‘Myanmar’s Anti-Muslim Monks’

I don’t know much about the makers of this short report, ‘Myanmar’s Anti-Muslim Monks’ but it contains some excellent interviews. The one with U Wirathu is worth quoting:

Our religion is not the only thing under threat, the whole country is. Just as they established Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the 2010s they’re stepping up efforts to establish an Islamic State in Burma. So the whole country is now under threat, not only our faith.

These rather chilling sentiments are followed by more passive and reasonable voices from within the Burmese Buddhist Sangha.

Off the Cushion: EPISODE #7: “When Does Ethnocentric Buddhism Become Buddhist Terror?”

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I had the pleasure in taking part in an episode of the excellent Rev. Danny Fisher’s ‘Off the Cushion’ series. Episode 7 is on the topic of “When Does Ethnocentric Buddhism Become Buddhist Terror?”

This week, as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for his second visit to Burma, we look at the escalating violence against Rohingya Muslims by Burmese Buddhists in the country. Dr. Paul Fuller talks to us about his proposed term for understanding this phenomenon: “Ethnocentric Buddhism.” In addition, Myra Dahgaypaw, Campaigns Coordinator for the U.S. Campaign for Burma, pulls back the curtain on the much-discussed 969 Movement and its leader U Wirathu. Plus: United to End Genocide’s Director of Policy and Government Relations, Daniel P. Sullivan, tells us about the #JustSayTheirName campaign and how it might help stop this conflict.

A very big thank you for Danny for inviting me to contribute. I’m also very grateful for the opportunity to consider some of these ideas with Myra Dahgaypaw and Daniel P. Sullivan.

Speech by the Ven. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thero of the BBS

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The speech given last week at the Great Assembly in Sri Lanka by Ven. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thero, the leader of the Bodu Bala Sena has appeared online. This is the same assembly at which U Wirathu appeared, as is clear from the text of the speech. This is the meting that formed the basis of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Bodu Bala Sena of Sri Lanka and 969 of Burma (pictured above).

It is translated by C. Wijeyawickrema. As he explains, it is not approved by the Bodu Bala Sena and in brackets appear his own interjections and explanations which I have left in the text below.

It appears here without comment here for those wishing to have access to these developments in South and Southeast Asian Buddhism.

‘Ven. Gnanasara message to the world

  1. We met the challenge and we are now challenging the challengers!

Within 2+ years we defeated all forces acting in collusion to kill us; these forces even played tricks to separate our president Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi from us; English media write such ugly, dirty, venomous things against us because unlike in the Islamic world, we do not ask for the heads of those who write such nasty unreasonable things.

  1. We do not get money from Norway or from any other organization. We are helped by dedicated people who appreciate and value our service.Young Sri Lankans working long hours in South Korea treated us like kings when we visited them for 6 days and collected money for us for this Conference. Good people are there, they are like Kalu Nika.

We know that some monks had no money for their bus fare and sold their Atapirikara to come to this Conference. We know some had to wake up at 3:00 in the morning to come here.

  1. We cleared, cleaned and sanitized the Sri Lankan jungle, a society gone wild and crazy. Our roots, bases of our Sinhala Buddhist civilization, are severely damaged or got severed during the past 66 years due to stupid acts of politicians.Party politics has been the bane of our country.
  2. We have now prepared the country for the intellectuals, the educated, to fulfil their part of the bargain. They should no longer try to sit on the fence or evade responsibility and their duty. It is sad and unfortunate that the Sinhalayas are so scared to talk about their rights.Prabhakaran fought for a country with only 12% Tamils, Muslims fight with only 6%. But the Sinhalayas are so timid despite being 71% of the population.
  3. It was the wish of Ven. Dharmapala to bring together Buddhist countries in Asia, and on his 150th anniversary, we fulfilled his wish by establishing links with Nepal, Myanmar, Ladak/Jammu Kashmir and the Dalai Lama.
  4. We will help the Hindu Assembly to save Tamils from people like Ryappu Joseph’s Christian Fundamentalism. That is our duty. In Deniyaya an entire Tamil village was converted to Islam. Is this not an Islamic invasion? Traditional Muslims appeal for our help as they are also threatened by the Arabic Jihadism.
  5. Those who attack us do not know what is meant by the name Bodu Bala Sena.Our leader is the Lord Buddha. Our Sena is male and female monks and male and female laity.  So BBS leader cannot be removed by any force on this earth.
  6. We are blamed for using harsh language. We are blamed for not preaching bana like in a temple. We found that so many senior monks are keeping quite or silent indulging in worldly pleasures, receiving favors from those in power. After making requests, appeals for two years we found that it was necessary to act aggressively (militantly). It is like the bell in a temple (or the bell tower Amish people use in their communities in America to signal harm). We had to ring it loud and long.  We are swimming upstream (Patisothagaami); loud screams are inevitable. We ought to strengthen the backbones of these sleeping Sinhalayas.
  7. We are joined by the Ravana Balakaaya and the Sinhala Ravaya. There were 108 unethical religious conversion units in 2004, now there are 400+ and growing. UNP has as its treasure, the leader of the Assembly of God, the voracious Christian Fundamentalist group priest, Erin Wickremaratne, appointed as a UNP list MP. He has over 400 such assembly huts. And UNP blames us for doing politics! In Talahena we found three such Christians erecting illegal churches, all three were employees of the American embassy in Colombo!

Nobody (such as Wijedasa Rajapaksa of UNP) talks about Erin’s Assembly or the Salvation Army.

  1. Sri Lankan governments, all Sri Lankan presidents, should be ashamed of what they have done.  Except two or three, Sinhala, Sinhala Buddhist, MPs are silent like frozen rocks. Executive presidency is used to grab power to thrive personally, to stay in power. If they are, the GOSL and the opposition parties, not willing to change, we must and we will change them all.  BBS warns Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremasinha and Kuara Dissanayaka, to change or get ready to be ousted.
  2. These politicians used Buddhist monks as if how people use an umbrella (thrown under the bed after the rain) or the stick used to clean teeth (this writer identifies it as the treatment given to a kind-hearted woman by politicians). Politicians are opportunists. They give some excuse and avoid the issue. They trick us saying wait until this election is over, wait until Geneva vote is over etc. etc.
  3. We now know for sure that Islam fundamentalism is a cancer. Some such people in Colombo sent two documents to Geneva. Even if a Sinhala man bumped on to a Muslim on the pavement, it is reported as discrimination in these books! How can GOSL allow such documents go to Geneva slandering Sinhala Buddhists?
  4. There is Islam expansion and there is Islam invasion/aggression. There are over 100 Islam organizations in Sri Lanka (there are only 23 Buddhist organizations). They get Sharia law introduced one piece at a time by laws passed in the parliament. Nobody knows and nobody is concerned. Who gave authority to Ajith Cabraal of the Central Bank to open up Sharia bank in the country?Except the Sampath Bank, 8 other bank groups have Sharia banks.

During the past 3 years over 3,000 Sinhala girls got converted to Islam by involuntary means. Muslim girls are not allowed to marry non-Muslims.

Shoora Councils and Ulema companies are in Arab countries to advise Arab rulers. Why we have them in Sri Lanka? ( Even a picture of Buddha not allowed in these Arab dictatorships.)

Are we not getting stabbed behind the back for our compassion and our tolerant behavior?

Our politicians have no backbone. But our monks who saved this country for 2,300 years have their backbones intact.

  1. We faced a total blackout from local media.  But we are lucky to have the new social media, the Face Book, e-mail and the Internet. Hundreds of thousands of younger people are listening to us and are with us.
  2. BBS has begun an ideological struggle. We left the Jataka Pota in the temple library and postponed our meditating towards Nirvana (this is Engaged Buddhism now spreading in the West). We created a fertile soil for the rejuvenation of our nation and it is time for dialog or debate.
  3. Politicians divided people to save their party and for their selfish gain. Nearly 27,000 soldiers did not sacrifice their lives to allow politicians to destroy this Sinhala Buddhist nation.
  4. In this country we do not have a D.S. Senanayaka or a Bandaranayaka Chinthanaya or Marx-Lenin thing (what has happened to that thing called the MahindaChinthanaya?). In this country we follow the Chinthanaya of the Lord Buddha.
  5. If politicians are allergic to the Sinhalaness we will remove them from the scene.If they are not willing to change we will topple them from their seats. We can bring one to sit and we can remove one from the seat. That was what monks did to King Mahasen when he demolished the Mahavihara and sowed aba seeds (Aba saranai!) King Mahasen had bad advisors (anti-Buddhist?) around him.
  6. A monk does not have to be carpenter to point out what is wrong with the chair the carpenter is making and ask for adjustments or even overhauling.

Politicians are getting cheated or deceived by Islamists Al Takiya rule. They perhaps do not know this. GOSL tricked us on the issue of Halal certification.

  1. We have to ask at least a university degree as minimum qualification to become an MP. If over 100 MPs do not have even GCE (OL) how can they be knowledgeable ministers or law makers? No wonder the country is in such a mess (crook-opportunist officers can play hell fooling them).

It is a crime that university students, monk students are on strike for months and rulers ignore them.  What a shame that after struggling in the university, one has to go to the criminal politician to get a job!

  1. We are saddened by the decision of Ven. Maduluvawe Sobhitha on the issue of a common candidate. We have just two questions for him. (1) Why do you think Executive Presidency (not the person) is the top most problem in this country? (2) Who are the people behind you promoting you to contest?Millions of dollars are allocated to destroy Jaathikavaadaya in this country. Is it not a case of a tree in a forest has to be used to destroy another tree in the forest! (Why is that Ms. Sisson is so supportive of your candidacy?).
  2. How come Muslim leaders in Sri Lanka want to stop a Buddhist monk visiting Sri Lanka? Who are they?  We ask these Muslim leaders to answer (as a group) our questions regarding some verses found in the Koran.  If they say they are for the Interfaith Conciliation then they must say if they accept or not the following verses. They are about destroying the infidel. These verses are 2: 193; 2: 216; 4:196; 5:33; and 9:5.

(This writer adds 9:123 to this list because some websites list 164 such bad verses.

O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ يَلُونَكُمْ مِنَ الْكُفَّارِ وَلْيَجِدُوا فِيكُمْ غِلْظَةً ۚ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

See more at: http://www.alim.org/library/quran/ayah/compare/9/123/qur%27anic-verses-do-increase-the-faith-of-the-believers#sthash.1MFgLJeS.dpuf

  1. Our plan to change this system of corrupt governance by green, blue and red parties is simple. The 5,000 monks assembled here will collect 1,000 supporters from each of the 5,000 temples and create a 5 million voter base. We add Hindu Tamils to this which will make it 6.5 million. There are 25,287 villages in this island and at least 12,000 temples registered.  Leaving out the Palli and Marakkala Nikayas we can easily have 5,000 temples. We will create a leader for this leaderless nation/country.
  2. Is it not so sad and pathetic that when people travel on newly built roads they do not think how good and easy for us to travel now or how grateful we are to our politicians for this meritorious work (work with foreign loans)? Instead what comes to their mind immediately is “I wonder how much money and commission they took out of this road project as bribes!”
  3. Bodu Bala Sena will create, “One country, One nation and One law for all.” Our draft plan for the resurrection of our country will be discussed with villagers by these 5,000 monks and other monks who will join with them when they return to their temples tonight

2:193

Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.

2:216

Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.

9:5

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’

 

Video of U Wirathu in Sri Lanka

A YouTube recording of U Wirathu in Sri Lanka with introductions by leaders of the Bodu Bala Sena. At one point he is introduced, in English, as the ‘Burmese Buddhist terrorist leader’ (clearly as a joke). Not much can be heard of U Wirathu in Burmese as a Sinhala translation is given as he speaks.

And with clear Burmese:

 

The possible causes of Islamophobia in Burma

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On 21 August the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw (Bhante Ashin Nyanissara) addressed the vising US commission on International Religious Freedom at the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy in Sagaing, Burma. Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw is one of the most prominent and revered Buddhist monks in Burma. After giving a personal reflection of the history of the various world religions, and commenting on how they have existed peacefully throughout history the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw then gives his views on Islam. I have copied the entire speech here without my own comments. Many would regard this as hate speech. It must be stressed that these are the words of a very prominent Buddhist monk.

For those wishing to understand the reasons for religious conflict in Southeast Asia this speech could provide some strong clues.

There are six major Religions in the world today. Since Human beings came on Earth, people worshipped the Sun, the Moon and various deities. They also sought refuge in them on the basis of fear. It was called a primitive religion. Most of scholars stated that horror initiated the religions of those days. The Buddha also clearly said that the idea and concept of religions originated from fear. Therefore every religion has full responsibility for the removal of fear which is sticking on the mind of people. But, on the contrary, it is regrettable that a fearful religion and its followers emerged in the world. After the primitive religions there appeared Hinduism. And afterwards, Jainism also came out on the Land where Hinduism was being flourished. Forty years after the emergence of Jainism, there appeared Buddhism also. Buddhism appeared on the birth place of Hinduism and Jainism and peacefully coexisted with them for ages. There was no traceable history of bloodshed and conflict among them. Also there was no violence and quarrel even on the statement issued by the Hindus saying that the Buddha was an incarnation of God Vishnu. We had only oral and written arguments. Six hundred years after the Buddha, Jesus Christ appeared in the World. In the ten commandments of Christianity we find many similarities with Buddhism in the field of Morality and Noble practice. Christian missions tried to flourish their faith when they came to the East Asian countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea and Japan. The people of those countries were non-Christians. But, even after the arrival of Christianity also there was peaceful coexistence between Christians and non-Christians. No history of conflict can be traced to any side. Because all the Hindus, Janis and Christians are walking together on the common platform of their respective teachings, that is Morality, Loving-kindness and compassion. The religion, founded based on Loving-kindness and compassion, has no conflict and it does only social welfare services like Health, Education and other social infrastructures.

In Myanmar, many Christians converted to Buddhism in the past as well as at the present. They did it not because they were forced by the Buddhists. Similarly, many of Buddhists also converted to Christian faith. No single Christian threatened them to do so. They did it of their own free will. Every religion has and should have freedom of worship and freedom of belief. Look at the Crusade that prolonged about forty years. It was recorded in the history of the world.

We have to note that the beginning of conflict is aggressiveness and extremism either in the field of religion or that of politics. Today, in Iraq, the Islamic extremists are forcing ancient Zoroastrians to change their faith into Islam. They even threatened them to kill if their demand is not met. In Africa, a Muslim woman was given the death sentence just because she has converted to Christianity. Therefore, we, the East Asian Buddhist countries are living in constant daily fear of falling under the sword of the Islamic extremists. As we are lacking power and influence, we cannot compete against with the rapid growth of Islamic world.

There was a recorded history that in the thirteenth century A.D, a Muslim army marched from Turkey through India and destroyed Pala Buddhist dynasty and converted it into Islamic state. Pala Buddhist dynasty was none other than present Bangladesh. In the south of Philippine, the Islamic extremists revolted against the government for twenty years. Today, they established a Muslim state there. The Islamic extremists are holding weapons in the south of Thailand to make it a separate Muslim state.

Every religion, according to me, should perform its activities only for the good and welfare of the people. But, today, Islamic extremists are trying to establish Islamic states by waging war against non-Muslims. It is regrettable that they are performing the holy war (Jihad) on the name of God.

Myanmar regained its independence from British in 1948. They colonized Myanmar for nearly hundred years. Many Africans were imported as slaves when the United States of America was established. In the same way, the English rulers illegally imported labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar for the hard labour during their rule.

There is also another bad consequence caused by English colonial rule. During hundred years of British rule, Burmese nationals were not formed as an army. But it was ridiculous that the English rulers administered Myanmar forming different groups of indigenous minorities as an army. When the British rulers went back to England, the minority groups revolted against the Burmese government. We cannot solve those problems until today. These are the natural sufferings faced by the colonial countries.

There is one more important thing that during the British colonial rule, many illegal immigrants from Bangladesh entered into the Rakhine state. In 1948-49, by the name of Mujtahid, those illegal immigrants revolted against Burmese army. Their intention was to establish separate Muslim state. Burmese army had to confront the Islamic Mujahidins. Today, they neither claim themselves as Bangalis nor claim Mujahidins. But, claiming themselves as Rohingars, they are trying to demand a separate home land. They also burned their houses by themselves as if it was done by Burmese Buddhists. We cannot compete with the Islamic world which is the second most powerful and wealthy. Islamic countries occupy the second largest portion even in the United Nations.

The mass media of today is also overwhelmed by the power of money. Most of mass communications such as radios and televisions are controlled by the Islamic world which has sound economy. As we are unable to fight against such a powerful media, the world is not ready either to believe or accept whatever we said. But, we were deafened by the loud explosion of the whole world when the Islamic world says something bad about Myanmar. It was the power of Islamic Medias that made the image and reputation of Myanmar bad. Therefore, we, as the Buddha taught, have determined to objectively care and protect our country and our nationality avoiding two extremes: favour and fear.

Honorable gentlemen – in conclusion, I would like to say that Myanmar is facing various problems and difficulties. Because it was under the colonial rule for nearly hundred years and even after the independence, it was fighting civil and communal war for nearly sixty years. Many organizations from abroad came to Myanmar with the intention of solving such problems. But, instead of solving it, we found that they sometimes made the situation worse and worse. Therefore I would like to request you to find a better solution for such problems. The next one, what I would like to say is that the Myanmar government is now trying to establish internal peace and stability with the intention of ceasing civil war and communal violence. At this crucial Juncture, some religious extremists are frustrating with provocative statements and actions. I would like to request you to give your hands in the process of solving problems and conflicts. A methodical approach is essential for the peace process. It is also necessary not to make things from bad to worse and more complicated. As devout Buddhists, we also promise that we are going to solve these problems without violence and we will do it firmly standing on the teaching of the Buddha, that is tolerance, forgiveness, serving society, sacrifice for others and rationality.

The entire speech is available here.

And in Burmese here.

The preliminary remarks by the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, following their 5 day visit to Burma is available to read.

Thanks to Dr. Maung Zarni who shared much of this material online.

Buddhist Islamophobia

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An article appeared last week exploring the issue of Islamophobia in Burmese Buddhism. Burma’s Time Bomb by Kyaw Zwa Moe describes a suspicion that the Burmese government manipulates religious prejudice for its own purposes. For example, during democratic uprisings religious hatred may be used to divert attention from protests and to promote support for the military. He continues that:

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a Burmese-language book with a shocking title: “If You Marry a Man of Another Evil Race and Religion.” The book is believed to have been written by a Buddhist monk under the pen name Pho Pa Nyaw, and it was published with permission from the Religious Affairs Ministry in January 2010, back when no book could be printed and distributed without government approval. It includes 11 stories about Buddhist women who were sexually abused, raped or forced to marry members of another “evil” religion.”

After reading some of the stories, I am convinced that the book was intended to plant seeds of hatred against Islam among the country’s Buddhist majority, although the author never specifically referred to Muslims. One story was about a Buddhist woman named Su Su Lat. She married a man of another faith, and her husband and his family prohibited her from worshipping the Buddha. In 2000, when they discovered that she was continuing to practice Buddhism, they beat her to death. The entire family was later arrested and sentenced to life in prison. Similar outcomes were described in the other stories, with the Buddhists always referred to as victims.

Two things are striking. First, the book is purported to be written by a Buddhist monk. Second, its publication was supported by the Religious Affairs Ministry. The book follows a long tradition and, as noted in the article, has its infamous predecessor in U Kyaw Lwin’s ‘969’ published as far back as 1997. As Kyaw Zwa Moe comments about the former book:

This book seems to be based solely upon hearsay, lacking detailed references to places, names or specific incidents. But even if the stories are true, I wonder why the Religious Affairs Ministry approved their publication. The writing is racist and provocative, and assuming that government officials actually read it themselves, they must have known it would stir up tension.

There is a common theme here and one which could explain the Islamophobic Buddhist rhetoric that seems to many observers to be so contrary to the teachings of Buddhism. Does the Burmese military use discrimination and prejudice against Islam as a means to divide the population and give the army a reason for its continued governance? If the country is under threat from a supposed Islamic enemy then the army, as always in recent Burmese history must be in control to defend ‘nationality, race and religion’ (ma-ba-tha)

As  As Kyaw Zwa Moe concludes:

I wonder whether the book my friend sent me recently contributed to our country’s current religious tensions. But the real question is, why did the government give its blessing? Is it state policy to encourage religious tension?

As my friend told me, “Religion is used as a time bomb here, all the time.”

Another article Buddhist vigilantes in Myanmar are sparking riots with wild rumors of Muslim sex predators considers similar themes:

 The specter of rapacious Muslim men, plotting a slow genocide of Buddhists through sexual conquest, is actually quite old in Myanmar. A 1938 newspaper article, translated by The Journal of Burma Studies, offers a stern warning to Buddhist ladies who marry Muslims brought over by British colonizers: “You Burmese women who fail to safeguard your own race … are responsible for the ruination of the race.”

Riots between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay

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As  reported in the Democratic Voice of Burma and other news outlets riots have broken out in Mandalay between Buddhists and Muslims. They originated in a blog post by a blogger called Ko Di, a US resident who blogs with the name Thit Htoo Lwin:

‘The violence kicked off after a blogger, who writes under the name Thit Htoo Lwin (the Thit Htoo Lwin Blog), posted an article on 30 June accusing two Muslim owners of the Sun Teashop of raping a Buddhist woman, who he said was their maid…The story was picked up by several websites, and nationalist monk Wirathu posted it to his Facebook page.’ It has been reported that the wife of one of the accused Muslim men has said that they do not in fact have a maid. Whatever the facts behind the story, tensions are clearly high, rumours spread quickly on social media, and U Wirathu appears to have help spread the story on his very popular Facebook page.

The story itself originally appeared under the title ‘Sun Teashop owners, two Muslim brothers, raped a Buddhist maid’. The website is popular with Burmese and it seems that the story was completely fabricated. However, it quickly spread through social media. It is reported that Buddhist monks attempted to calm the rioting Buddhist crowd. Galoneni Sayadaw is reported to have said:

‘We tried our best, but they would not listen. Some of them were drunk and hard to control. Whatever happens to them depends only on their own behavior. We just don’t want to see Mandalay burn because of racial and religious hatred.’

It was reported on 2nd July that the the original blog post on the Thit Htoo Lwin Blog was taken down without explanation.

From M-Media:

‘It was not the first time of posting such fabricated news at Thit Htoo Lwin and it used to blog religious and racial hatred made-up stories and news, which might lead a sectarian conflict. For instance, on 18th Jun 2013, it posted fabricated false news, “Declaration of 2nd Jihad”, with a very clear intention of causing a sectarian conflict.

The founding blogger of the Thit Htoo Lwin Blog is believed to be living in the United States currently. He worked for several foreign-based Burmese Language broadcasts such as BBC, VOA, DVB from 1998 to 2006 according to Irrawady News Magazine’s interview with him.’

A great post has appeared on this entire episode by Kenneth Wong ‘Mandalay: From Mouse Clicks to Mob Rule in 24 Hours’