Govt, Local Media Condemn Time Magazine’s Cover of U Wirathu

Time magazine July cover labeling U Wirathu “The Face of Buddhist Terror” caught the attention of the Burmese media. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Time magazine’s July 1st cover, featuring a photo of nationalist monk U Wirathu as “The Face of Buddhist Terror,” has drawn criticism from Burma’s government, which is considering banning the issue. Some local media outlets have also condemned the cover.

President Thein Sein’s office issued a Burmese-language statement on Sunday defending Buddhism in Burma from any association with terror and violence.

“What Time magazine wrote can lead to a misunderstanding among some about the 1000-year-old, stable Buddhism in Burma […] and it is detrimental to the present struggle to reconcile inter-religious trust in Myanmar,” the statement said.

Time magazine Asia’s July 1st cover story explores the rise of aggressive, nationalist Buddhism in Burma and other parts of Asia, such as Sri Lanka, and describes the role of radical monk U Wirathu. His ‘969’ movement has called on the country’s Buddhist majority to shun Muslim-owned businesses and to “think in a nationalist way.”

In its statement, the government argued at length that Burmese Buddhism and the monkhood are “noble”, and that the original meaning of the Buddhist principles symbolized in 969 represents “peace”.

Deputy Minister of Information Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy, “Our message is very clear: Time’s writing can cause a misunderstanding among the international community; they might think that Buddha’s teachings involve terror.”

Ye Htut said Time’s July issue might be pulled from circulation. “We are considering banning the distribution of this issue in Myanmar. Currently, we are discussing with the Ministry of Religious Affairs what we should do,” he said.

Ye Htut stressed nonetheless that “the government does not side with U Wirathu [against Muslims],” adding that all religious groups in Burma are guaranteed freedom of religion under the Constitution.

Win Tin, senior member and co-founder of the National League for Democracy, Burma’s biggest opposition party, said the government would be wrong to ban Time’s July issue. “They should not ban it, but explain it to the people,” he said. “I think banning it is of no use at all.”

Win Tin, a former journalist, said he did not disapprove of the article labeling U Wirathu an extremist, but he added, “I don’t think you should couple the term terror with Buddhism because it can be very hard for the Buddhist people.”

During the past year, Burma has experienced waves of anti-Muslim violence, which first began in western Arakan State, before spreading to other parts of the country in recent months. Hundreds of people were killed and tens of thousands, mostly Muslims, were displaced.

Nationalist elements of the Burma’s revered Buddhist monkhood have spread anti-Muslim messages among the public, while some supposed monks were observed participating in attacks on Muslim minority communities.

Human rights groups accuse the government of being complicit in the anti-Muslim violence, out of fear for losing support among Burma’s Buddhist majority.

Time magazine’s cover also caught the attention of Burmese media. Many outlets ran front page stories over the weekend with photos and partial translations of Time’s article, along with reactions and opinion pieces that criticized the article for linking Buddhism with terror.

Dr. Than Htut Aung, the CEO of Eleven Media, a widely-read daily newspaper and weekly journal, said he objected to Time’s story. “Let me be clear, I don’t agree with the opinions of U Wirathu. We have different views,” he said in a statement issued on Saturday.

“But as a journalist, I think the Time magazine’s criticism is unfair and harmful to our religion and Sasana. Such acts can cause unnecessary conflict and will only serve to disrupt our fragile democratic transition. So I categorically oppose Time’s story.”

The man at the center of the controversy, U Wirathu, told The Irrawaddy in an interview on Sunday that Time magazine put him on their cover “because Islamic extremists want my downfall.”

In Facebook post on Monday, U Wirathu made note of the government’s reaction to the article. “We are happy with the government’s statement. Thank you Mr. President,” he wrote.

33 Responses to Govt, Local Media Condemn Time Magazine’s Cover of U Wirathu

  1. “Our message is very clear: Time’s writing can cause a misunderstanding among the international community; they might think that Buddha’s teachings involve terror.”
    Don’t worry Your Excellency, we’re really not that dumb.

  2. So that is call ‘freedom of press in Myanmar’??? Myanmar is too immature to face criticism like this. Soul-searching in this case would be much much much better than banning the publication for the sake of the government and Buddhism in the country.

  3. No wonder! We believed that USDP and military could be behind Wirathu and his message. Many people including Buddhists condemn Wirathu but the Myanmar government is defending.

  4. He calls himself “Buddhist Bin Laden”. Why is Myanmar government defending this monk?

    • Because he does NOT call himself “Buddhist Bin Laden”. He’s refuted this on a number of occasions. Just because you read something in the Times doesn’t make it true.

    • Moe Nyo,
      Did you not know that Bin Laden had been hero to Burmese generals. The current USDP regime considers Bin Laden as model nationalist. So, Burmese government is silent on Burmese Buddhist Bin Laden “Wirathu” and his promotion of hatred among diversities.

  5. Smoke without fire? Why was he imprisoned for 10 years by the military Government of Burma? He is responsible for all the riots and killing of innocent minorities. He is solely responsible for the bad image of Buddisht monks and brought shame on them. In the past these Burmese Monks were very respectful and peace lovers. I geel sorry for those majority good Monks.

  6. Obviously an international concerted action is taking place against Burmese Buddhism, incl. monks. The initiators can be assumed among Islamic OIC- circles, supported by a few representatives of UN & EU, HUMAN RIGHTs WATCH, several NGOs and a number of western journalists. TIME as the last ‘mercenary’ of that gang. The obvious aim is to corner Myanmar politically in order to win the “Battle of Rohingya Naturalisation”. The Myanmar Government should not bow to those “(Islamic) tactical games & indirect pressure”. The “Rohingya case” will become a backlash for Myanmar when giving in to demands of OIC and their ‘western allies’. Their tricky tactics will inevitably fail !

    Referring TIME magazine from the Internet :
    Concessions to Islam: TIME Magazine Submits to Islam ! ! ! !
    Islam is a political force, pressing all over the free world for more and more concessions and accommodations from non-Muslims. Each concession takes away …

  7. If you don’t like controversy, keep your mouth shut! Freedom of speech works both ways.

  8. Time mag cover is such an irresponsible piece that it is simply outrageous. I’m a Burmese and Buddhist. While I do not agree with the monk’s views, someone with a common sense would know that he’s not promoting terrorism; perhaps nationalism but not terrorism.

    • @ Derek
      Read the comment above yours. Then you understand the western (or western orientated) ‘definition of freedom’: Ignore ethical values and feelings. Distinguish yourself by own standards, just live out your sopping egoism !

  9. “We have a slogan: When you eat, eat 969; when you go, go 969; when you buy, buy 969,” Wirathu said in an interview at his monastery in Mandalay. Translation: If you’re eating, traveling or buying anything, do it with a Buddhist. Relishing his extremist reputation, Wirathu describes himself as the “Burmese bin Laden.”

    The above was a quote from an article written by Jason Szep of Reuters which was published by the Irrawaddy on April 9, 2013.

    I would like to know if U Wirathu ever described himself as “Burmese bin Laden” to Jason Szep or any other people? If he didn’t, why didn’t he protest about the article with the writer and the Irrawaddy? If he has said it, did he think bin Laden was an honorable gentleman who was doing his patriotic duties? He must know who bin Laden was and he wants to be Burmese bin Laden and hence he wants to be a terrorist. Period.

    It’s preposterous that U Thein Sein is now criticizing Time magazine. Mr. President, you don’t suppress riots and atrocities seriously and there’s minimal rule of law under your watch in Burma. If the Time’s July issue were pulled from circulation as Burmese Deputy Information Minister has threatened, there’s no democracy and freedom of press in Burma.

  10. I haven’t read “The Face of Buddhist Terror” in the July issue of Time magazine. I did read the article on U Wirathu on Irrawaddy and it’s obvious that U Wirathu is full of hatred and he definetly doesn’t follow Buddha’s teachings. He should disrobe voluntarily and express his radical political views as a lay person. Monkhood and politics don’t go together just like the Army shouldn’t get into politics.

  11. I don’t agree with U Wirathu either but when did calling for boycott of certain businesses consider terrorism? Did he call for an entire nation to be wiped off the face of the earth? Did he give instructions on how to kill civilians using home made bombs and RPG’s to his followers? Did he praise the mass killings of civilians including women and children and justify it using his religion? No. Neither U Wirathu nor any Buddhist has done any of those things. There’s only one religious group who has done that (and is still doing it) in modern history and we all know who they are.

    President Thein Sein is right that this will only flame the mistrust and hatred between the two groups. Do you see NLD calling Thein Sein and his predecessor terrorists and hate mongers? Of course not, no one who wants reconciliation would try to demonize the leadership of a particular group.

    The motive behind this article and the article in New York Times may have been to help bring the spotlight on the Rohingya/Bengali issue. But the unintended consequence, of course, will be the western media being seen as bullies not just for portraying U Wirathu as a terrorist but for using the term “Buddhist Terror” on the magazine cover. This will in turn portray U Wirathu as a sympathetic figure who’s under attack for advocating for Buddhists, at least among Burmese people. And we will see more Buddhist Burmese flock to him and his 969 campaign. I hope I’m wrong but this article and others in publications such as NYT and Irrawaddy will only deepen the segregation mentality in Burma.

  12. When ignorance is bliss, it’s folly to be wise. It is a waste of TIME to focus on Ultra-nationalist monk U Wirathu, for the communal violence in Myanmar; it take two to Tango don’t just blame one individual. People of Myanmar are not jingoistic like the WASP’s about US Muslims.

    There are under currents in the Burmese social structure and when the very fabric of Burmese Society has been threatened – then, there is a cause to pause; unfortunately, it has translated into violence instigated by both sides. So it is TIME to back off.

  13. Majority of Buddhists in Myanmar are tolerant. We have the Sule Pagoda, a huge Muslim mosque and the Christian church, all located within a stone throw away from each other in the heart of downtown Yangon. A Hindu temple and a synagouge are not too far away from those iconic buildings. My point is we have freedom of religion for hundreds of years. Where in the world will you find that? Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, US, UK, Europe, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Africa, middle East? I think not.

    We have Buddhist holidays, Dewali, Id, Christmas, New Year as statutory holidays in Myanmar. Again, where in the world has national holidays observing all 4 religions? Not in US, Canada or UK. The Buddhist monks (500, 000 strong) can not vote in national elections. Freedom of speech comes hand in hand with democracy. These monks are voicing their concerns. Nothing to do with politics. What they are trying to do is to preserve our religion and nationality. Christianity came 600 years and Islam came 1000 years after Buddhism. Buddha had not foreseen the fanatics. He just preached to stay away from unscrupulous people. He could not have implemented the rule in his 227 code of ethics for monks how to deal with Muslim fanatics.

    We have no problem with good and law abiding muslims. We do not want fanatics and extremists in our peaceful communities. The government of Myanmar should carefully expose and root out the destrutive elements that are trying to derail the democratic reforms in our country. Both internal and external elements.Thank you President U Thein Sein for declaring your opinion on Time magazine’s cover story. We have yet to hear from the Lady, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Maybe she is aiming for the Time Person of the Year, staying quiet as usual.

  14. Today, more than in any time in the past, Wirathu has already become an icon, an icon of Buddhist reawakening and protest. TIME and their bunch of information terrorists have already made him HERO, not a villain. Wirathu is a Buddhist Terror. But where is his sermon of grooming squad of suicide bombers? Where are his arsenal of bombs and guns? Where are the bags of gunpowder (only available in the government military depots), like those used to burn the Buddha images and monasteries in Bangladesh (Ramu)? Where after all is the international platform for preaching Buddhist jihad? My heartfelt congratulations to those who have so strenuously worked to make Wirathu into the hero he is now, especially to TIME, New York Times, Guardian, and all other FREE PRESS for their role of disturbing the stupid sleep of all the Buddhists across the world. Days are coming when people in Burma will also shun food labeled as HALAL as in some parts of the world, stop eating in 786 or HALAL branded shops. Meanwhile, have you heard of any Burmese Muslim who eats food in restaurants without 786 or HALAL label? Or about any Burmese Muslim who buy from a non-Muslim shop? Has anyone found these reports on the pages of TIME, New York Times, Guardian, etc.? At least I have never come across this, yet it is the norm in Burma. And we need people like Wirathu to point out that.

  15. All Myanmar people should ban Time magazine. The publisher should get heavy punishment.

  16. No matter what religion, Buddhist, Christian or Islam, if it promotes terror then it should be regarded as such. But one has to ask whether it was proper for those who are the vanguard of the religion to preach and promote as such. We as the lay people should be able to judge for ourselves whether it’s right and proper no matter who the preacher is, U Wirathu or someone else. Why did the Buddha taught us Kalama Sutta? So as to judge for ourselves whether to consider what someone said or asked us to do is right and proper.Time does not have to think about what implications it might have by portraying U Wirathu as a ‘Buddhist Terror’. If he is no better than the Taliban then he should be name as such. No wonder the Buddha said that Buddhism will be brought into dispute by his own sons. Maybe he’s a monk who hides behind his robes and Buddhism to fulfill his own agenda. Bhadatacariya Buddhaghosa might be turning in his grave for sure.

  17. Than shwe should be appeared as “The face of Burmese Hitler” in next time magazine. Hitler killed all German-Jews as well as made use of famous Max Schmeling ( German Jew) for his political gain. Max Schemling won American boxer Negro-Joe Louis to facilitate Hitler power consolidation in Germany. Later, Hitler dumped Max Schmeling and killed all Jews.
    Than shwe killed and is killing all ethnics as well as local Muslim minority. Than shwe makes use of DASSK to win the trust from US, EU and Japan. Before long, than shwe asks opportunistic-shwe mann and Dracula-aung thaung to threat and smear DASSk’s image, democratic hero from their dirty conspiracy.

  18. Time Magazine headline seems accurate. It showed a picture of U Wirathu with captions saying, “The Face of Buddhist Terror”. It did not refer to Buddhism as a Terrorist organisation. Time Magazine’s Editor is entitled to his/her freedom of opinion and expression.

    Whether Time Magazine opinion is right or wrong, depends on some behaviour and attitude from what gave rise to that opinion. Remember, “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword”.

    Article 19.
    • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

    Human Rights works universally, meaning ‘to and fro’ in all directions – If you are entitled to it, so are others.

    Discrimination against anyone e.g. not being allowed to have more than two children on the grounds of ethnicity or religion is hurtful. What U Wirathu reportedly proposed or intended to propose in draft format to the Myanmar Parliament is discrimination on the grounds of religion or ethnicity. It also gives rise to, or encourages thugs or Lu Maiks, to become extremists and the whole world saw what took place in some townships.

    Buddhists love peace. Buddhism is a good religion. More people embrace Buddhism daily around the world. Time Magazine knows that! In USA, EU, UK and Australia. In Perth, Western Australia alone there are several Theravadda Burmese Buddhist Monasteries. I support their Zay Yaung Pwairs for Fund Raising monthly by visits to buy and eat some nice MoukHinGar.. At one time, there were NO Buddhist Monasteries in my part of Perth. Now there are three!

    Myanmar History records that Maha Bandoola and several of his soldiers did attack Assam and Bengal and was victorious in those attacks. On his return to Bama Pyi (now Myanmar), he brought back many Bengali slaves or serfs and that is why many descendants now live in the Mandalay Regions.

    The Bengali descendants of those slaves, now lived in Mandalay Regions for some 120 to 130 years. The United States and Rome also took slaves to work for them from battles past or via slave ship imports. Today these slaves in Rome and USA are FREE and entitled to FULL HUMAN RIGHTS.

    The Bengalis in and around Mandalay Regions are ‘de facto’ adopted Burmese or Myanmar people by virtue of length of stay in Myanmar. Those in the border regions of Arakan or Yakhine Pyi Nair are by assimilation Myanmar. TaNga Nar Nee TaNgar; Mouk Soe nar Nee Mouk Soe.

    Myanmar has many Shan~Tayoke Kabyars in Shan State border regions too. Same in other border areas of Mon Pyi Nair.

    I am age 71.

  19. We have yet to hear from the LADY. She has been quiet in this matter. Maybe she is aiming for Time Person of the Year. Bravo, U Thein Sein for standing up on the Western Media.

    We have the Sule Pagoda, the big mosque and the Christian church all located within a stone throw away from each other in the heart of downtown Yangon. The Hindu temple and a Synagogue are not too far away. Where in the world will you find this? My point is we Burmese Buddhist have been tolerant for hundred of years and can worship side by side. Also we have statutory hoidays for all religions, Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Christian. None like that in the world. Freedom of speech is part of democracy. Ashin Wirathu and other monks are practising their rights. He went to prison in 2003. Has he issued “Fatwa” to anyone?

  20. The ordinary Myanmar people will not like their country and their Buddhist faith to be vilified and tag them as ignorant people being swayed by the exhortations of one Buddhist Monk.. U Virathu has taken on himself to warn the Burmese population how by stealth their lives are being destroyed and relegated to being underdogs and subjected to being slaves of foreigners who do not observe and accept the norms and principles emanating from the Buddhist religion and Myanmar culture and history as worthy.of respect To me there is nothing wrong for a Myanmar to be loyal to his/her own country and be a nationalist– one whose nations interests reign supreme in the present historical -political context..

  21. Sayadaw Wirathu has a legitimate right to worry about Myanmar becoming a Muslim country just like Indonesia, although I disagree with some of his sermons, he is no terrorist, he is not like Bin Laden masterminding jihad against infidels. Times magazine should not have used the words BUDDHISM in their July cover, it will misinform the readers the true Buddhist philosophy of METTA (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion) to all human beings irrespective of their religion. Also, I would like to request U Wirathu. to disrobe the yellow robe (Thingan) and become a layman if he want to get involved in politics because some of his sermons have a bad reflection on Buddhism and to other monks who teaches Buddhas Dhammas only..

  22. Richard, Wirathu is a monk, a Burmese monk at that, and not a Rakhine monk. But why did the Muslims by the thousands after Friday prayers took up guns, knives, sticks, bombs, and attacked nonMuslim quarters of Maungdaw, burning and totally annihilating seven villages around Maungdaw, starting June 8, 2012? Did the Maungdaw Muslims follow Wirathu to do that? And interestingly it took place last year, and the world already forgot it? You said, you are 71. There were people who were 81 when these Maungdaw Bengali Muslims attacked. Where were you then, sleeping?

  23. Time Magazine became useless liberal scumbaggish propaganda ever since they made Adolf Hitler Man of the Year in 1938. Don’t forget about that.

  24. I don’t know about countries in the Middle East or Europe but from where I am located in the midst of Silicon Valley,California, there are churches from different denominations (Catholic Churches as well as Protestant Churches) a couple of Mosques, a few Sikh Temples, four or five Buddhist Monasteries (practicing Theravada Buddhism from Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam), Chinese Buddhist Template, Japanese Temple, Korean Temple, Jewish Synagogues and more. For the last ten years or so, there have been a huge influx of Buddhist monks coming to this area and we are seeing many monasteries being built in many regions of the U.S. One day, there won’t be any Buddhist left in Burma because of monks like U Wirathu. Just kidding…

  25. I just wondered what sort of education Myint Kyaw had in the US that. Surely not Buddhism nor any cultural studies. May have studied 786 surely. Those ones with Myanmar names and insulting our Buddhist religion should change their names into appropriate ones.

  26. It is state-sponsored terrorism. Myanmar goverment is to be blamed. He should be called neo-Nazi also. Anyone in yellow robe is to be worshiped in Myanmar. Do not be against th egovernment; he will be disrobed. The end of Theravara Buddhism is very near. Mahayana will live on, if anyone knows the difference.

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