Myanmar gives official blessing to 969 movement
Contrary to generally held notions about Buddhism, in history there are several instances of Buddhists fighting back. Tibetan Buddhists defeated Chinese , but they let the defenses down and paid heavy price. Recently Sri Lankan Buddhists finally were able to eliminate LTTE in most bloody civil war. In 12 th century, when Moslems destroyed a Buddhist monastery in the area ,to day called Iran Buddhist King of Mongolia sent his army lef by his brother Sahajaguna, known in west as Halaku. Halaku attacked and destroyed Baghdad and captured Khalif who was responsible for attacks on Buddhists. Halaku was told if he spills blood of Khalif it will bring bad luck. So Halaku rolled the Khalif in a carpet and smothered him. Even Ashoka continued his campaigns even after he became a Buddhist. To day Buddhists in Myanmar or Burma are on war path to protect , preserve their culture, civilization and their country.
Only Gandhian appeasement is proved to be more pacific than Buddhism in adopting ' showing the other cheek' policy, which by the way no Christian country has ever followed . Hence Anantanag is turned into Islamabad, with almost all Hindus eliminated from Kashmir, only response so far is attempt to make W Bengal into another 'integral part ' of India like Kashmir. The jihad is in full swing there and thanks to vote bank politics , no justice is being done to its victims.
Apparently unlike in India, the Burmese , people and government feels differently, apparently not interested in self immolation in face of Jihad there. Please do see articles below.
Sent: Mon, Jul 1, 2013 11:10 am
Subject: [haindavakeralam] Myanmar gives official blessing to 969 movement
JUN 28, 2013.
Myanmar gives official blessing to 969 movement
Myanmar gives official blessing to anti-Muslim monks
Jun 28, 2013, 06.35AM IST Reuters
http://m.timesofindia.com/quickiearticleshow/msid-20808942.cmsIts chief proponent, a monk named Wirathu, was once jailed by the former military junta for anti-Muslim violence and once called himself the "Burmese bin Laden."YANGON: The Buddhist extremist movement in Myanmar, known as 969, portrays itself as a grassroots creed.
Its chief proponent, a monk named Wirathu, was once jailed by the former military junta for anti-Muslim violence and once called himself the "Burmese bin Laden."
But a Reuters examination traces 969's origins to an official in the dictatorship that once ran Myanmar, and which is the direct predecessor of today's reformist government. The 969 movement now enjoys support from senior government officials, establishment monks and even some members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Wirathu urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim shops and shun interfaith marriages. He calls mosques "enemy bases."
Among his admirers: Myanmar's minister of religious affairs.
"Wirathu's sermons are about promoting love and understanding between religions," Sann Sint, minister of religious affairs, told Reuters in his first interview with the international media. "It is impossible he is inciting religious violence."
Sann Sint, a former lieutenant general in Myanmar's army, also sees nothing wrong with the boycott of Muslim businesses being led by the 969 monks. "We are now practicing market economics," he said. "Nobody can stop that. It is up to the consumers."
President Thein Sein is signaling a benign view of 969, too. His office declined to comment for this story. But in response to growing controversy over the movement, it issued a statement Sunday, saying 969 "is just a symbol of peace" and Wirathu is "a son of Lord Buddha."
Wirathu and other monks have been closely linked to the sectarian violence spreading across Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Anti-Muslim unrest simmered under the junta that ran the country for nearly half a century. But the worst fighting has occurred since the quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011.
Two outbursts in Rakhine State last year killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims. A Reuters investigation found that organized attacks on Muslims last October were led by Rakhine nationalists incited by Buddhist monks and sometimes abetted by local security forces.
In March this year, at least 44 people died and 13,000 were displaced — again, mostly Muslims — during riots in Meikhtila, a city in central Myanmar. Reuters documented in April that the killings happened after monks led Buddhist mobs on a rampage. In May, Buddhists mobs burned and terrorized Muslim neighborhoods in the northern city of Lashio. Reports of unrest have since spread nationwide.
The numbers 969, innocuous in themselves, refer to attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood. But 969 monks have been providing the moral justification for a wave of anti-Muslim bloodshed that could scuttle Myanmar's nascent reform program. Another prominent 969 monk, Wimala Biwuntha, likens Muslims to a tiger who enters an ill-defended house to snatch away its occupants.
"Without discipline, we'll lose our religion and our race," he said in a recent sermon. "We might even lose our country."
Officially, Myanmar has no state religion, but its rulers have long put Buddhism first. Muslims make up an estimated 4 percent of the populace. Buddhism is followed by 90 percent of the country's 60 million people and is promoted by a special department within the ministry of religion created during the junta.
Monks play a complex part in Burmese politics. They took a central role in pro-democracy "Saffron Revolution" uprisings against military rule in 2007. The generals — who included current President Thein Sein and most senior members of his government — suppressed them. Now, Thein Sein's ambitious program of reforms has ushered in new freedoms of speech and assembly, liberating the country's roughly 500,000 monks. They can travel at will to spread Buddhist teachings, including 969 doctrine.
In Burma's nascent democracy, the monks have emerged as a political force in the run-up to a general election scheduled for 2015. Their new potency has given rise to a conspiracy theory here: The 969 movement is controlled by disgruntled hardliners from the previous junta, who are fomenting unrest to derail the reforms and foil an election landslide by Suu Kyi's NLD.
No evidence has emerged to support this belief. But some in the government say there is possibly truth to it.
"Some people are very eager to reform, some people don't want to reform," Soe Thein, one of President Thein Sein's two closest advisors, told Reuters. "So, regarding the sectarian violence, some people may be that side — the anti-reform side."
Even if 969 isn't controlled by powerful hardliners, it has broad support, both in high places and at the grass roots, where it is a genuine and growing movement.
Officials offer tacit backing, said Wimala, the 969 monk. "By letting us give speeches to protect our religion and race, I assume they are supporting us," he said.
The Yangon representative of the Burmese Muslim Association agreed. "The anti-Muslim movement is growing and the government isn't stopping it," said Myo Win, a Muslim teacher. Myo Win likened 969 to the Ku Klux Klan.
The religion minister, Sann Sint, said the movement doesn't have official state backing. But he defended Wirathu and other monks espousing the creed.
"I don't think they are preaching to make problems," he said.
Local authorities, too, have lent the movement some backing.
Its logo — now one of Myanmar's most recognizable — bears the Burmese numerals 969, a chakra wheel and four Asiatic lions representing the ancient Buddhist emperor Ashoka. Stickers with the logo are handed out free at speeches. They adorn shops, homes, taxis and souvenir stalls at the nation's most revered Buddhist pagoda, the Shwedagon. They are a common sight in areas plagued by unrest.
Some authorities treat the symbol with reverence. A court in Bago, a region near Yangon hit by anti-Muslim violence this year, jailed a Muslim man for two years in April after he removed a 969 sticker from a betel-nut shop. He was sentenced under a section of Burma's colonial-era Penal Code, which outlaws "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings".
The 969 movement's ties to the state date back to the creed's origins. Wimala, Wirathu and other 969 preachers credit its creation to the late Kyaw Lwin, an ex-monk, government official and prolific writer, now largely forgotten outside religious circles.
Myanmar's former dictators handpicked Kyaw Lwin to promote Buddhism after the brutal suppression of the 1988 democracy uprising. Thousands were killed or injured after soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters, including monks. Later, to signal their disgust, monks refused to accept alms from military families for three months, a potent gesture in devoutly Buddhist Myanmar.
Afterwards, the military set about co-opting Buddhism in an effort to tame rebellious monks and repair its image. Monks were registered and their movements restricted. State-run media ran almost daily reports of generals overseeing temple renovations or donating alms to abbots.
In 1991, the junta created a Department for the Promotion and Propagation of the Sasana (DPPS), a unit within the Religion Ministry, and appointed Kyaw Lwin as its head. Sasana means "religion" in Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism; in Burma, the word is synonymous with Buddhism itself.
The following year, the DPPS published "How To Live As A Good Buddhist," a distillation of Kyaw Lwin's writings. It was republished in 2000 as "The Best Buddhist," its cover bearing an early version of the 969 logo.
Kyaw Lwin stepped down in 1992. The current head is Khine Aung, a former military officer.
Kyaw Lwin's widow and son still live in his modest home in central Yangon. Its living room walls are lined with shelves of Kyaw Lwin's books and framed photos of him as a monk and meditation master.
Another photo shows Kyaw Lwin sharing a joke with Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, then chief of military intelligence and one of Myanmar's most feared men. Kyaw Lwin enjoyed close relations with other junta leaders, said his son, Aung Lwin Tun, 38, a car importer. He was personally instructed to write "The Best Buddhist" by the late Saw Maung, then Myanmar's senior-most general. He met "often" to discuss religion with ex-dictator Than Shwe, who retired in March 2011 and has been out of the public eye since then.
"The Best Buddhist" is out of print, but Aung Lwin Tun plans to republish it. "Many people are asking for it now," he said. He supports today's 969 movement, including its anti-Muslim boycott. "It's like building a fence to protect our religion," he said.
Also supporting 969 is Kyaw Lwin's widow, 65, whose name was withheld at the family's request. She claimed that Buddhists who marry Muslims are forced at their weddings to tread on an image of Buddha, and that the ritual slaughter of animals by Shi'ite Muslims makes it easier for them to kill humans.
Among the monks Kyaw Lwin met during his time as DPPS chief was Wiseitta Biwuntha, who hailed from the town of Kyaukse, near the northern cultural capital of Mandalay. Better known as Wirathu, he is today one of the 969's most incendiary leaders.
Wirathu and Kyaw Lwin stayed in touch after their 1992 meeting, said Aung Lwin Tun, who believed his father would admire Wirathu's teachings. "He is doing what other people won't — protecting and promoting the religion."
Kyaw Lwin died in 2001, aged 70. That same year, Wirathu began preaching about 969, and the US State Department reported "a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence" in Myanmar. Anti-Muslim sentiment was stoked in March 2001 by the Taliban's destruction of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and in September by al Qaeda's attacks in the United States.
Two years later, Wirathu was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in jail for distributing anti-Muslim pamphlets that incited communal riots in his hometown. At least 10 Muslims were killed by a Buddhist mob, according to a State Department report. The 969 movement had spilled its first blood.
969 versus 786
Wirathu was freed in 2011 during an amnesty for political prisoners. While the self-styled "Burmese bin Laden" has become the militant face of 969, the movement derives evangelical energy from monks in Mon, a coastal state where people pride themselves on being Myanmar's first Buddhists. Since last year's violence they have organized a network across the nation. They led a boycott last year of a Muslim-owned bus company in Moulmein, Mon's capital. Extending that boycott nationwide has become a central 969 goal.
Muslims held many senior government positions after Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948. That changed in 1962, when the military seized power and stymied the hiring and promoting of Muslim officials. The military drew on popular prejudices that Muslims dominated business and used their profits to build mosques, buy Buddhist wives and spread Islamic teachings.
All this justified the current boycott of Muslim businesses, said Zarni Win Tun, a 31-year-old lawyer and 969 devotee, who said Muslims had long shunned Buddhist businesses. "We didn't start the boycott — they did," she said. "We're just using their methods."
By that she means the number 786, which Muslims of South Asian origin often display on their homes and businesses. It is a numerical representation of the Islamic blessing, "In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful". But Buddhists in Myanmar — a country obsessed by numerology — claim the sum of the three numbers signifies a Muslim plan for world domination in the 21st century.
It is possible to understand why some Buddhists might believe this. Religious and dietary customs prohibit Muslims from frequenting Buddhist restaurants, for example. Muslims also dominate some small- and medium-sized business sectors. The names of Muslim-owned construction companies — Naing Group, Motherland, Fatherland — are winning extra prominence now that Yangon is experiencing a reform-era building boom.
However, the biggest construction firms — those involved in multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects — are run by tycoons linked to members of the former dictatorship. They are Buddhists.
Buddhist clients have canceled contracts with Muslim-owned construction companies in northern Yangon, fearing attacks by 969 followers on the finished buildings, said Shwe Muang, a Muslim MP with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. "I worry that if this starts in one township it will infect others," he said.
'Our lives are not safe'
For Zarni Win Tun, the 969 devotee, shunning Muslims is a means of ensuring sectarian peace. She points to the Meikhtila violence, which was sparked by an argument between Buddhist customers and a Muslim gold-shop owner. "If they'd bought from their own people, the problem wouldn't have happened," she said.
Her conviction that segregation is the solution to sectarian strife is echoed in national policy. A total of at least 153,000 Muslims have been displaced in the past year after the violence in Rakhine and in central Myanmar. Most are concentrated in camps guarded by the security forces with little hope of returning to their old lives.
A few prominent monks have publicly criticized the 969 movement, and some Facebook users have launched a campaign to boycott taxis displaying its stickers. Some Yangon street stalls have started selling 969 CDs more discreetly since the Meikhtila bloodbath. The backlash has otherwise been muted.
Wimala, the Mon monk, shrugged off criticism from fellow monks. "They shouldn't try to stop us from doing good things," he said.
In mid-June, he and Wirathu attended a hundreds-strong monastic convention near Yangon, where Wirathu presented a proposal to restrict Buddhist women from marrying Muslim men.
In another sign 969 is going mainstream, Wirathu's bid was supported by Dhammapiya, a US-educated professor at the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Yangon, a respected institution with links to other Buddhist universities in Asia.
Dhammapiya described 969 as a peaceful movement that is helping Myanmar through a potentially turbulent transition. "The 969 issue for us is no issue," Dhammapiya told Reuters. "Buddhists always long to live in peace and harmony."
No mosques here
The only mass movement to rival 969 is the National League for Democracy. Their relationship is both antagonistic and complementary.
In a speech posted on YouTube in late March, Wirathu said the party and Suu Kyi's inner circle were dominated by Muslims. "If you look at NLD offices in any town, you will see bearded people," he said. Followers of Wimala told Reuters they had removed photos of Suu Kyi — a devout Buddhist — from their homes to protest her apparent reluctance to speak up for Buddhists affected by last year's violence in Rakhine. Suu Kyi's reticence on sectarian violence has also angered Muslims.
The Burmese Muslim Association has accused NLD members of handing out 969 materials in Yangon.
Party spokesman Nyan Win said "some NLD members" were involved in the movement. "But the NLD cannot interfere with the freedoms or rights of members," he said. "They all have the right to do what they want in terms of social affairs."
Min Thet Lin, 36, a taxi driver, is exercising that right. The front and back windows of his car are plastered with 969 stickers. He is also an NLD leader in Thaketa, a working-class Yangon township known for anti-Muslim sentiment.
In February, Buddhist residents of Thaketa descended upon an Islamic school in Min Thet Lin's neighborhood which they claimed was being secretly converted into a mosque. Riot police were deployed while the structure was demolished.
A month later, Wimala and two other Mon monks visited Thaketa to give Buddhists what a promotional leaflet called "dhamma medicine" — that is, three days of 969 sermons. "Don't give up the fight," urged the leaflet.
Today, the property is sealed off and guarded by police. "People don't want a mosque here," said Min Thet Lin.
As he spoke, 969's pop anthem, "Song to Whip Up Religious Blood," rang over the rooftops. A nearby monastic school was playing the song for enrolling pupils.
BURMESE LEADER DEFENDS 'ANTI MUSLIM' MONK ASHIN WIRATHU
He organised protests in support of Buddhists in Rakhine stateSource : BBC.co.uk / 27 June 2013
Burmese President Thein Sein has defended a Buddhist monk accused of fomenting a wave of anti-Muslim violence in the country.
US Time magazine currently has Ashin Wirathu on its front cover under the title "The face of Buddhist terror".
Thein Sein said the report undermined efforts to rebuild trust between faiths and that the monk's order was striving for peace and prosperity.
The monk has called Muslims a scourge threatening Burma's Buddhist character.
A statement on the president's website said the Time magazine report "creates a misunderstanding of Buddhism, which has existed for thousands of years and is the religion of the majority of our citizens".
"The government is currently striving with religious leaders, political parties, media and the people to rid Myanmar [Burma] of unwanted conflicts,"it added.
The report was also condemned online, with a petition started over the weekend gaining close to 40,000 signatories on Monday.
Ashin Wirathu, 45, was jailed in 2003 for inciting anti-Muslim violence but was released last year as part of a prisoner amnesty.
He organised protests in support of Buddhists in Rakhine state, where violence broke out in 2012 and left at least 200 people dead and thousands displaced.
Earlier this year, central Burma saw violence between Buddhists and Muslims, which left more than 40 people dead, most of them Muslims, in March.
Ashin Wirathu's anti-Muslim sentiments are very widely shared by the Buddhist majority, and while the authorities have jailed hundreds of Muslims for involvement in the violence, very few Buddhists have been prosecuted, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.
Burma bans Time Magazine’s ‘Buddhist Terror’ edition
Published: 26 June 2013Burma bans controversial Time Magazine cover depicting a prominent anti-Muslim monk
Burma bans controversial Time Magazine cover depicting the prominent anti-Muslim monk Wirathu as the "Face of Buddhist Terror" (edited 1 July Time cover)
Burma late Tuesday banned a controversial Time magazine cover story on Buddhist-Muslim religious violence “to prevent further conflict”, according to a government spokesman, after days of angry reaction to the article.
The ban of the piece, which carried a front page photograph of a prominent radical Buddhist monk accused of fuelling anti-Muslim violence with the headline ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’, comes despite the apparent easing of censorship rules in a reforming nation whose former military regime closely controlled the media.
Government spokesman Ye Htut posted news of the ban on his Facebook page, attributing the decision to a committee investigating deadly religious violence that has rocked the country as it undergoes democratic reforms.
“The article entitled ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’ in Time magazine 1 July issue is prohibited from being produced, sold or and distributed in original copy or photocopy in order to prevent further racial and religious conflicts,” Ye Htut’s post said, adding that further details will be in Wednesday’s newspapers.
It was unclear how the front cover and accompanying article will be censored in print and online. Under the junta articles deemed inflammatory or dissenting were often torn from newspapers and magazines or inked out altogether.
Social media users in the former junta-ruled nation have voiced dismay at the front page, which shows a photograph of Mandalay monk Wirathu, whose anti-Muslim remarks have come under scrutiny following a wave of deadly religious violence.
The presidential office on Sunday said it “creates a misunderstanding of Buddhism” and undercut efforts to dampen tensions after two major bouts of violence in which scores have died — mainly Muslims — and thousands been driven from their homes by mobs.
The use of the words “Buddhist” and “Terror” in the article upset all followers of the faith, which is peaceful “and not for terrorists,” a message accompanying an online petition which had garnered more than 60,000 names said late Tuesday.
Eye-witnesses to violence which flared in March in central Burma said people dressed in monks’ robes were involved in the unrest.
Radical monks have led a campaign to shun shops owned by Muslims. Wirathu has also called for a law to restrict marriages between Buddhist women and men of other faiths.
Senior monks, however, have accused foreign media of one-sided reporting of the Buddhist-Muslim conflict.
Several episodes of religious fighting have exposed deep rifts in the Buddhist-majority country and cast a shadow over widely praised political reforms since military rule ended two years ago.
In March at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Burma with thousands of homes set ablaze.
Communal unrest last year in the western state of Arakan left about 200 people dead and up to 140,000 displaced, mainly Rohingya Muslims.
Myanmar Anti-Muslim Violence Fueled By 969 Radical Buddhist Movement
By TODD PITMAN and GRANT PECK 05/31/13 10:14 PM ET EDT AP
http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1166984/thumbs/r-MYANMAR-ANTI-MUSLIM-VIOLENCE-969-large570.jpg?6Letters '969", an extreme-Buddhist movement that is blamed for inciting the Buddhists against the Muslims in Myanmar, written in Burmese on a locked shop door, indicates the shop owner's loyalty towards Buddhists following sectarian violence in Lashio, northern Shan State, Myanmar, Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
LASHIO, Myanmar — When a huge mob of Buddhist thugs crawled on the roof of Ma Sandar Soe's shop, doused it with gasoline and set it ablaze, the Buddhist businesswoman didn't blame them for burning it to the ground despite seeing it happen with her own eyes.
Instead, her wrath was reserved for minority Muslims she accused of igniting Myanmar's latest round of sectarian unrest.
"This happened because of the Muslims," she declared, sifting through charred CDs in the ruins of her recording studio.
As Myanmar grapples with its transition to democracy, its Muslim minority is experiencing its perils in vivid, bloody fashion. Hundreds have died since last year as victims of sectarian strife.
In the country's latest round of Buddhist-Muslim violence, swarms of Buddhist men roamed Lashio's crumbling streets this week, armed with rocks and sticks and machetes. Before police and army troops stepped in, anarchic crowds had torched scores of Muslim-owned shops, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky. By the time it all ended, at least one person was dead and the town's Muslim community cowered in their homes in fear.
Ma Sandar Soe's studio fell victim because it sat in the shadow of the mob's main target – Lashio's mosque. As orange flames leapt from the ashes, she explained her rationale for pointing the finger at Muslims: The Buddhist mob was provoked by reports that a Muslim man from out of town tried to burn a Buddhist woman alive. The woman survived, badly burned, and the man was arrested.
But the roots of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, also called Burma, are far deeper and more complex than any single incident in any single town.
"There is a deep, underlying prejudice there. Even when Buddhists say they have Muslim friends, they call them `kalar' and other derogatory terms," said Mark Farmaner of London-based Burma Campaign UK, a democracy promotion group. "That prejudice is easily exploited, and it's a cancer that is now spreading."
"Successive military regimes have implanted the dislike of Muslims in the mind of the general public and enacted ad hoc and de facto discriminatory restrictions," said Sai Latt, a doctoral candidate at Canada's Simon Fraser University who has written extensively on Muslims in Myanmar.
Myanmar society has been in a state of flux since a nominally democratic government came to power in 2011 after almost five decades of harsh military rule. A liberalized economy has accompanied the political changes. And the advent of democracy has enabled hate speech to flourish.
"There are so few sanctions now on those who provide contrarian or critical or indeed radical ideas about how society should be structured," said Nicholas Farrelly, a research fellow at Australian National University. "There is this awakening of different sentiments; some of those are very progressive and democratic, in other cases they are profoundly reactionary and or authoritarian in spirit."
Into the breach has stepped a phalanx of well-organized Buddhist monks. Aside from their religious standing, their credibility derives from historically playing a vanguard role in politics – once upon a time against British colonial rule, in more recent decades against military dictatorship.
Describing themselves as nationalists, their sermons no longer target the powerful, but instead play on deep-seated fears of the darker-skinned outsiders, Muslims of South Asian heritage who allegedly pose a threat to racial purity and national security.
Preaching all over the country, even in areas with no discernible Muslim populations, monks belonging to the radical Buddhist movement called 969 urge Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses and not to marry, sell property to or hire Muslims. They accuse Muslims of rape, terrorism and other depredations. The group's graffiti, T-shirts and stickers are seen everywhere – including Lashio.
"Many within the government and those close to the government share anti-Muslim sentiments and fears," said Sai Latt. "Many believe 969 is only an economic nationalist movement. They don't seem to see that 969's economic nationalism is actually a crime – spreading hate messages – that is implanting hate that prompts deadly clashes."
Some suggest the anti-Muslim campaign has covert official backing, perhaps from hard-liners seeking to weaken President Thein Sein and his reform agenda.
"The violence is well-organized and appears to be a continuous campaign to spark fires across the country, creating instability, which would suggest it has the backing of political forces," said Benedict Rogers of London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which promotes religious tolerance.
"However, conspiracy theories must not be used as an excuse to ignore the deeper issues within society," he said. "If there was no prejudice within society, it would be much harder to orchestrate this violence."
Muslims are not major power brokers in Myanmar, but in any given town, some strike high commercial profiles, and they are often seen by many Buddhists as members of a wealthy merchant class. One of Lashio's most prominent hotels, for example, a six-story building that sits on a hilltop, is owned by a Muslim businessman who also runs cinemas and other shops that were ransacked this week by mobs.
The violence against Muslims first erupted a year ago on the distant southwestern coast, but it has since spread to the country's central heartland, to the outskirts of the largest city, Yangon, and now, with the riots in Lashio, to the hilly northeast along the Chinese border.
Not all monks have taken part in 969, and some say it is only a small and extremist element that doesn't represent Buddhist religion as a whole. Some prominent monks, including Gambira – who helped lead the so-called Saffron uprising against the military in 2007 – have also openly criticized the movement.
In Lashio, where more than 1,200 displaced Muslims are taking shelter in one of the city's main Buddhist monasteries, monk Pannya Sar Mi says the mobs who attacked Muslim shops this week were "terrorists."
"What happened here isn't about Buddhists or Muslims," he says. "It's about bad people doing bad things."
However, Pannya Sar Mi pointedly refused to criticize 969, saying he doesn't know much about it.
Thein Sein's administration has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to protect Muslims, but in Lashio the army's intervention appears to have stemmed further violence, indicating authorities may have learned from past riots. They deployed trucks of troops throughout the city and security forces cracked down hard on mobs. At least 25 men were arrested, one of whom was dragged from a checkpoint by his hair.
Muslims here have been shocked that the attack on one Buddhist woman by a Muslim man from out of town could spark such violence. The government issued a statement saying the assault was not religiously motivated, and there is some evidence suggesting the man suffered from mental disturbances.
Nu Nu, a 19-year-old Muslim woman who was helping her brother load salvaged television sets from their charred electronics shop, said the hatred was hard to comprehend since there had been no open animosity before.
"Most of this violence is against Muslims," she said. "But we don't understand it. We didn't do anything to them."
A 29-year-old sister of the woman who was burned said she felt horrible that the attack on her sibling spurred citywide unrest. She declined to be identified for safety reasons.
"I feel sorry for them," she said of Lashio's Muslim population. "Only the criminals should be punished. There should be no more victims. I don't want any of the good Muslims to be hurt."
But, like Ma Sandar Soe, she said she understood the Buddhist outrage.
As smoke rose from the wreckage of an entire corner of downtown, including the blackened hulk of a three-story building just a few steps from the surgical ward where her sister was recovering with severe burns across her face and body, she said, "In our country, the problems are always started by the Muslims."
Peck reported from Bangkok, Thailand. Associated Press writer Aye Aye Win in Yangon contributed to this report. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/31/myanmar-anti-muslim-violence-969-movement_n_3366863.html?view=print&comm_ref=false
Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists
Adam Dean for The New York Times
Buddhist monasteries associated with the fundamentalist movement, which calls itself 969, have opened community centers and a Sunday school program for children nationwide. More Photos »
By THOMAS FULLER
Published: June 20, 2013 217 Comments
TAUNGGYI, Myanmar — After a ritual prayer atoning for past sins, Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk with a rock-star following in Myanmar, sat before an overflowing crowd of thousands of devotees and launched into a rant against what he called “the enemy” — the country’s Muslim minority.
Radical Buddhism Ascendant in Myanmarhttp://twitter.com/#!/nytimesworld
“You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ashin Wirathu said, referring to Muslims.
“I call them troublemakers, because they are troublemakers,” Ashin Wirathu told a reporter after his two-hour sermon. “I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist.”
The world has grown accustomed to a gentle image of Buddhism defined by the self-effacing words of the Dalai Lama, the global popularity of Buddhist-inspired meditation and postcard-perfect scenes from Southeast Asia and beyond of crimson-robed, barefoot monks receiving alms from villagers at dawn.
But over the past year, images of rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords and the vituperative sermons of monks like Ashin Wirathu have underlined the rise of extreme Buddhism in Myanmar — and revealed a darker side of the country’s greater freedoms after decades of military rule. Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.
Ashin Wirathu denies any role in the riots. But his critics say that at the very least his anti-Muslim preaching is helping to inspire the violence.
What began last year on the fringes of Burmese society has grown into a nationwide movement whose agenda now includes boycotts of Muslim-made goods. 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.
The hate-filled speeches and violence have endangered Myanmar’s path to democracy, raising questions about the government’s ability to keep the country’s towns and cities safe and its willingness to crack down or prosecute Buddhists in a Buddhist-majority country. The killings have also reverberated in Muslim countries across the region, tarnishing what was almost universally seen abroad as a remarkable and rare peaceful transition from military rule to democracy. In May, the Indonesian authorities foiled what they said was a plot to bomb the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta in retaliation for the assaults on Muslims.
Ashin Wirathu, the spiritual leader of the radical movement, skates a thin line between free speech and incitement, taking advantage of loosened restrictions on expression during a fragile time of transition. He was himself jailed for eight years by the now-defunct military junta for inciting hatred. Last year, as part of a release of hundreds of political prisoners, he was freed.
In his recent sermon, he described the reported massacre of schoolchildren and other Muslim inhabitants in the central city of Meiktila in March, documented by a human rights group, as a show of strength.
“If we are weak,” he said, “our land will become Muslim.”
Buddhism would seem to have a secure place in Myanmar. Nine in 10 people are Buddhist, as are nearly all the top leaders in the business world, the government, the military and the police. Estimates of the Muslim minority range from 4 percent to 8 percent of Myanmar’s roughly 55 million people while the rest are mostly Christian or Hindu.
But Ashin Wirathu, who describes himself as a nationalist, says Buddhism is under siege by Muslims who are having more children than Buddhists and buying up Buddhist-owned land. In part, he is tapping into historical grievances that date from British colonial days when Indians, many of them Muslims, were brought into the country as civil servants and soldiers.
The muscular and nationalist messages he has spread have alarmed Buddhists in other countries.
The Dalai Lama, after the riots in March, said killing in the name of religion was “unthinkable” and urged Myanmar’s Buddhists to contemplate the face of the Buddha for guidance.
Phra Paisal Visalo, a Buddhist scholar and prominent monk in neighboring Thailand, says the notion of “us and them” promoted by Myanmar’s radical monks is anathema to Buddhism. But he lamented that his criticism and that of other leading Buddhists outside the country have had “very little impact.”
“Myanmar monks are quite isolated and have a thin relationship with Buddhists in other parts of the world,” Phra Paisal said. One exception is Sri Lanka, another country historically bedeviled by ethnic strife. Burmese monks have been inspired by the assertive political role played by monks from Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority.
As Myanmar has grown more polarized, there have been nascent signs of a backlash against the anti-Muslim preaching.
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 the abbot of Pauk Jadi monastery, Ashin Nyana Nika, 55, who attended a meeting earlier this month sponsored by Muslim groups to discuss the issue. (Ashin is the honorific for Burmese monks.) Ashin Sanda Wara, the head of a monastic school in Yangon, says the monks in the country are divided nearly equally between moderates and extremists.
He considers himself in the moderate camp. But as a measure of the deeply ingrained suspicions toward Muslims in the society, he said he was “afraid of Muslims because their population is increasing so rapidly.”
Ashin Wirathu has tapped into that anxiety, which some describe as the “demographic pressures” coming from neighboring Bangladesh. There is wide disdain in Myanmar for a group of about one million stateless Muslims, who call themselves Rohingya, some of whom migrated from Bangladesh. Clashes between the Rohingya and Buddhists last year in western Myanmar roiled the Buddhist community and appear to have played a role in later outbreaks of violence throughout the country. Ashin Wirathu said they served as his inspiration to spread his teachings.
The theme song to Ashin Wirathu’s movement speaks of people who “live in our land, drink our water, and are ungrateful to us.”
“We will build a fence with our bones if necessary,” runs the song’s refrain. Muslims are not explicitly mentioned in the song but Ashin Wirathu said the lyrics refer to them. Pamphlets handed out at his sermon demonizing Muslims said that “Myanmar is currently facing a most dangerous and fearful poison that is severe enough to eradicate all civilization.”
Many in Myanmar speculate, without offering proof, that Ashin Wirathu is allied with hard-line Buddhist elements in the country who want to harness the nationalism of his movement to rally support ahead of elections in 2015. Ashin Wirathu denies any such links.
But the government has done little to rein him in. During Ashin Wirathu’s visit here in Taunggyi, traffic policemen cleared intersections for his motorcade.
Once inside the monastery, as part of a highly choreographed visit, his followers led a procession through crowds of followers who prostrated themselves as he passed.
Ashin Wirathu’s movement calls itself 969, three digits that monks say symbolize the virtues of the Buddha, Buddhist practices and the Buddhist community.
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.
In Mawlamyine, a multicultural city southeast of Yangon, a monastery linked to the 969 movement has established the courses of Buddhist instruction for children, which it calls “Sunday dhamma schools.” Leaders of the monasteries there seek to portray their campaign as a sort of Buddhist revivalist movement.
“The main thing is that our religion and our nationality don’t disappear,” said Ashin Zadila, a senior monk at the Myazedi Nanoo monastery outside the city.
Yet despite efforts at describing the movement as nonthreatening, many Muslims are worried.
Two hours before Ashin Wirathu rolled into Taunggyi in a motorcade that included 60 honking motorcycles, Tun Tun Naing, a Muslim vendor in the city’s central market, spoke of the visit in a whisper.
“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.”
Wai Moe contributed reporting from Mandalay and Yangon, Myanmar, and Poypiti Amatatham from Bangkok.