Religious Youth Push Back Against Buddhist Extremism in Myanmar

A bit of fresh air reported today from Myanmar:

A group of youth activists began distributing t-shirts and stickers promoting religious harmony in Rangoon and Mandalay on Friday, as part of a grassroots campaign to counter the growing threat of Buddhist extremism in Burma.

MyanMar flyers

Dozens of activists travelled through several townships in the former capital planting stickers on cars, shops and windows in response to the growing anti-Muslim “969” movement – led by the notorious Islamophobic monk Wirathu — which calls for Buddhists to shun the Muslim community.

Democratic Voice of Burma


The bad news is that Buddhists and Muslims, mutually seeking to escape the violence in Indonesia have gone at each other, with deaths resulting:

Fighting between Buddhist and Muslim asylum seekers from Myanmar at a detention centre on Indonesia’s Sumatra island left eight people dead Friday, police said.

The fighting broke out at around 2:00 am (1900 GMT Thursday) at the Belawan Port immigration detention centre in North Sumatra province, said local police spokesman Heru Raden Prakoso.

“We don’t know how many of the dead are Buddhists and how many are Muslims, or how the clash broke out. But our preliminary findings suggest they were beaten to death with wooden objects,” Prakoso said.

Sayadaw Wirathu

Sayadaw Wirathu

And here is the center of the storm himself:

 Buddhist Monk Saydaw Wirathu, the self-styled “Burmese bin Laden”, has called for a national boycott of Muslim businesses in Myanmar in a controversial video that emerged on YouTube.

Wirathu, who has led numerous vocal campaigns against Muslims in Burma and was arrested in 2003 for distributing anti-Muslim literature, urges Burmese people “to join the 969 Buddhist nationalist campaign” and “do business or interact with only our kind: same race and same faith”.

“Your purchases spent in ‘their’ (Muslim) shops will benefit the Enemy,” says Wirathu. “So, do business with only shops with 969 signs on their facets”.

The numerology of 969 is derived from the Buddhist tradition in which 9 stands for the special attributes of Buddha; 6 for the special attributes of his teaching or Dhamma and 9 for the special attributes of the Sangha or Buddhist order.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar Military

myanmar_span-articleLargeIt was with somewhat of a shock yesterday that we saw pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myamnmar’s apostle of nonviolent resistance, sitting on the reviewing stand of an Armed Forces Day parade, amongst those who certainly had a voice in keeping her under house-arrest for 15 years, unable to leave even to be with her dying husband in England.

On the other hand, those who are thrust into such positions have to learn to play the long game.  She cannot afford to act out of personal resentment.  If Myanmar is ever to escape the yoke of the past 50 years the army must come along too.   [NY Times: Fuller]

I thought as I watched The Lady the other night, Luc Besson’s bio-pic of her years under arrest, that he missed showing us a major part of her character and charismatic power:  until the very last moment there was no suggestion of how she dealt with the soldiers she saw daily for all those years.

It’s for sure certain, unless resistance to dictatorship can make inroads into the rank and file of the armed forces, making it hard to impossible to carry out orders to kill their fellow citizens, no toppling of the generals will ever happen.  Even in the case of full fledged, armed civil war, disaffection,  desertion and refusal to join play large parts in who comes out with ability to govern.

In any event, I am always suspicious of arm chair pundits opining on what others should do.  The only tough question is of ourselves: what would I do?  Indeed, what do I do in the difficulties of my own, less exalted, life?


The US is right of course to be concerned with the military and the ongoing communal violence in Myanmar.

“We do remain deeply concerned about the communal unrest in central Burma,” State Department acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters, using the country’s former name.

“We are urging Burmese authorities… to restore order and maintain peace in a manner that respects human rights and due processes of law… So that’s really the appropriate role for the military.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for letting her voice grow silent about the murder of Myanmar Muslims.  The army has been faulted for standing by, even for abetting the nationalist-Buddhism on the rise, especially given its well known intrusion with fire and blood on the civil unrest of just a few years ago.  Much to be done in little time.

News in the Traveler’s Eye

Still getting my feet under me after five weeks in Southeast Asia — Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.  It’s strange once again, after 37 mornings of 6 a.m. wake-up calls and eating around hotel tables with traveling friends, to be  quiet with the morning NY Times and brief exchanges with the dear reader across from me.

As is usual, places that we’ve been leap out from the pages. Sadly, this morning, it is the rioting in Myanmar, and not just along the coast where it has occurred in recent month, but inland, at Meiktila– the scene, as it happens, of the last enormous battle between the Japanese and the Allies at the near-end of WW II.  If the reporting is right, the saddest of sad things is that the anti-Muslim rioting, and threats against reporters, are being lead by Buddhist monks with sharpened weapons.


Having been with a guide in Burma who was not shy about voicing his quarrels with the government — as well as his hope– and having just seen Luc Besson’s fine movie, The Lady, about Aung San Suu Kyi and her fifteen year struggle it is strange indeed to see the red neckerchiefed police acting as police are supposed to act — stopping communal rioting and making space for cooler heads….

Rioting and arson attacks spread on Friday to villages outside Meiktila, as mobs of Buddhists, some led by monks, continued a three-day rampage through Muslim areas. Witnesses reached by phone said security forces did little to stop the violence.

“Mobs were destroying buildings and killing people in cold blood,” said U Nyan Lynn, a former political prisoner who witnessed what he described as massacres. “Nobody stopped them — I saw hundreds of riot police there.”

News services, which had reporters in the city, said that Buddhist homes had also been set on fire and that while thousands of Muslims had fled to a stadium for safety, at least some Buddhists were also taking shelter outside their homes, in shrines.

Images from Meiktila showed entire neighborhoods burned to the ground, some with only blackened trees left standing. Lifeless legs poked from beneath rubble. And charred corpses spoke to the use of fire as a main tool of the rioting mobs.  NY Times


In Thailand’s north west, which we didn’t get to, but heard of quite often,  Karen refugees have piled up in make-shift camps, fleeing from fighting between the Myanmar army and Karen separatists.  A fire broke out yesterday, killing 30.  Likely started from the slash-and-burn farming which takes place all over Southeast Asia and is much in evidence in the air almost everywhere, as we did experience.

NY Times