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Burma’s Mushrooming Buddhist Extremism

Published: 21/06/2013 04:18:13 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Changing the picture of gentle Buddhist Dalai Lama, images of rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords against Muslim villages and the vituperative sermons of monks are reflecting a worrying rise of extreme Buddhis (more)

CAIRO - Changing the picture of gentle Buddhist Dalai Lama, images of rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords against Muslim villages and the vituperative sermons of monks are reflecting a worrying rise of extreme Buddhism in Burma.

“You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ashin Wirathu said during his sermon, referring to Muslims, The New York Times reported on Friday, June 21.

“I call them troublemakers, because they are troublemakers,” Ashin Wirathu added after the sermon.

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“I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist.”

Though the world has been accustomed to a gentle image of Buddhism as defined by the words of the Dalai Lama, Buddhist monks in Burma has launched a rant against what he called “the enemy” — the country's Muslim minority.

The new image became clearer over the past year when monks, led by Wirathu, have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.

Wirathu, who takes pride as Buddhists Bin Laden, has thousands of followers on Facebook and his YouTube videos have been watched tens of thousands of times.

He also leads an extremist nationalist "969" campaign, encouraging Buddhists to "buy Buddhist and shop Buddhist", seemingly with the intention of creating an apartheid state.

Its message is spreading through regular sermons across the country that draw thousands of people and through widely distributed DVDs of those talks.

Buddhist monasteries associated with the movement are also opening community centers and a Sunday school program for 60,000 Buddhist children nationwide.

Stickers with the movement's logo are now ubiquitous nationwide on cars, motorcycles and shops.

The movement has also begun a signature campaign calling for a ban on interfaith marriages, and pamphlets are distributed at sermons listing Muslim brands and shops to be avoided.

Taking a lethal curve, Wirathu described the massacre of Muslim schoolchildren in the central city of Meiktila in March in a recent sermon as a show of strength.

“If we are weak,” he said, “our land will become Muslim.”


The new extremist notions of Burma's Buddhists were criticized by rare voiced from monks from neighboring countries.

“Myanmar monks are quite isolated and have a thin relationship with Buddhists in other parts of the world,” Phra Paisal Visalo, a Buddhist scholar and prominent monk in neighboring Thailand, said.

Visalo added that the notion of “us and them” promoted by Burma's radical monks is anathema to Buddhism.

He also lamented that his criticism and that of other leading Buddhists outside the country have had “very little impact.”

Among the most disappointed with the outbreaks of violence and hateful rhetoric are some of the leaders of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a peaceful uprising led by Buddhist monks against military rule.

“We were not expecting this violence when we chanted for peace and reconciliation in 2007,” said Ashin Nyana Nika, 55, the abbot of Pauk Jadi monastery who attended a meeting earlier this month sponsored by Muslim groups to discuss the issue.

Facing parades of extremist monks, Taunggyi Muslims were terrified by a visit by Ashin Wirathu and other 60 honking motorcycles, Tun Tun Naing, in,

“I'm really frightened,” he said, stopping in midsentence when customers entered his shop.

“We tell the children not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.”

Rights groups have accused the Burmese police of turning a blind eye to attacks against Muslims.

The violence has raised doubts on the success of Burma's transition from 49 years of oppressive military rule that ended in March 2011.

Burma's Muslims -- largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent -- account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population.

Muslims entered Burma en masse for the first time as indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent during British colonial rule, which ended in 1948.

But despite their long history, they have never fully been integrated into the country, widely considered as foreigners.

Reproduced with permission from