In Person

U Wirathu: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi a Threat to National Religion and Identity

By Zarni Mann 5 December 2017

In an interview with The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, ultranationalist monk U Wirathu offered his personal views on the current situation in Rakhine State and the government’s legal action against nationalist Buddhist monks. The Irrawaddy’s senior reporter Zarni Mann met with U Wirathu at the Dhama Thaharya Kyaung at Masoeyein monastery.

The Army and the government have been criticized for their handling of the conflict in Rakhine State. What is your view?

The government has been unreliable on this matter. So, we have had to rely solely on the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military]. Personally, I fully support [military chief] Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and I believe him when he says the Tatmadaw will provide full protection to minorities in Rakhine State in order to protect them from genocide. When it comes to protecting the national identity, we only have him to rely on.

But the Army’s actions in relation to the conflict in Rakhine State have resulted in fresh sanctions and condemnation.

I’ve read about that. I have to say it is inappropriate. This sort of operation [like the one the military is conducting in Rakhine] should be the responsibility of the government, not the Tatmadaw. The institution most responsible for handling such conflicts is the government. Taking action against the Tatmadaw rather than the government is a mistake.

Nonetheless, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of numerous honors and awards over her handling of the Rakhine situation.

No. No. What I want to say here is that taking action against the Tatmadaw by violating the country’s sovereignty is wrong. Taking action against our country’s leaders like this is unfair. What the international community should do is to talk with the government to find the best solution. I’m against any intervention like that by foreign countries.

Again, it is absolutely unfair to strip Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of her honors and awards. The Westerners are childish to do this. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not seek those awards and honors. It was they [the West] who awarded her and honored her. Stripping her of the honors and targeting people with sanctions or taking other such actions is inappropriate.

The government is now implementing the recommendations included in the report of Mr. Kofi Annan’s commission in accordance with international standards and human rights. Isn’t this a good development?

The report is satisfactory to all sides [but] it is not perfect. Initially the commission said the report’s recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible. Later it said only the most urgent recommendations should be implemented immediately. So it is difficult for me to say if it is good or not. However, one thing I can say is there are many suggestions in the report that threaten the stability of the country. For example, it recommends that the government give citizenship to those who are not entitled to citizenship. Its proposal that the government amend the 1982 Citizenship Act poses a threat to the country. If the government agrees to do this, we will have to oppose it. I believe Buddhist monks and their supporters will take to the streets should the government agree to these recommendations.

However, many Myanmar citizens fled to a neighbouring country during the conflict. Shouldn’t they have a chance to return to their homes?

I never said no one can come back. Everyone who deserves to come home must have the chance to do so. There are clear rules and regulations for this process, requiring that documents be checked. Anyone who can present the proper documents should be allowed to come home.

Pope Francis recently visited our country. As his visit came amid the criticism over the human rights issue in Rakhine State, the international community hoped he would address this. However, the pope did not mention the Rohingya explicitly and was widely criticized for that.

The pope is a religious leader. He is doing what religious leaders should do, which is to tell people to love each other, to help each other and to be patient. However, he did use the term “Rohingya” before visiting us. And afterwards, when he was in Bengladesh, he used the term “Rohingya”. So to me, this means he is using his position as a religious leader to act as a political figure, rather than acting as a religious leader.

On the other hand, I have to question the international community on this point. Is it an abuse of human rights not to use the word “Rohingya”? The people of this country don’t accept the term “Rohingya”, so the Pope did not use it [here]. We have nothing to say regarding his diplomatic behavior. Personally, I do not like the way he used “Rohingya” before and after visiting our country.

In the past, you supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. What changed? Do you believe as some nationalists do that she is using human rights to oppress religion and nationalism, in particular through a series of lawsuits against nationalist groups?

We feel that we are being deliberately targeted. I believe we are being oppressed and that one day Buddhism and the Myanmar national identity will be replaced by other religions and by foreigners. I now see her as a threat to the country’s religion and national identity.

When the State Sangha authorities declared Ma Ba Tha an unlawful association, the Mandalay divisional government reportedly ordered that the group’s signs be taken down. However, some nationalists are reportedly still displaying them.

They [the authorities] are the ones who do not understand the law, which is why they issued that order. Maybe they believe they can intimidate us by issuing such orders. What I do know is that Ma Ba Tha would not have any problems if Ma Ha Na and the government obeyed the law. They are acting like scarecrows. Ma Ba Tha is not an unlawful association. People label Ma Ba Tha as “unlawful” based solely on the statement from Ma Ha Na; they are blinded by it. If they really see Ma Ba Tha as unlawful, they should take their claim to the courts. We are still working under Ma Ba Tha.

At a meeting last month the State Sangha authorities reportedly considered an appeal against the ban on you conducting public sermons. What is the status of that appeal?

There’s nothing special about that. I just did it as a test, because we heard many different views [concerning the ban] in the town — apart from Gabaraye [i.e., the State Sangha] — that the decision to ban me had been made by a few senior monks. Some monks said that if they had been at the meeting, there would have been no ban. I’d like to know what would happen if all 47 senior member of Ma Ha Na were present. What I discovered was that in gatherings at Gabaraye, all views are the same. When talking about the 47 senior members of Ma Ha Na, even my teacher can’t be trusted.