Who burned 13 orphan boys alive in Yangon, Myanmar?
The answer to this question may surprise you, if you, like many people, subscribe to the notion that Buddhism is a religion of peace. To be fair, it appears every religion can and will be hijacked by bloodthirsty fanatics. The fire that killed 13 young boys in a Muslim orphanage and school was almost certainly set deliberately by Burmese Buddhist Nationalists who are following the teachings of an extremely dangerous and virulently racist Buddhist Monk named Wirathu.
Even before investigating this fire, government and local media claimed that it was caused by an accidental short circuit, despite eyewitness accounts that there was no electricity in the school or mosque at the time of the fire.
Eyewitnesses also noted the smell of petrol on the clothes of escaped children, and students and teachers described slipping in petrol while evacuating the building. One teacher recounted this in an interview with local media and was arrested for contradicting the official story. It was also reported that while 3 fire brigades came to the site of the fire, only 1 was actually trying to put it out, until local people forced the other 2 to help.
So who is this Buddhist Monk who enjoys seeing children burned alive?
Wirathu has been campaigning against Muslims in Myanmar for many years. He was arrested in 2003 for distributing anti-Muslim propaganda. He created the 969 Buddhist Nationalist Campaign designed to bully Burmese Buddhists into cutting off all business and social relations with Muslims.
Wirathu calls himself the “Burmese bin Laden” and lives up to the name. His venomous speeches are believed to be one of the driving forces behind violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, which have now spread to other areas of Burma as well. He is a master manipulator, speaking softly and authoritatively in the typical manner of a venerable Buddhist teacher, but his words are anything but peaceful.
Monks are very highly regarded in Burmese society, and their advice and teachings are often followed unquestioningly by many Burmese citizens. Over 60 years of isolation and political repression under military rule have also decimated Burmese public education, especially in poorer areas, leading to a populace which is now more susceptible to the fantasies of demagogues like Sayadaw Wirathu.
Therefore, despite living side by side for generations in towns and cities all across Myanmar, suddenly there is enough hatred and fear to incite Buddhist citizens to unimaginable acts of violence against Muslims on a massive scale. After months of horrific brutality in Rakhine State, where tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are now starving to death in concentration camps, the violence has now spread to Meikhtilar and former capital city, Yangon, with smaller incidents in several other areas of Myanmar as well.
Wirathu’s 969 campaign instructs Buddhists to cut off all ties with Burmese Muslims and to remove all Muslims from positions of power. The campaign plays on historical anti-Muslim and anti-Indian sentiment which stems from British colonial days when Indian Muslims (and Hindus and others) were brought in to Burma to help the British rule.
This dangerous combination of nationalism with racial ideology can only lead to one place, and the pogroms and concentration camps in Rakhine State are a testament to that. Indeed, Nazi ideology is alive and well in the new, open Burma.
Thankfully, a small number Burmese people have begun to speak out against this tide of racism and hatred, calling Wirathu a “fake monk” who is abusing his position as a religious leader for personal political gain. Youth activists in Yangon and Mandalay started distributing t-shirts and stickers promoting religious and racial harmony in Myanmar.
Astoundingly to her fans in the West, this public objection to mass-murder has NOT included Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, or her political party, the NLD. In fact, before the violence erupted, the vice president of the NLD party called the Rohingya, “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” in an interview, and endorsed the ongoing racist campaign of human rights abuses against the Rohingya.
Members of the NLD party were even directly involved in an attack on a mosque in Kachin State. Neither Suu Kyi nor the NLD have done anything to stop the ongoing military assault on Kachin State either. The NLD’s involvement in attacking its own citizens (regardless of religion or ethnicity) must also give many moderate Burmese people pause to consider what sort of democracy the NLD is really about.
Suu Kyi’s complete failure to speak out on behalf of Burmese minorities (or even to help Buddhists when a mining company steals their land) has led to calls to have her Nobel Prize rescinded. Ironically, Wirathu’s 969 movement accuses her of being under the influence of clever, wealthy Muslims. Eventually, her only friends will be in the west. Her ability to lead is certainly coming into question.
Meanwhile, Buddhist Nationalism provides the perfect cover for the military elite of Myanmar to continue their decades-long campaign of ethnic cleansing of Muslims, Christians and other indigenous minority groups throughout the territories of Myanmar. The current Western narrative of the new, open Burma of Thein Sein fails to properly recognize this ongoing human rights disaster, and policies based on that fantasy will also fail.