Ashin Wirathu

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U Wirathu
ဝီရသူ
Personal
Born
10 July 1968 (1968-07-10) (age 53)
ReligionBuddhism
NationalityBurmese
SchoolTheravada
Other namesWin Khaing Oo
Monastic nameVīrasū
OccupationBuddhist monk
TempleNew Masoyein Monastery, Mandalay
Senior posting
TeacherDhammapiya

Wirathu (Burmese: ဝီရသူ, Pali: Vīrasū; born 10 July 1968 in Kyaukse, Mandalay Division, Burma) is a Burmese Buddhist monk, and the leader of the extremist 969 Movement in Myanmar.[1] He has been accused of supporting the persecution of Muslims in Myanmar through his speeches, although he claims to be a peaceful preacher and not to have advocated violence—which is disputed by others.[2] Facebook banned his page on the charge of spreading religious hatred towards other communities, after repeated warnings to not post religiously inflammatory content.[3]

Background[edit]

Wirathu was born in 1968 in Myinsaing village, Kyaukse, near Mandalay. He left school at the age 14 to become a monk. In 2001, he became involved in the 969 Movement.[4] Two years later, in 2003, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his sermons,[5] but was released in 2012 along with many other political prisoners.[6] Since the government reforms of 2011, he has been especially active on YouTube and other forms of social media.[7] Facebook banned his page on the charge of spreading religious hatred towards other communities, after repeated warnings to not post religiously inflammatory content.[3]

969 Movement[edit]

Wirathu led a rally of monks in Mandalay in September 2012 to promote President Thein Sein's controversial plan to send Burmese Rohingya Muslims to a third country.[8] One month later, more violence broke out in Rakhine state.[8] Wirathu claims the violence in Rakhine was the spark for the subsequent violence in Myanmar's central city of Meiktila, where a dispute in a gold shop quickly spiralled into a looting-and-arson spree. More than 14 people were killed, after monasteries, shops and houses were burned down across the city.[9][10] At least two people, including a Burmese Buddhist monk, Shin Thawbita, and a Muslim man were reportedly assaulted and tortured by mobs in Meiktila on 5 March.[11]

Wirathu is mentioned on the cover story of Time magazine as "The Face of Buddhist Terror" on 1 July 2013.[12] "You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog," Wirathu said, referring to Muslims. "If we are weak," he said, "our land will become Muslim."[2] Referring to Muslim violence and domination in neighbouring nations and the example of the spread of Islam in Indonesia,[13] Wirathu claims that his Muslim opponents labelled him the "Burmese Bin Laden" after the Time article incorrectly reported he described himself in this manner.[14] He said he "abhorred violence" and "opposes terrorism".[14] Wirathu has expressed admiration for, and a desire to follow the example of, the English Defence League by "protecting the public."[15]

Thein Sein accused Time of slandering the Buddhist religion and harming the national reconciliation process by accusing the outspoken cleric of stoking anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. Describing him as a "son of Buddha", the president defended Wirathu as a "noble person" committed to peace. "The article in Time Magazine can cause misunderstanding about the Buddhist religion, which has existed for millennia and is followed by the majority of Burmese citizens," Thein Sein said.[16] In an interview with DVB, Wirathu accused Time of committing a "serious human rights violation" by refusing to present his views in a verbatim question and answer format. "Before I had heard [rumours] of the Arab world dominating the global media," he said, "but this time, I've seen it for myself."[16] Wirathu openly blamed Muslims for instigating the recent violence. Wirathu claimed that Myanmar's Muslims are being financed by Middle Eastern forces, saying, "The local Muslims are crude and savage because the extremists are pulling the strings, providing them with financial, military and technical power".[17]

On 21 July 2013, he was the apparent target of a bomb explosion, but he remained unscathed. Five people were slightly injured in the blast, including a novice monk. Wirathu claimed that the bombing was an attempt by Muslim extremists to silence his voice.[18][19][20]

He has called for restrictions on marriages between Buddhists and Muslims,[21] and for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses.[7]

However, not everyone from within his own faith agrees with his teachings. Abbot Arriya Wuttha Bewuntha of Mandalay's Myawaddy Sayadaw monastery denounced him, saying, "He sides a little towards hate [and this was] not the way Buddha taught. What the Buddha taught is that hatred is not good, because Buddha sees everyone as an equal being. The Buddha doesn't see people through religion."[8] The Guardian explained what they see as his extremism as little more than due to ignorance, although his views do have influence in Myanmar where many businesses are "run successfully by Muslims".[8]

Burmese pro-democracy activist Maung Zarni denounced Wirathu's 969 Movement for spreading hate speech[8] and argued that EU countries should take the matter seriously as Myanmar is a "major EU-aid recipient country".[8]

Activities after the ban of the 969 movement[edit]

The 969 movement got banned by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee in September 2013, for having drafted civil rights laws to limit the Muslim population.[22] But shortly after, in January 2014, people formerly involved in the 969 movement established the Patriotic Association of Myanmar, known by its Burmese initials Ma Ba Tha, that carried on promoting the ideas of protection of race. This association again renamed to the Buddha Dhamma Charity Foundation in 2017 after a similar ban. Wyrathu reacted to these bans by pointing that the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee was controlled by the military and took its decision "under the gun".[22]

Although Ma Ba Tha is led by a collegial committee, Wyrathu is described as the outspoken leader of Ma Ba Tha.[23] As such, he participated in Ma Ba Tha's campaign in favor of laws limiting the civil rights of Muslims, and preventing them to have multiple wives, to marry Buddhist women or to have large families.[23]

In January 2015, Wirathu publicly called United Nations envoy Yanghee Lee a "bitch" and a "whore"[24][25] after she publicly reacted to the legislative lobbying campaign, and invited her to "offer your arse to the kalars" (a derogatory term for Muslims).[26][27]

Wirathu led a prayer and protest at the Mahamuni Buddha Temple in Mandalay on 23 February 2017, to condemn the Thai government's raid on the Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Bangkok.[28]

Ayeyarwady Region's religious council, the region's Sangha Maha Nayaka, banned Wirathu from preaching in the region on 10 March 2017.[29]

Arrest and release[edit]

After the ban ended, he continued his religious alertness speeches. He hinted at overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi by trying to drive a wedge between her and the military according to the Myanmar Times, "People should worship Tatmadaw (military) MPs as if they are worshipping Buddha...",[30] and further likened Su Kyi to a prostitute sucking up to foreign interests at a speech in Myeik that went viral.[30][31] An arrest warrant was issued for that speech in May 2019[32] on grounds of sedition and slander. After a year and a half of evading arrest, he surrendered to the police in Yangon a week before the 2020 Myanmar general election, and got arrested.[32][33]

In September 2021, the sedition charges against Wirathu were dismissed by the military junta, and he was subsequently released.[34]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Two documentaries probe Myanmar's religious strife". The Economist. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b Thomas Fuller (20 June 2013). "Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b "Facebook removes Myanmar monk's page for 'inflammatory posts' about Radical Islamists". Scroll.in. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  4. ^ Alan Strathern (1 May 2013). "Why are Buddhist monks attacking Muslims?". BBC.
  5. ^ Kate Hodal (28 April 2013). "Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma". The Guardian.
  6. ^ The Irrawaddy. "Nationalist Monk U Wirathu Denies Role in Anti-Muslim Unrest". Irrawaddy.com. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  7. ^ a b Gianluca Mezzofiore (26 March 2013). "Fanatical Buddhist Monk Saydaw Wirathu Calling for Boycott of Myanmar Muslims". International Business Times.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Kate Hodal (18 April 2013). "Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma - The Guardian". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Phyo Wai Lin, Jethro Mullen and Kocha Olarn (22 March 2013). "Armed Buddhists, including monks, clash with Muslims in Myanmar". CNN.
  10. ^ "Inteview with Myanmar's President". CNN. 24 May 2013.
  11. ^ "The Rohingya Saga". Korean Press News. 21 June 2013. Archived from the original on 3 September 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
  12. ^ Hannah Beech (1 July 2013). "The Face of Buddhist Terror". Time. Archived from the original on 21 June 2013.
  13. ^ "Militant Buddhist monks are stoking sectarian tensions in Myanmar". The Economist. 10 August 2017. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  14. ^ a b Khin Khin Ei (21 June 2013). "Myanmar Monk Rejects Terrorist Label Following Communal Clashes". Radio Free Asia.
  15. ^ "Radical Buddhist monk accused of inciting riots that have killed hundreds of Muslims". New York Post. 21 June 2013.
  16. ^ a b Hanna Hindstrom (26 June 2013). "Burma president backs anti-Muslim 'hate preacher' Wirathu". Democratic Voice of Burma. Archived from the original on 24 December 2018. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  17. ^ Hodal, Kate (18 April 2013). "Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma". The Guardian.
  18. ^ Shibani Mahtani and Myo Myo (22 July 2013). "Blast Near Monk Injures 5 in Myanmar". The Wall Street Journal.
  19. ^ "Burma police: Explosion near Wirathu sermon in Mandalay wounds 5". AP News. 22 July 2013.
  20. ^ Khin Maung Soe and Yadanar Oo (22 July 2013). "Myanmar's Nationalist Monk Claims Bombers Sought to 'Silence Him'". Radio Free Asia.
  21. ^ Shibani Mahtani (22 July 2013). "Myanmar Plan to Curb Interfaith Marriage Gains Support". The Wall Street Journal.
  22. ^ a b "Myanmar Buddhist committee bans anti-Muslim organizations". Reuters. 11 September 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
  23. ^ a b Fisher, Jonah (8 October 2015). "Myanmar's Ma Ba Tha monks flex their political muscle". BBC News. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
  24. ^ Tim Hume (22 January 2015). "Top U.N. official slams Myanmar monk over 'whore' comments". CNN.
  25. ^ "UN condemns Myanmar monk Wirathu's 'sexist' comments". BBC Asia. 22 January 2016.
  26. ^ Mangala Dilip (20 January 2015). "Anti-Muslim Myanmar Buddhist Monk Wirathu Calls UN Envoy 'Bitch and Whore'". International Business Times.
  27. ^ Maddie Smith (22 January 2016). "Myanmar's Extremist Monk Doesn't Regret Calling UN Envoy a 'Whore'". Vice News.
  28. ^ Zarni Mann "U Wirathu Leads Protest in Solidarity with Dhammakaya Temple", The Irrawaddy, Myanmar, 24 February 2017
  29. ^ EMG Reporter "Buddhist monk banned from preaching in Ayeyarwady" Archived 4 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Weekly Eleven, 11 March 2017
  30. ^ a b "Warrant issued for arrest of ultranationalist monk". The Myanmar Times. 30 May 2019. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  31. ^ "Gov't Weighs Legal Action against Monk for Speeches Attacking State Counselor". The Irrawaddy. 8 May 2019. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  32. ^ a b "Fugitive Myanmar monk gives himself up after 18 months on run". France 24 (with AFP). Retrieved 17 March 2021.
  33. ^ "Myanmar fugitive monk Wirathu hands himself in to face sedition charges". Deccan Herald. Reuters. 5 November 2020. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  34. ^ "Myanmar Junta Drops Sedition Case Against Firebrand Ultranationalist Monk". The Irrawaddy. 7 September 2021.

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