Whenever a Muslim is involved in a crime against humanity, regardless if she or he is religious or not, the mainstream media and many of the people who rely on it for an objective source of news, straight away demonize all Muslims as being collectively guilty of the crime. Calls for a public apology on behalf of the entire Muslim community are issued, along with declarations that all Muslims should be killed, deported, surveyed, or otherwise contained until they “prove” their loyalty – which can never be done, because the bar is intentionally set higher and higher whenever a Muslim does manage to fulfill all of their ridiculous criteria. But what about “huggable” Buddhism? The true “Religion of Peace”?
While Islam is seen through blood colored glasses in the West, Buddhism receives the rose colored platinum treatment. When barely covered news reports of Buddhist on Muslim violence in Myanmar began to surface, the few people who paid attention were absolutely shocked. Buddhists killing Muslims? “What did the Muslims do to them first?”, I am sure many people asked silently. This is how propaganda and stereotypes work. The mere thought of a Buddhist violently attacking a person of another faith simply makes no sense. Whereas the thought of a Muslim violently attacking a person of another faith makes perfect sense. Danios wrote an article a few months ago about the history of “Buddhist violence.” The intention of the article was not to claim that Buddhism is “inherently violent”, but simply to point out that every religion, even “huggable” Buddhism, can be used to justify religiously inspired violence.
Cue Wirathu, the “Burmese Bin Laden.”
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.