Bhikkhu Wirathu, 46, is one of the most talked about figures in Myanmar. The Buddhist monk is the leader of the 969 movement, which is opposed to what they say, is the spread of Islam in the predominantly-Buddhict Burma, and is intended to safeguard Buddhism.
But many see his nationalist movement as a hate campaign against Muslims, and say it plays a key role in creating the climate for the country’s anti-Muslim riots, thus giving him the name ‘Burmese bin Laden’.
This has also led to raise concern about the rise of militant Buddhists. The Bodh Gaya attack on July 7, some felt, was in response to what was happening to Muslims in Myanmar.
Excerpts from an interview the monk gave to the Outlook magazine:
What is your 969 campaign all about?
It’s about protecting our religion 1and race
It talks about a Myanmar where Muslims almost have no place. Or do they?
No, you cannot look at it like that. The campaign is mainly to build our own fences and protect our race and religion from outsiders. It is similar to Gandhi’s call for a boycott of foreign products.
What are the reasons for Buddhist-Muslim clashes?
Muslims in Myanmar are trying to intimidate and create problems for Buddhists. Buddhists now attempt to resist those attacks.
Are Muslims a threat to country’s security and sovereignty; do you see them encroaching on Buddhists’ rights?
Those believing in jehad under foreign influence are a threat to Myanmar’s security. They’re destroying our religion; they’re trying to swallow up our race through cross-marriage. Though they live here, they’re doing nothing good for Myanmar.
How does the 969 movement propose to bring an end to the ongoing violence?
By means of the 969 movement, we can build our fence firmly and protect our race and religion. Then, we can’t be violated and attacked by them. But from our side too, we don’t need to respond against them.
How do you justify violence in the name of the Buddha?
There are no provisions for violence and revenge in any religion. If a religion provides such things, it cannot be respected as a religion.
You have probably heard of the suspicion that the Bodh Gaya blasts were caused by the Islamists upset with the treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar. What are your reactions?
I am sure they did it. They are trying to take over Myanmar by violence, like what they tried in Southern Thailand. Unrest in Myanmar is almost over, but extremist forces are trying to use the clashes in Myanmar to justify violent activities elsewhere.
Tension between Buddhists and Muslims has also been reported from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bangladesh and elsewhere. Do you think Indian Buddhists should be careful?
Sure. Not only Buddhist but other religions should also be careful. They all are in danger.
Can India get caught in the flames emanating from Myanmar?
The clashes in Myanmar stem from the actions of those hungry for blood and revenge. They use Myanmar’s name to cover their threat, justify their action.
(Yangon-based journalist Eaint Thiri Thu interviewed Wirathu on behalf of Outlook)