There exists a complete gobshite in Burma called Wirathu. This lunatic is a Buddhist monk who has been inciting, almost single handedly, a rising tide of violence …
The saffron-robed 45-year-old regularly shares his hate-filled rants through DVD and social media, in which he warns against Muslims who “target innocent young Burmese girls and rape them”, and “indulge in cronyism”.
To ears untrained in the Burmese language, his sermons seem steady and calm – almost trance-like – with Wirathu rocking back and forth, eyes downcast. Translate his softly spoken words, however, and it becomes clear how his paranoia and fear, muddled with racist stereotypes and unfounded rumours, have helped to incite violence and spread misinformation in a nation still stumbling towards democracy.
“We are being raped in every town, being sexually harassed in every town, being ganged up on and bullied in every town,” Wirathu recently told the Guardian, speaking from the Masoeyein monastery in Mandalay where he is based.
“In every town, there is a crude and savage Muslim majority.”
It would be easy to disregard Wirathu as a misinformed monk with militant views, were it not for his popularity. Presiding over some 2,500 monks at this respected monastery, Wirathu has thousands of followers on Facebook and his YouTube videos have been watched tens of thousands of times.
I must confess, this is all a bit of a surprise to me, I’ve always tended to think of Buddhists as folks with a devotion to mediation, and complete non-violence, so while they might indeed believe things that cannot be demonstrated to be true, they were generally harmless.
Is he simply a crank shouting into the storm but not really making any impact? Nope, he is apparently doing a considerable degree of harm and has a lot of blood on his hands …
Since his release, Wirathu has gone back to preaching hate. Many believe him to be behind the fighting last June between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, where 200 people were killed and more than 100,000 displaced.
It was Wirathu who led a rally of monks in Mandalay in September to defend President Thein Sein’s controversial plan to send the Rohingya to a third country. One month later, more violence broke out in Rakhine state.
Wirathu says the violence in Rakhine was the spark for the most recent fighting in Burma’s central city of Meiktila, where a dispute in a gold shop quickly spiralled into a looting-and-arson spree. More than 40 people were killed and 13,000 forced to flee, most of them Muslims, after mosques, shops and houses were burned down across the city.
The one reality is that violence breeds violence, it ends up being a cycle fuelled by mutual hatred, and as an example in Indonesia, eight Buddhists were beaten to death by Rohingya Muslims at a detention centre, in apparent retribution for incidents of sexual assault by Buddhist inmates against Rohingya women.
So are all Buddhists violent thugs? I’m not going to answer that because I will assume that you can work out the correct answer, I do truly hope you can. You can never ever generalize about any belief; what is true is that all within all beliefs, and also non-beliefs, are decent and honourable people who strive to do what is right. But also nestled in amongst them you will find complete lunatics who promote bad ideas that inevitably lead to bad behaviour if adhered to and embraced by the foolish and gullible.
There is of course much criticism to be deployed against Islam and other beliefs, Buddhism is in no danger of corning the irrational lunatic market. The key thing to remember is that it is the ideas that are wrong that should be criticised along with the abhorrent actions (intolerance, misogyny homophobia, violence and murder), and that all should not be tarred with the same brush. Many might indeed embrace a specific cultural persona, but that need not in any way imply that they also embrace all the immoral religious bullshit.