Max Fisher profiles the “spiritual leader” behind the violent anti-Muslim movement escalating among Buddhists in Burma:
[Ashin] Wirathu calls himself “the Burmese bin Laden” and was recently labeled on the cover of Time magazine as “the face of Burmese terror.” A prominent Burmese human rights activist, after a lifetime of fighting government oppression, now warns that Wirathu’s movement is promoting an ideology akin to neo-Nazism.
Already, the movement has expanded beyond this one self-styled radical Buddhist monk. It’s now expanding across Burma (also known as Myanmar) according to [a NY] Times article. The anti-Muslim sentiment has spread with alarming speed over just the last year, as Burma – which is finally opening up after years of military dictatorship – loosened its strict speech laws. It has prompted boycotts and sermons that can sound an awful lot like calls for violence against Muslims. Monasteries associated with the movement have enrolled 60,000 Burmese children into Sunday school programs.
Walter Russell Mead points out that no one in government is condemning the content of Wirathu’s sermons:
He frequently suggests there is a conspiracy afoot to turn Burma into a Muslim country, that Muslims will overrun “good” Buddhists, force them to convert to Islam, and steal their women and daughters and jobs. In his sermons, heard by thousands of people across the country, he describes violence against Muslims, like the massacre of children in Meiktila in March, as a show of strength.
Nevertheless, President Thein Sein lept to Wirathu’s defense, labeling him a “son of Buddha” and a “noble person” in an official statement. He made no mention of Wirathu’s hate-filled speeches, nor the rampaging mobs that burned and slaughtered their way through Muslim neighborhoods on several occasions earlier this year. As of this writing, celebrated human rights activist and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi—whose earlier criticism of violence against Burmese Muslims was pretty weak, at best—has neither defended nor attacked Wirathu.
(Photo: Wirathu attends a conference about the religious violence that has shaken the country at a monastery on the outskirts of Yangon on June 13, 2013. By Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)