Burmese Neo-Nazi Movement Rising Against Muslims

When Dr. Maung Zarni, an outspoken activist academic, labeled the ongoing anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim movement in Burma as neo-Nazi, some Burmese said Zarni was exaggerating. Western commentators have also avoided the term.

But Zarni has been proven right by emerging photos of an anti-Muslim riot in Meikhtila in central Burma that broke out on March 20. The riot, which grew from a quarrel between Muslim gold shop owners and Buddhist customers, has taken more than 30 lives, and more than 10 mosques, Islamic schools and houses have been destroyed. Thousands of local residents, both Buddhist and Muslim, have fled the town, leaving Meikhtila with ashes, burnt buildings, flames and dead bodies.

On the evening of March 21, the Rangoon-based Eleven News published photos of a long queue of Muslims being forced to leave the town. What is significant in the photos is that the refugees, including women, children and elders, were ordered to keep their hands up as they were escorted out of the town by security guards. Nearby were local Buddhists and monks holding weapons and watching as many hundreds of Muslims left. These photos resemble the depressing images of thousands of Jewish refugees being escorted by German soldiers to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

It is not only the photos that make the anti-Muslim movement in Burma a neo-Nazi spectacle. The campaigners’ actions and ideologies—especially ethno-religious ideology if not gender and class—resemble what characterized Nazi Germany under Hitler.

First, there is a series of consistent and observable actions. The most crucial element is the new “969 campaign” invented early this year. In a country where numerology has a powerful appeal, it is a mass-based Buddhist movement led by extremist monks including a firebrand named Wirathu. The number, 969, was derived from Buddhist tradition in which the Three Jewels or Tiratana is composed of 24 attributes (9 Buddha, 6 Dhamma, 9 Sangha).

However, it is said by the movement to follow the model of the Muslim “786,” which is only used in South Asian Muslim tradition, a representation of a Quranic phrase “In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.”

The Burmese have long misinterpreted 786 as a Muslim conspiracy to take over the world in the 21st century, as they see 786 to represent 21 (7+8+6=21). In opposition to 786, the movement invented 969 as a symbol of a religious movement. Stickers are the flags of the movement and can be seen in many cities and towns across the country, as this is a public campaign. In the past few weeks, more taxis and motorbikes have been seen with the stickers.

To the campaigners, 969 is about protecting race and religion by peaceful means. In practice, it is explicitly an anti-Muslim campaign, not about preaching people the Buddha-nature of all beings, as taught and practiced by Lord Buddha himself. In many townships across Burma, including capital regions, there are local 969 committees that organize events and religious sermons and distribute anti-Muslim materials such as CDs, books and leaflets.

The 969 campaign targets economic aspects by alleging that Muslims are dominating the Burmese economy, and that therefore Buddhists must not trade with Muslims. Instead, the campaigners recommend that Buddhists buy and sell at Buddhist shops that display 969 signs and stickers. In Karen State, Buddhists are even forced to trade only with Buddhists. There are local reports about Buddhists being beaten by members of 969 civilians and monks for trading with Muslims.

As of now, 969 covers a range of shops and stores from medium-size restaurants and teashops to food stalls and street vendors.

Many sermons of Buddhist monks across the country these days are about 969. Audio and video CDs of the sermons as well as anti-Muslim stickers and notes are being sold at grocery stores, phone shops, teashops and so on. Information about where the stickers and 969 materials can be bought is available online as well. The CDs are played in the streets and even at grocery stores in Rangoon. In short, 969 messages are spreading everywhere as the monks and campaigners travel across the country.

Muslims in Burma are portrayed as dangerous foreigners who came to the country only to dominate its every aspect. They are accused of dominating the economy, destroying the cultural fabric of society by spreading Islam in every way possible, luring women into Islam, and then monopolizing political power. The prime anxiety is that the Burmese race/nation will become extinct if liars, aliens, ruthless people, and those who bite the hands of their own masters (referring to Muslims as dogs) are not expelled.

Self-victimization seems to be a key. The consistent theme is that it is Muslims who are doing all the harm to communities and the country. Even supposedly one the most recognized peace advocate monks, Ashin Nyanissara, told the Democratic Voice of Burma on March 21, the second day of the riot, that Muslims as guests should respect and be polite to their hosts as if the ongoing religious tension was the Muslims’ fault.

There are other important elements. Different volumes of anti-Muslim books written by Buddhist monks are all similarly titled: “Fearful of losing race/nation”. These books, being circulated for the past few years, are the guidebooks of the campaign, featuring stories of dangerous and hateful Muslims unfairly marrying Buddhist women or marrying without consent, attempting to replace Buddhism with Islam, and undertaking universal missions to dominate the world economically, politically and culturally. Muslims allegedly will take over the Buddhist nation unless effective actions are taken to neutralize them and destroy every Muslim establishment. Citizenship is supposed to be defined in term of bloodline, as Immigration Minister Khin Yi said recently.

But a neo-Nazi movement doesn’t work without popular support. That hundreds of people listen to the 969 sermons attests to its rise. This is not just public acceptance, but follow up to actions such as destroying Muslim shops in Mon State early this month after a 969 summons.

On social media websites, particularly Facebook, various groups relate to the 969 movement such as private groups with group names spelled in Burmese. Members range from 90 to a few hundred. There are public pages such as the Myanmar National Movement Committee, which has recorded 15,499 likes. Popular support is also reflected in the comments of the Burmese Facebook users. The following English translation of comments made to the Facebook pages of two local Muslim news websites reveals the seriousness:

“Happy, hey happy. Let’s drive out dog-kind, dog-sons, prostitutes.”

“Good news, all Muslims must die!”

“It’s too few that only 20 people died. They all have to die. Also, all mosques in Myanmar must be destroyed.”

In short, the neo-Nazi movement that Dr. Maung Zarni has been crying out against is on the rise. Those behind the movement are freely traveling the country, mobilizing supporters and distributing hate messages at an alarming level.

Without addressing this movement, perpetual violence and communal tension in such an ethnically diverse country is the future. That a personal quarrel at a shop ended up as large-scale violence in Meikhtila is a troubling alert.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Irrawaddy.

31 Responses to Burmese Neo-Nazi Movement Rising Against Muslims

  1. The writer haz failed to mention how 786 dogs has been trying to dominate and take over our nation – buying up properties with financial support from Arab world, bulding up special muslim dominated enclaves, rewarding muslim males who manages to lure and marry women of other religions, using their mosques as arms depots, bribing corrupt officials to get political advantage. Whenever opportunities arise they rape our women, steal our properties and kill us. We are culturally and spiritually peaceful people ready to help those in trouble as atested to by records by early foreign visitors to our country including some colonialists. Watch the movie entitled “The Burmese Harp” which is a true story and portrays the good nature and kind-heartedness of our people, who even helped the Japanese soldiers who commited countless atrocities against us during WWII.

    • Your delusional comment just proved the author’s claim that Burmen are nazi-wannabe. You might also want to bring in some facts from neutral, primary sources to back up your accusation against the Muslims. Why are you so against Burmese women marrying Muslim men? Aren’t burmese men all gaga over girls with pale complexion? Even the reigning king Than Shwe married a Pa-oh Kyaing Kyaing. And his right-hand man Shwe Man married a Chinese woman. Burmese men marry outside their community. Big applauds. burmese women marry outside their community. It’s armageddon! it appears what has turned you against Muslims is a combination of male chauvinsm and pure fascism. While you are at it with alleged rape of burmese girls by Muslims, do you care to do something about documented rapes of ethnic women by Burmen soldiers? Would it be fair for the ethnic men to react commensurately for their sufferings? Would you mind if ethnics blow up a couple of Burman villages as revenge?

      • If you have money, you have the right to buy land and properties. Malaysia is a Muslim nation but Chinese own almost every business. This is tolerated by Malaysian leaders. Burmese are not good in running business. Why don’t they let the people who are better in running business. Burmese mentality is pathetic. I am not a Muslim but I hate Burmese mentality.

        • they dont tolerate us, recently they just called us traitors, when ever anything goes wrong in our nation we are the first one to blame.

          even when they have infighting amongst themselves, we also get the blame.

          sorry to say, some of the islamophobic fears are very true. body snatching, forced conversion through marriages, education, business opportunity are given preferences for converts rather than non muslims if given the choice.

          thats why the world is silently agreeing in shame.

        • hmm.

          we are called immigrants and traitors and whenever there is a problem amongst themselves we are the scapegoat.

          there is some truth to their allegations. their ultimate objective is to dominate.

    • Burma has had several communal clashes such as Burmese-Chinese, Burmese-Karen, Burmese-Indain (Kalah), Rakhine-Rohinga roits. We have never used muslim-Buddhit clashes. I would like to request to the media to refrain from religious terms in the communal calshes.

  2. First of all, people with Facebook or twitter accounts form a very small minority (< 5%?) of the Burmese population. They are mostly upper-class and many of them are probably half-Chinese.
    Secondly, it is true that Burmese seem to have developed a "special hatred" for dark-skinned Muslim "Kalars". They don't bear the same grudge against all the other "aliens" in Burma and as we all know there are hundreds of thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants, in Mandalay for example, not to mention "Wa State" or Kokang.
    Thirdly, if you look at the ads in the magazines and the entertainment industry in Burma nowadays, you will find that there is a definite "conditioning/brainwashing" by the Burmese upper-class to impose ChinKo Chinese Korean) racial types as the "norm for beauty" and to reject any one with a dark skin. This is definitely reminiscent of the blonde and blue-eyed image of the Aryans that the Nazis were propagating as the image of the German population.
    I find these things not only very upsetting but also very puzzling Who's really behind all of this?

    • You’re right. Racial questions are as important as religious ones. In Myanmar, an Indian looking person with a big nose and dark skin is probably most likely considered to be a Muslim, even though they could be Buddhists or more likely, Sikhs or Hindus. In neighboring Thailand, it’s no different: people of Chinese origin are usually of higher status, considered more good looking and are quite high in number, there are probably far more ethnic Chinese in Thailand than in Myanmar. However, an Indian looking person in Thailand is normally referred to as “Khaek” or guest, a term that makes them seen as perpetual foreigners. Their physical appearence, looking like westerners but with darker skin and black hair is what makes them physically distinct from other Thais of Chinese or other east Asian origin.

      I’m not sure that all of this is puzzling, especially for the average Burmese – I think Myanmar sees itself as more of an East Asian country than a South Asian one, a country that is not particularly willing to be considered a multi-ethnic or multi-cultural country but rather one preferring cultural and ethnic homogeneity, similar to China. Basically, although there are definitely ethnic minorities living in China, the vast majority of the population belongs to just one ethnic group and most of the rest are physically hard to distinguish from the majority, particularly when they don’t don their ethnic costumes. As far as lighter skin goes, it goes hand-in-hand with a perception that dark skin means working the fields, being poor etc. and light skin means working inside in a more white collar profession and thus being richer. This is the case in China and is almost certainly the case in Myanmar too.

      It would be nice if all nations could be like the USA, Australia, Canada etc. with their multi-cultural populations but the reality is that this may take many more decades to happen and many countries in the developing world particularly in Asia that don’t have similar histories are not willing to change their ethnic makeup.

      • Oh well, if lighter skin colour is so important to these East Asians, why bother looking like Chinese or Koreans. I’d go straight for the blonde blue-eyed Aryan look! No wonder white people look down upon wanna-be-white East Asians lol
        I identify myself more with the Onge from Andaman Islands (negrito, kappli) than these ethnocentric arrogant Chinese!
        By the way, isn’t Buddha a Kalar by definition since he is from India, so a Buddhist who discriminates against people from India is a hypocrite and a racist in my eyes!

  3. The saddest thing is that I spent past 10 minutes reading this stupid article written by someone who was obviously trying to make a name for himself by writing this kind of nonsense. I am a Buddhist, so may be I will be biased but taking references from some Facebook accounts as you facts? Are you kidding? Have you not noticed that we have been living peacefully for many decades? A few bad Buddhists do not mean everyone is the same. If I take your generalization, based on what is happening around the world, every Muslim will become terrorist, which is obviously not. I really hope you think long and hard before you write.
    It is people like you and article like this that fans the flames of social problems. Shame on you!
    To everyone else, please continue to protect Buddhism. Remember, it does not mean harming others. The important thing is to promote rule-of-law in the country. A law that protects the rights of legitimate citizens regardless of faith.

    • The essence of a religion can only be reflected by the behaviors of its followers.

      To promote a religion, the promotors have to observe the behaviors of the followers first and encourage them to do in the right ways when they are doing wrong so that non-follwers can see the goodness of the religion and will be able to follow in the same order.

    • Very interesting point you are making but now we should stop pointing fingers and think how to solve this problem. Monks killing on daily basses and this will be very ugly at the end as I know Muslims love the shahada and they won’t be giving up soon and this will be to the end of time. Why they are afraid from Muslims around them is it because they have laws in marriage no adultery is allowed, or maybe their life has changed to the better when Muslims are involved more in their social life.

  4. Right on kosak, your article is very informative so is Zarni. Now we know the existence of ” 969″ which is a destructive element of peace in Burma, neo Nazi movement should be nib in the bud because it’s not a healthy existence. Government should focus more in these areas and make it a priority when it arises in the future.

  5. You are so right Dr. Maung Zarni. Even Burmese ministries never try to recognize the difference between individual’s nationality and religion. As Thai and Burmese ministries’ temporary passport program for undocumented Burmese migrants here in Thailand, we all simply know that majority of those migrants are undocumented in term of not having passport as well as not having Burmese nationality identification card.
    Burmese authorities’ nationalism approach consider individual’s nationality only for the Burmese Buddhist, and reject Burmese Muslim of being citizenship. Religion is a criteria of differentiating citizenship. If you are a Buddhist but not a real Burmese citizen (let say Bangladesh or Nepal Buddhist), your chance of being Burmese citizenship is much easier than a Burmese Muslim.
    As a result, Burmese Muslim migrants (who even have NCR and house hold registration certification) are facing huge struggles to have temporary passport because the authorities’ that kind of criteria. It would be much respected if Irrawaddy or any other news agency try to find those unspoken truth behind Burmese authorities’ national verification process in Thailand. I dare to say that Burmese govt’s that criteria totally supports authorities’ corruptions and it will be very dangerous for the future of the country.

    • I agree but in Thailand the question is more of a racial one than simply a religious one. I am wondering if this is similar in Myanmar too. But then very few Burmese working in Thailand are of Indian origin although some may be Muslims, but not that many – they are mostly Buddhists and often from border areas such as Kayin State, Shan State etc. and can blend into the local community to some extent. Thailand makes a big distinction between what they call “Asian looking people” and “Indian looking people” including those that are of mixed Indian-Burmese or Indian-Thai heritage. These people will forever be lumped together as “Khaek” or guests, a term referring to people of Indian originally only supposed to be in Thailand temporarily. Also, just like a westerner or African person, an Indian looking person in Thailand is almost always seen as being a perpetual foreigner irrespective of actual status in Thailand.

  6. The writer apparently did not mentioned how those Muslims people sneaked into Myanmar in mess and how they trying to increase their presence economically and socially. All these are done by the support of their oversea organization systematically. In fact Myanmar government has taken soft stance against Muslim in the fear of backslash from terrorists. But that does not help too. Has the writer ever thought of that why there are so many Muslims creating trouble all around the world? I think this article is trash and Irrawaddy should take it down if they are deemed reputable press. I once used to think of Irrawaddy as the support pillar of Myanmar people especially during the struggle under military government. Now, they are betraying its own people for the sake of face and funds (from their oversea donors).

    • So, irrawaddy should become your pet magazine that publish only materials that align with your prejudice? Is this your definition of democracy? Opinions matter as long as they support your belief system.

  7. Wow… the writer is seriously Biased. You have noidea how Muslim construction been ruining the city, how many Myanmar girls been taken as wives. How Muslims don’t allow marriage with other religion, but has to become Muslim if they do.

    The entire world is against the Arabs, so either the entire world is WRONG or the Arabs are Wrong. Which is it? Please use your own reasoning.

    • An astonishing level of ignorance and idiocy from the Nazis, but this comment takes top prize. You can claim your prize in the sewer.

    • YOUR world is WRONG.

      You clearly have no idea about the entire world, which is to say, the Earth and its 196 countries and 7 billion people. If you anticipate or expect help from the greater world (that is, the “entire world”), you’d be best to understand that it is a world looking for peace and harmony and not hatred, disorder and dysfunction. Your view does not align with the greater world nor the greater good.

      It is so unbelievably tragic that hatred is so highly communicable in this country.

  8. What is more interesting about this commentary is that The Irrawaddy did not mention the background of the author Kosak Tuscangate! This is so unusual for the Irrawaddy!

  9. You are absolutely right. Defeat and conqure them now or they will defeat you and kill you. There is no peace in islam. They only want to dominate and reign over you.

  10. Once or twice I have seen 969 (9 Buddha, 6 Dhamma, 9 Sangha or whatever) in online news journals. Kosak Tuscangate meant people using 969 are very dangerous but not the others who use 786. It is a total nonsense. As long as they are lawful and create no danger upon innocent people, it is absolutely fine for both 969 and 786 groups to exist.

    One thing I can say is Dr. Maung Zarni whom a few people quote whenever they like to lash out at Burma and this writer are too ignorant to compare the strife in Meikhtila with Nazi Germany. Both men seem to have no idea what they are talking about. Nazis killed 6 million innocent Jews but in Meikhtila or in Rakhine less than 100 people were killed. I am by no means condoning the senseless murders — it is still very bad that people lost their lives. However, it’s not one-sided violence. Both sides, Buddhist Burmese as well as Muslim Burmese, are committing unforgivable murders against each other.

    After visiting relief camps in Meikhtila, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, the special advisor on Burma to the UN secretary-general, even said, “There is a certain degree of fear and anxiety among the people, but there is no hatred.” According to a report by the Associated Press, Nambiar said he was encouraged to learn that some individuals in both the Buddhist and Muslim communities had bravely helped each other, and that local religious leaders were now advocating peace.

    The problem is there are a few hot-headed people on both sides and lack of preparations and experience in the part of the security forces. What Burma needs is rule of law.

    On the other side, there are opportunists who will grandstand taking advantage of the catastrophic situations. U Aung Zaw, U Zarni and Kosak Tuscangate, please think again what you have contributed to solve the tragic circumstances.

  11. Iran president publicly preaching to wipe out entire Israel, no one said he is a racist or entire Iran are racist. For what had happen in Myeittilar is a very bad thing. It is a spit and insult to humanity, but accusing entire population as racist and without contributing any solution will not solve the problem but it will only make it worse. I can’t believe your skill of journalism, I think 5 grade will do better than your article.

    • Are you sure Ahmadinejad has been spared for his anti Semite remarks by the western media outlets? If you pay me a dollar for providing a source that degenerates the Iranian president such as news story, articles, TV show, et al, I’ll become a rich man overnight.

      It’s quite amusing to see Burman fanatics flip over after reading opinion pieces that cut right through their hypocrisy.

      By the way, if you are going to denounce the author of the article as a 5th grader, be sure to use correct syntax in your writing, too. It should be ‘skills’ with an s. This is just one of many mistakes in your four-line paragraph.

  12. Thein-Nget

    I am not born and raise in western country and I learn my English pretty much on my own. I don’t have any big degree as well as I don’t have any hatred toward any body. If you don’t like my opinion, it is not for you. If you are too smart, just contribute, don’t criticize. I am just using my rights to share my opinion. After all we all want Democracy. I hope you understand my very poor English.

  13. My experience is that fanatic muslims most likely resemble the attitude of fanatic Neo-Nazis.

  14. Before you tear each other apart in your discussion about Buddhist against Muslim or opposit, what is better light or dark skin colour, asian or anywhere, hardliner or intelligent people.
    I think your country have much more important problems to become a running democracy.
    Mybe you will send me to hell because I´m not a Burmese (I´m Austrian) but when I read all that opinions….about who´s fault or not and the NeoNAZI bullshit…
    I´ve a good idea for these guys who like that totalitarian regime:
    Not too far from my home is the memorial of the conzentrationcamp Mauthausen (one of too much). Watch it and inform clearly… you than have enough to think and hope you´re don´t become again bad….

  15. unless arm force control government commitment peace,democracy,equality juristic for every human kind,Burma will another Yugoslavia of south east Asia.Burmese free media is not promoting democracy and development but hate campaign toward rohingya ethnic and Myanmar Muslim.monk like Wiratu,other extremist monks seize the opportunity participating genocide,ethnic cleansing against Muslim in Myanmar.

  16. Wirathu is low educated , naive monks so he create wired 969 to promote his faked Buddhism. Wirathu Buddish thugs is supported by than shwe who wants to downgrade real Buddhist monks in Burma in order to cover his wrong doing upon killing monks in 2007. Wirathu, psychopath personality, lacking confidence in himself, is jealous on Muslim success in Burma as well.

  17. So the Christians whom are being murdered in muslim countries are being killed by neo-nazi extremist muslims?

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