Rise of Buddhist Fanaticism in Myanmar

Time Magazine has been heavily criticized for its recent cover story on Buddhist terror.

Time Magazine has been heavily criticized for its recent cover story on Buddhist terror.

It’s a matter of great shame that the pro-reform regime in Myanmar is clandestinely supporting the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims at the hands of fanatic Buddhists by not only enacting racist and community-specific birth control policies but also by justifying the preaching of radical monks like Wirathu who has been dubbed as the “Burmese Bin Laden”.

In 2003, Wirathu was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment by a Burmese court for handing out seemingly offensive and anti-Muslim literature which led to communal riots in his hometown. But the entire scenario today has taken a complete u-turn. Wirathu is out of prison and is stoking fire in the hearts and minds of young Buddhist listeners by means of his hateful speeches. His popularity is such that even Myanmar’s Minister of Religious Affairs has jumped out in the open to defend him and his 969 movement in front of the international media. The radicalization amongst a section of Burmese Buddhists has reached such an alarming level that they have now decided to boycott businesses run by Muslims in Myanmar. Their sympathizers have justified this move of theirs as ‘practising market economics’.

The fundamentalist movement of 969 in Myanmar is generating massive support at the grass root level where it is being pictured as a saviour of the Buddhist religion which is facing an onslaught at the hands of butcher Muslims. The conflict between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists has intensified over the last 12 months with both the sides engaged in a constant violent struggle for survival. So far 153,000 Rohingya Muslims have been displaced in the troubled state of Rakhine and Central Myanmar. Several countries including secular regimes in Turkey and India have sent financial support to resettle the displaced. There are fears that the sectarian violence in Myanmar might spread to neighbouring countries and ignite anti-Buddhist bigotry in response to Muslim persecution. Some weeks back Malaysia witnessed a few attacks on Buddhists which might be the beginning of a worrying trend.

The silence of Aang San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) regarding the rise of 969 movement in itself speaks volumes of the nexus which exists between these organizations and other government officials. Some conspiracy theories allege that 969 is being propped up by the erstwhile military junta regime in order to create unrest in the country and to foil the democratic elections set to take place in 2015 which might register a landslide victory for Suu Kyi’s party. Another conspiracy theory pits the 969 movement against the supposed 786 movement of Muslims. Some South Asian Muslims associate the number 786 with the Arabic word ‘Bismillah’ which literally means ‘In the name of God’ but Buddhist monks in Myanmar have said that 786 is actually a Muslim plan to dominate the world.

The rise of Buddhist fanaticism in Myanmar is set to further entangle the geopolitics in the region. With Pakistan immersed in sectarian bloodshed, India fighting the rise of Islamist terrorism and Hindutva extremism, the last thing which this region wanted was a sectarian struggle in a country which is still new to democracy.