News / Asia

Burma Objects to Time Magazine Criticism

Controversial Buddhist monk Wirathu, foreground, June 14, 2013.
Controversial Buddhist monk Wirathu, foreground, June 14, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
Burma's government is objecting to a Time Magazine article critical of an extremist monk who has been attacking Islam.  Authorities deny they are defending the monk, U Wirathu, but said they are concerned the article could create problems after recent unrest between Buddhists and Muslims. 

Burma's government says the magazine's Asia edition for July is misrepresenting Buddhism in the country. The news magazine's cover story features a photograph of extremist monk U Wi Sate Ta, better known as U Wirathu, with the words "The Face of Buddhist Terror."

The monk has become well known for giving fiery speeches branding Islam as a threat to Burma and for urging a boycott of Muslim-owned businesses.  

The Office of Burma's President issued a statement late Sunday condemning the article.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said they are not defending U Wirathu's views on Islam, but are objecting to the article linking Buddhism with terror.  

"Also, in some parts of the article, it creates the misunderstanding on Buddhism and also it will create unnecessary attention in our country between the two communities.  So that is what we would like to point [out]," Ye Htut stated. "And that is what we are objecting [to].  We are not defending U Wirathu or his speech."

But U Wirathu said the Time Magazine article is not against Buddhism, just against him.  In an interview with the Irrawaddy Magazine he also alleges Muslim extremists are behind the article and planning to wage jihad, or holy war, against Burma.

Since 2001, U Wirathu has warned against Muslims taking over Burma, despite the country's population being 90 percent Buddhist.

Muslims make up less than five percent of the country while Christians and Animists account for the rest.

The radical monk was jailed in 2003 for inciting deadly anti-Muslim riots, but released in 2012 as part of a general amnesty.

He quickly re-launched a campaign called "969," a number that references Buddhist beliefs to boycott Muslim businesses.  Critics say the 969 campaign is being used by Buddhist extremists as justification for violence against Muslims, a charge the monk denies.

Deadly clashes in the past year between Buddhists and Muslims have left more than 200 people dead, the vast majority Muslims.  In the most recent unrest in central Burma, 969 was found written on destroyed Muslim property, including burned mosques.

Spokesman Ye Htut said some Buddhists may be using 969 inappropriately, but authorities will not act against U Wirathu for hate speech.  He said if there are complaints about the monk then the religious association, the Sangha Maha Nayaka, should review his speech.

"But, up to now we did not receive any official complaint to the Sangha Maha Nayaka by - any individual or any organization.  Because the Sangha Maha Nayaka is the organization who review the speech or sermon made by the monks," said Ye Htut.

Burma's Buddhist leaders have been reluctant to speak out against U Wirathu or defend the country's Muslim minority.  

Even opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a staunch defender of human rights, has taken heavy criticism for avoiding the issue.

Political analysts said they see little to gain from defending the religious minority and would risk losing support from the country's vast majority.

An online campaign launched by a Burmese citizen is trying to collect 50,000 signatures to petition Time Magazine to change the July cover.  By Monday afternoon it had reached more than 45,000.

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Comment Sorting
by: Nashwan from: Yemen
July 09, 2013 9:55 AM
why the world is silent while Muslims are killed everyday in their own homeland . when something happens don't blame extremists for what they do to rescue their brothers in Islam .

by: Anonymous
June 26, 2013 8:19 AM
“Unexceptional heading published by Time Magazine” “The face of Buddhist Terror” ?. The face of that particular Buddhist monk would be more exceptional by Buddhist followers. The foundation of Buddhist was build on love and respect for any beings including nature. The militant monks are fueling anti-Muslim violence in Asia, are opposed to Buddha’s teaching. Time Magazine is creating terrifying panic among Muslim and Buddhist followers around the world. This gimmick is only to aimed at an increase in the sale of Time Magazine.

by: DINGS from: INDIA
June 24, 2013 2:44 PM
Truly speaking, both of these ......., should be banned, and people should not be allowed to follow these ......, as they don't have their own origins and just teach hatred.

by: minmachen from: jaigaon
June 24, 2013 12:46 PM
Whole concept of the Buddhism is at its worst crisis if whats happening in Burma is accepted .But here we shouldn't forget that its more a way of sympathy toward life than religion .Its pith of morality ,a very simple truth ,not then nor now ever realized . Other all religions' life-line drawn on each other's suppression through more hatred than love .The Buddhism being odd than theirs had had to bear the maximum brunt to keep its hearth burning .And it was mercilessly thrashed wherever it had been at its pinnacle by none other than the Islamist .Once so rife and rich philosophy of life is now at its pathetic existence .The irony is that it's not them but its worst tormentor has the effrontery to seek justice for its causes .

by: TSO
June 24, 2013 10:17 AM
I don't think it was Time's article which misrepresented Buddhism but the Buddhist extremists like Wirathu who are actually misrepresenting the true peaceful nature of Buddhism.

Majority of Buddhists are peaceful-minded but the voices of Buddhist extremists are louder than the peaceful ones and it is very shameful. Unfortunately, the essence of a religion can only be reflected by the behaviours of its followers.
In Response

by: Ajay from: Fremont,CA,USA
June 24, 2013 1:04 PM
Muslims are can't live in peace with other religion. Not the monks, because christians and other minorities have no problem.
In Response

by: Wur from: India
June 24, 2013 12:54 PM
Its is so strange to see the double face of the world. If this would have been done my Taliban or any other muslim extremist group, then everyone would have said 'Muslims are Terrorists', and when the same thing is done my a different faith person, suddenly everything is changed and people are coming up with the comments that it is a personal act.

If this is not double standards then what should we call this?

On the other side, Burmese govt. is not even bothered to say anything about the killing of muslim faith people in the country, but they are defending there monks in a very diplomatic way, by saying we are not defending anyone's ideas, and on the other side they are not even condemning the views.

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