News / Asia

Burma's Buddhist Extremists Criticized for Spreading Hatred

A mosque burns in Meikhtila, Burma on March 21, 2013.
A mosque burns in Meikhtila, Burma on March 21, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
Extremist Buddhist monks in Burma are under increasing criticism for failing to uphold their religious ideals of non-violence and spreading hatred and fear of Muslim minorities.  The Burmese campaigns are drawing the attention of Buddhist leaders abroad, including the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.  

Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and 4 percent Muslim.  Christianity makes up another 5 percent of the population.  
But radical Buddhist monk U Wi Sate Ta, better known as U Wirathu, would have everyone believe that Muslims are a threat to Burma and Buddhism.  
In a phone interview with VOA, he claims the Muslim community is rapidly growing through illegal immigration and forcible conversions of Buddhists.
“Muslims are never willing to work for the benefit of other ethnic people," he said. "If Muslims keep getting stronger, and one becomes president, our country's religion will be destroyed like in India. We are worried about it.”
Since 2001, U Wirathu has warned against this imaginary Muslim take-over with his "969" campaign, which references Buddhist beliefs.  He was jailed in 2003 for inciting deadly anti-Muslim riots, but then released in 2012 as part of a general amnesty.
He quickly revived the 969 campaign after last year’s clashes pitting Buddhists against Muslims in western Rakhine state that killed 200 and displace 120,000.
Rights activists say monks, along with security and officials, fomented ethnic cleansing in Rakhine, a charge they deny. The unrest has since spread to central Burma where Buddhist mobs attacked Muslims, resulting in 44 deaths, including children.
Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama Tuesday spoke out against Buddhist-led violence in Burma.  He told students at the University of Maryland it was very sad and he prayed for those with negative views of Muslims to think of the Buddha.
"Respect all religions and also respect non-believers, and no preference, this religion, that religion, but rather respect all religions and also include non-believer," he said.
The Dalai Lama, while respected internationally, heads the Tibetan school of Buddhism which has no authority over Burma's separate Theravada branch of Buddhism.
U Wirathu, and other like-minded monks, have also called for a boycott of Muslim-owned businesses using 969 stickers to identify Buddhist shops.  But he denies the campaign has encouraged religious tensions.  
"All states that have 969 groups are peaceful," said U Wirathu. "That is why they should establish 969 groups in every state of Burma-to have peace.  Whenever they campaign, there is no violence at all because they teach the Buddhist community to defend themselves, according to law, when they get bullied by other religions."
U Wirathu calls himself the "Burmese bin Laden" in reference to the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. that killed 3,000 people. But despite frequent hate speech included in sermons, in written materials, and posted online, authorities have been reluctant to shut down his campaign.
Burma Muslim leader Myo Win launched a campaign to counter the 969 with stickers spreading messages of tolerance.  On Thursday he told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand that Muslims in Burma are living in a state of fear.
"So…why have 969 not been identified?  That's a key question," said Myo Win. "The second thing is, why have their members not been arrested?  Why have they been allowed to continue with their campaign to disseminate misinformation about the Muslim and Islam among the Buddhist majority?"
Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa is a founder of the Bangkok-based International Network of Engaged Buddhists.  He says the ultimate end of Buddhism is to overcome fear, but it is fear which is driving Buddhists in Burma to commit violence.
"When you have fear you can be violent, you can be greedy, you can be deluded.  Unfortunately, not only in Burma, in this country [Thailand], Sri Lanka, where Buddhism prevails, when people are afraid, they harm others, not themselves."
Burma's President Thein Sein on Monday said the country should work for peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Buddhists.
In a speech on state television he vowed to protect the rights of Muslims in Rakhine state while accommodating the needs and expectations of Rakhine Buddhists.  
He blamed policies of past military governments for rights abuses and said he would implement the recommendations of his commission on the Rakhine violence.
The commission last week recommended, among other things, doubling security in Rakhine state and efforts to better assimilate the Muslim population.  
Human Rights Watch says increasing security, without holding anyone accountable, would be a mistake as security forces were also involved in atrocities against Muslims.

You May Like

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Indian PM Calls for Unity Amid Tense Climate Over Beef Attacks

Recent series of beef-related incidents seen as signs of rising intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities More

Why These Are New York City's Most Treasured Spaces

Under threat of jail time and fines, some New York property owners are not allowed to renovate their spaces without prior approval More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: arif from: bangkok
May 12, 2013 9:33 PM
it is never a religion but bad people in every religion in every part of the world whom we call 'criminals' do bad things... that's why we have rules and laws to save the countrymen from their wrong doing. it is a simple case of majority (nationalism) suppressing their minority so you don't find a 'rule of law' to cure it. so you don't listen to good people like majority of monks inside and outside burma even don't listen to good people in majority inside burma and rakhine. why you create fear of known making it unknown?

by: vikram paliwal from: India
May 11, 2013 8:48 AM
The buddhist Monk is 200% correct, what happened to BAMIYAN everyone knows, I am from India and I know what happened to India during the midveil era 1000s of monuments temples and heritage was destroyed by muslim invaders. The whole problem with Muslims is that they are never attached to nationalism. True follower of Islam(Shiya) are better than Sunnis' I felt with my experience of dealing with them.

by: HJ from: Burma
May 10, 2013 2:42 PM
Buddhists spread Hatred...??? who spreads more hatred than Muslims??? Muslims spread hatred all over the world!!! listen to what they say about Israel... the most beautiful genius people - God's beloved people... listen to what the Muslims are saying about them...
Buddhist love life (like Christians and Jews) we protect lives and love life... its only Muslims who love the stench of death and decay
In Response

by: Diamond Heart
May 30, 2013 10:02 AM
Don't write comments with your stupid ideas, I live in Yangon, Burma and I know everything those buddhist extremist terrorists did. They distributed hate-speeches about Islam. And they wait for a simple crime committed by a Muslim. eg rape, or even worst case accidentally colliding with a monk, and they start to kill Muslims by mobs and rob empty Muslim houses and set houses and Mosques on fire. Extremist burmese buddhist terrorists.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs