Two years ago, the Time magazine depicted saffron-robed Wirathu, a Buddhist monk from Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma), as the ‘Face of Buddhist Terror.’ It was a very candid description of the terrorist Buddhist monk who was convicted of inciting deadly anti-Muslim pogroms in 2003 throughout Myanmar. After serving only seven years of his 25-year prison term behind the bars he was released in 2010 by Thein Sein’s government reportedly to act as its hound-dog, a task which he had loyally performed ever since. He has been the driving force behind the fascist Buddhist organization – Ma Ba Tha – that has played a major role in genocidal activities directed by Buddhists against Muslims of Myanmar.
In January 2015, Wirathu called Yanghee Lee, a U.N. special envoy on human rights, a “whore” and a “bitch” after she criticized a bill restricting interfaith marriage and religious conversions in Myanmar. It was among four race and religion bills championed by Ma Ba Tha and signed into law last year despite opposition from the NLD party, led by Suu Kyi. Although his racist, bigoted and sexist rants and criminal incitements have been condemned in many quarters Wirathu remains very popular amongst many Buddhists, not just inside his native Myanmar but also outside in places like Sri Lanka.
Presiding over some 2,500 monks at Masoeyein monastery in Mandalay, a Buddhist monastery, Wirathu has thousands of followers on Facebook and his YouTube videos have been watched tens of thousands of times. It would be no hyperbole to state that he and his band of criminal Buddhist monks have hijacked Buddhism and poisoned the political discourse inside Myanmar.
Ma Ba Tha uses the news of the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman allegedly by Rohingya Muslims in Arakan in 2012 to paint a very damning picture of the divide between “us” and “them”. And such a nasty propaganda, a false one, which I must remind our readers, has worked because people are always willing to believe the worst about one’s enemies if they are programmed as such.
For too long, in the context of Burma, her various ethnic and racial groups were poisoned to hate each other, which only helped the divisive forces inside, let alone the military that ruled the fractured country with strong arms tactics and brutal strategy. Wirathu and the hateful, xenophobic monks like him were used as the willing partners to prolong this environment of hatred and intolerance against the minority Muslims, esp. the Rohingya people, and strengthen the grip of the military that ruled and other divisive forces within the country to arrest a change for the better in the political scene.
Fortunately, even though most Muslims were barred from voting and participating in the latest election process, people inside Myanmar have spoken loud and clear. They have rejected the criminal messengers and propagators of hatred and dehumanization.
It is high time to stop Ma Ba Tha once and for all time. This would require not only serious efforts within the movers and shakers within the poisoned society, esp. those with some authority, e.g., the NLD and various political parties that represent the very mosaic of Myanmar but also a brave intelligentsia that knows its historical role to correct the wrongs and create an environment of inclusion, tolerance and hope.
Surely, such an endeavor is never going to be an easy one, but we can all try our best with our limited resources to make that happen, and multiply our voices as change agents for the better.
This process can start by educating the broader public about the falsity of the very narrative that Ma Ba Tha has been exploiting to poison Buddhist minds. Burmese human rights activist Dr. Maung Zarni was able to expose that there is no truth to the claim that the Rakhine Buddhist woman was raped and killed by Rohingya Muslim(s). He wrote that “the rape narrative of the Rakhine woman – the late Ma Thida Htwe – raped by ‘Bengali men’ was patently false, but spread by President Thein Sein’s men the likes of Major Zaw Htay (Hmu Zaw), Colonel Ye Htut (now deputy information minister) as a trigger event to set the fire of genocidal hatred towards the Muslims. Ma Thida Htwe was NOT raped but was simply murdered – the doctor who examined her body told Ko Zaganar [a popular comedian], in no uncertain terms, that there was absolutely no evidence of rape on Ma Thida Htwe’s dead body. The doctor was forced to sign the medical report which claims falsely she was raped. The rape story was spread by government agents on the social media and was used as a launching pad to start waves of mass killings against the Rohingya and the Muslims across Burma or Myanmar.” “Within a month of his death – when [Maung Thura] Zaganar attempted to meet Htet Htet’s wife,” writes Dr. Zarni in his blog, “she was found dead in a village well. How convenient!” It is believed amongst the independent analysts that NASAKA security forces killed Ma Thida Htwe and possibly Htet Htet’s wife.
Rumors around rape of Buddhist females by Muslim males have often been used inside Myanmar to unleash ethnic cleansing of the latter. There is no truth to such allegations. In 2014, Muslim shopkeepers were similarly accused of the rape of a Buddhist woman in Mandalay, reports of which were spread on social media by Ma Ba Tha members, triggering three days of deadly riots in that city. The allegation was later found to be groundless, resulting in 21-year jail terms for five people convicted of spreading the false rumor. The previous year, similar communal riots saw a Muslim orphanage razed to the ground in Meiktila.
As subsequent inquiries have proven most of the anti-Muslim pogroms and genocidal activities inside Burma (or Myanmar) owed their origin to the government – central and local. These crimes were sometimes scripted and often times sanctioned by the government.
I can only pray and hope that the upcoming NLD government will take a different course than its predecessors thereby making the country a safe and secure one for all its people – Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.