‘Islamic Extremists Want My Downfall, That’s Why They Put Me On The Cover’

By Zarni Mann 24 June 2013

In recent months, anti-Muslim violence has rocked many parts of Burma and has left dozens of people killed and thousands displaced, while thousands of homes were destroyed. Ultra-nationalist monk U Wirathu, 46, has been accused of stirring up this unrest through his nationwide ‘969’ campaign, which calls on Buddhists to shun Muslim-owned businesses and to “think in a nationalist way.”

The 969 symbol has also been found painted on the walls of destroyed Muslim-owned buildings, suggesting that Buddhist rioters were motivated by his words.

His controversial campaign has attracted widespread media attention. Last week, Time magazine Asia ran a cover story on the movement and placed a photo of U Wirathu on their July issue, which labeled the monk “The Face of Buddhist Terror”.

The Irrawaddy first interviewed U Wirathu about his role on the anti-Muslim violence on April 2. In another Q&A at his Masoeyein Monastery in Mandalay this weekend, the radical monk reacts to Time magazine’s cover story.

QUESTION:How do you feel about being portrayed on the cover of Time magazine as “The Face of Buddhist Terror”?

ANSWER: I think this article is targeting me, but not Buddhism as a whole. This is being done because the Islamic extremists want my downfall. It is like during British colonial times, when the British thought that seizing the Burmese kingdom would be easier if the Kanaung Mintha Prince, who was trying to build modern royal army, died. [The crown prince is revered in Burma for his attempts to modernize the country. He was killed by other princes in 1866.]

If I fall down, it will be very easy for the extremist who wants to overwhelm Burma with their extreme beliefs. They want me to be arrested, or killed. That’s why, they put me on the [Time] cover, I think. … Extremists are trying to turn Burma into an Islamic country. There is financial, technological, human resources support for this, even media support. I’ve observed these things and because I’m speaking out to show these things to the world, I have become their number 1 enemy, so they are targeting me. Actually, Times magazine is not targeting me — the group who want to fight against me is behind this [cover].

Q: There are many who say that you are an extremist and preach hate speech in your sermons. Do you have a reaction to those views?

A: Who wants to fight me will fight until I stop my sermons. I do not preach hate or against someone or something. I do not insult in my sermons either. I just preach to protect my people. You can call it a national protection sermon, or a nationalist sermon, or a national security sermon. For example, when a child is abused, does he have to stay silent? Or, will you accuse him of misusing his rights by asking help from his parents? Will you blame him if he spreads hate between his parents and the person who abuses him? We have the right to say when we were beaten, the right to cry and report a problem. For that same reason, I give national protection sermons.

Q:But, there have been complaints and reports that anti-Muslim violence occurred in areas where you have been preaching for the 969 campaign. What do you say to those accusations?

A: The areas where I gave my sermons never experienced any problems. I was in Muse [in Shan State] on May 18 and 19. The violence erupted in Lashio on May 28. If this happened in Muse right after my sermons, I am the responsible one and will accept such accusations. But I’ve never been to Lashio, I was just passing by. I don’t even know if I passed through Lashio because I fall asleep on the car. So, I couldn’t have anything to do with what has happened in a town that I was just passing by.

And in Meikhtila, I went there in October. The violence happened in March. So, if someone alleges that this occurred because of my sermons, how I should respond? It’s been four months. Also, if nothing had happened at the gold shop, would that shop have been destroyed? [An argument between a Buddhist customer and Muslim gold shop owner sparked the Meikthila riots.] If the Buddhist monk named Thawbita was not murdered there, would Meikhtila have experienced the violence? And the problems were not started by Burmese Buddhists. The Burmese are the ones who were insulted. So, what can I say if someone blames me for this?

Muslim extremist groups are also creating these [inter-communal] problems. They have two reasons. One is that they want to carry out jihad in Burma. And what was done in Meikhtila, they want to do in the whole country. If the same thing happens again, the international Muslim extremists will bring jihad to the country. That’s why they created the violence in Lashio.

Another reason is that they want to have me arrested. That’s why they are sacrificing their own mosques, shops and homes, and then they put the blame for these events on my sermons. …

With regards to the Burmese groups [who were involved in the unrest]. I’ve learned that no one is behind them. We can say they are just thugs, jobless, lazy-boned people who make use of an opportunity during these uncontrollable situations of violence, so that they can loot things from markets and shops.

Q: There has been a lot of criticism of a law you drafted that would put restrictions on marriages between Buddhist women and Muslim men. Activists say that it would constitute a violation of basic human rights. What is your reaction to this criticism?

A: Actually, the draft law [that was circulated on June 13] will not go to Parliament. The draft law which will be submitted to Parliament will be released only on June 27. The initial draft that we released was just meant to get an idea of how people felt about such a law.

What’s more, this draft law does not abuse the rights of women. It is to protect women from having their rights abused. Even though we are a Buddhist country, our women have no freedom of religion. So, we will completely follow human rights [principles] in writing this law. We want our Burmese women to have complete women’s rights. Christian ladies, Buddhist ladies who marry Muslim men are not getting freedom of religion nor women’s rights. They have to stay at their homes like prisoners of war. I want to give freedom to them. I do not want future generations of women to suffer like that. … Current laws [in Burma] cannot effectively protect women’s rights or their religious freedom.

Q:You have said that the number 969 symbolizes Buddhist values and teachings. But when people who carry out anti-Muslim violence they use it to justify their actions and paint 969 on destroyed Muslim-owned buildings. So, then it becomes the symbol of Buddhist rioters. What do you think of that situation?

A: Things like that can happen. That’s why the monks’ conference was held in Hmawbi Township, Rangoon. There, the Sayardaws produced a statement saying not to use 969, which is a symbol of peace, in any way for violence or as a means of defaming another religion.

You can’t say that the 969 [campaign] is a violent gang just because a group of men misuse it. You cannot tell us that there are words that say “kill the people who have different religion or ethnicity” is included in the meaning of 969. The rules of 969 are not like that. It is not violent and doesn’t say you should respond with violence even if you’re being abused, instead you should follow only the law. So, claiming that 969 is violent is nonsense.

Related story links:

A Radically Different Dhamma

Two Sides of the Sangha 

Nationalist Monk U Wirathu Denies Role in Anti-Muslim Unrest 

882 Homes Torched in Meikhtila, Satellite Images Show