24 Jun 2013

Buddhist monk leads violent national campaign against Myanmar's Muslims

The Buddhist monk arrived wrapped in saffron-colored robes with an entourage of muscular, younger monks who guarded him and hung on his every word at the sprawling monastery he runs and where his divisive, anti-Muslim teaching is gaining a strong following. The monk, Ashin Wirathu, was unapologetic when asked about his role at the center of a rising tide of Buddhist extremism that has crested in a wave of anti-Muslim violence resulting in the deaths of more than 200 people and displacement of some 150,000 from their homes in recent months.

Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu

“Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind. Even though they are minorities here, we are suffering under the burden they bring us,” Wirathu, 48, said in a rare and wide-ranging interview with GlobalPost on Thursday. “Because the Burmese people and the Buddhists are devoured every day, the national religion needs to be protected,” he said, announcing that he would push for a ban on interfaith marriage before the next parliamentary session and vowing to continue the so-called “969” campaign that calls for Buddhists to only do business with other Buddhists and exclude Muslims who have a strong tradition as merchants in Myanmar.

Burma - ethnic war

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is made of eight major ethnic groups, but 90 percent of the population is Buddhist. About 5 percent of the population is Muslim and the rest are a mix of Christian and Hindu. Muslims live throughout the country, as they were merchants along the trade routes between India and China. They have settled in waves of immigration from throughout the Muslim world and neighboring India since at least the 19th century. More recently, Muslims are coming across the border from Bangladesh in search of work and opportunity in Burma’s Rakhine State, where much of the recent violence has been centered.

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