The Fall of U Wirathu
By Kyaw Phyo Tha 15 March 2017
RANGOON — Seated upon a temporary platform on a football field, Burma’s infamous nationalist monk U Wirathu—in a monotone voice—praised the country’s previous President U Thein Sein and denounced Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government as incompetent, before encouraging Buddhist women to marry opium addicts, drunkards, monks, and even dogs rather than a Muslim man.
“If women can’t find a husband, get a dog: canines are as able as Muslim men,” he said to hundreds of his supporters, including women, sitting on the ground during an evening sermon held at U Thein Sein’s home village of Kyunku in Irrawaddy Division last month.
U Wirathu expressed the need to protect Buddhism. He claimed—with sharp anti-Muslim rhetoric—that the foundations of Burma’s majority religion were under assault and that Buddhists had to be vigilant against the influence of other, fundamentalist religions.
“If you [women] are able take care of them, there are lots of men who are willing to take your hand,” said the 49-year-old monk known for anti-Muslim hate speech, according to a video clip of the Dhamma talk. “If needed, I will send you monks—they abstain from alcohol,” he told women.
“If you are willing to take my advice for a dog, but you feel reluctant [to wed] the canines here, let me know and I will order some from abroad,” he added.
His reasoning was that these “husbands” would not try to convert a woman’s religion, whereas a Muslim man might.
People familiar with U Wirathu’s sermons have said that asking women to take dogs as a last resort for marriage was a favored statement of his in events across the country since his release from prison in 2012.
Despite local and international condemnation of his fiery religious speeches—widely believed to be at least partly responsible for the rise in Buddhist-Muslim tensions over the last five years—the firebrand monk and his associates had never even been questioned by police, let alone arrested or banned from speaking in public.
But, last week, the current ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government refused to tolerate his hate speech any longer.
On Thursday, the state Buddhist authority, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, often known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ha Na, banned U Wirathu from preaching sermons for one year.
A Friday statement from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture said restrictions on the monk were due to criticism of the current government, religious hate speech made at his Dhamma talk at Kyunku and his praising of suspects involved in the murder of NLD legal adviser U Ko Ni on Facebook.
During the Kyunku sermon, the nationalist monk praised ex-president U Thein Sein for telling the international community in 2012 that Rohingya “are not an ethnic [group] in Burma.”
“He is very clear on the issue. He protected the country. His response showed he stood firmly for the whole people of Burma,” U Wirathu said.
The firebrand monk portrayed the NLD government as people who are reluctant to admit their incompetency for the country’s slow development despite lifting of sanctions.
“They always blame Constitutional restrictions. Why don’t they just say they have no goodwill for the country?”
People who voted for the NLD in 2015 also came under fire from U Wirathu.
“They heartily voted for the NLD [and] what has happened now? Everything is upside down. The economy was supposed to grow but it is slumping. Food and commodity prices have skyrocketed,” he said.
The statement from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture said the Ma Ha Na found that what U Wirathu said and posted are not in accordance with the disciplines of a Theravada Buddhist monk.
“We have found out that [he has been] instigating religious, racial, and political conflict and disputes among the public,” said the statement, adding that the monk will face legal action if either he fails to follow the order or expresses his discontent about the ban on Facebook or to the media.
U Wirathu said that the ban is not within usual procedures and that he felt oppressed by the government.
“In the past, [the government] summoned and personally warned violators. If that didn’t work, they released an announcement. I don’t feel comfortable being banned like this by a democratically-elected government,” he told The Irrawaddy this week.
But Ashin Issariya, a leading monk in the Saffron Revolution and now an interfaith trainer for Peaceful Myanmar Initiative, disagreed with what U Wirathu said.
“He was banned for saying evil things. If he had truly preached Dhamma, he would have been officially honored,” said the Buddhist monk.
He continued to say that hate speech within a Dhamma talk was shameful behavior from a Buddhist monk and an insult to the audience.
“If he wants to talk about such nasty things, he should say it out in the streets rather than on stage at a Dhamma talk where people expect to learn more about ways to Nirvana.”