes with Muslims”

A monk said, as he was describing their attack on the army properties during the protest on Sep 6, 2007. It was vaguely known that violent protest on that day was a reprisal for the brutal crackdown a day before. Yet, the monks implicate another event that had happened in 2003. And they were struggling hard to explain about ‘clash with Muslim’ in 2003.

“Muslims..those Indians..did ‘786’ with Saudi Arabia help. You know, this is all over the country…”

‘786’ is a numeral used by Muslims in Indian subcontinent representing a phrase in the Quran. However, it has been long misinterpreted by Burmese Buddhists into ‘21 (7+8+6=21) plot’, which says Muslims would take over the country (or the world) in 21st century.

‘786’ story was uncomfortable truth then that anti-Muslims sentiments even among democracy loving monks were deeply rooted. In fact Burma has had records of anti-Muslims riots, often led by extremist monks back in 1930, 1938, 1997, 2003, 2006, and last year. However, religiously motivated riots and conflicts have been little known until recent major outbreaks in western and central Burma.  

The recent violence, alarmingly, have been generated by evident hatred campaign spearheaded by chauvinist monks, notably "Sayadaw" ("venerable teacher") Wirathu, without curbed by any institution as the country is now fascinating about “freedom of expression”. The campaign is called ‘969’, which is stemmed from Buddhist tradition (‘9’ stands for Buddha, ‘6’ for Dhamma and ‘9’ for Sangha), countering to ‘786’ plot. The campaign appears to be well orchestrated with suspicious connivance of certain power of the country, if not coordinated. However, actual commanders of organizing violent mobs and measures are not yet explicit.

Hatred Campaign with ‘969' stickers

A pagoda in Madalay, central Burma. Some propaganda pictures by the former military Junta. Mandalay and central Burma are heart land of Burma’s Buddhism.   photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

‘969’ campaign is led by Wirathu, the former prisoner who was seen with the former chief of Military Intelligence Khin Nyunt last October 22. He was arrested during the riot in Kyawkse, central Burma in 2003. According to reports, the small riot in Kyawkse turned to a public protest because of the authorities handling of the riot. Several monks including Wirathu in Mandalay were arrested and sentenced to 25 years for igniting hatred. This provoked more protests by his hundreds of followers and led to small protests in different townships, including Meiktila and Pokoku. He was released in February 2012 on president’s pardon, which enables him to renew the hatred campaign.

Having called Muslims 'kalar' (derogatory term for Muslims) and accused Muslims business of too affluent, he said in one sermon for instance that

Moulmein (city in Mon state) will fall in to the hands of the enemy (Muslims), unless we can mobilize the public forces”.

He urged Buddhists not to shop at Muslims but only at Buddhists’ identified by ‘969’ stickers.

The '969' campaign said to be invented early this year though, racists’ statement have been already gushed out during and after communal clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhaing Buddhists in western Burma June 2012. The clash has resulted in hundreds, mainly Rohingyas, killed. 120,000 Rohingya were displaced to seemingly permanent camp.

 

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