Faces of Buddhist terrorists that killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims

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His name is Ashin Wirathu.

This Myanmar’s most radical Buddhist monk is famed for his angry speeches, stoking fears that the Muslim minority will one day overrun the country.

Ashin Wirathu has drawn the ire of the UN by calling its special envoy to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Yanghee Lee, a “bitch” and a “whore”.

Who is Ashin Wirathu?

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Ten years ago the radical monk from Mandalay was virtually unheard of. Born in 1968, he left school at the age of 14 and entered the monkhood.

He became well known only after he was involved with the nationalist and anti-Muslim 969 group in 2001 – an organisation described as extremist, though that is a term the group’s supporters reject.

In 2003 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 2010 along with other political prisoners.


How did he come to public attention?

As government rules relaxed, he became more active on social media. He spread his message by posting his sermons on YouTube and on Facebook where he currently has more than 37,000 followers.

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In 2012, when deadly violence broke out in Rakhine state between Muslims, mainly Rohingya, and Buddhists, he was catapulted into public view with his firebrand speeches.

A typical sermon begins: “Whatever you do, do it as a nationalist.”

His rhetoric has more than a whiff of political theatre. When asked if he was the “Burmese Bin Laden”, he said he would not deny it. Other reports have quoted him as saying he works for peace.


What does he want?

On 1 July 2013, Time Magazine put him on their front cover with the headline: The Face of Buddhist Terror?

Wirathu - Time cover

His sermons preach animosity and his target is the Muslim community, mainly the Rohingya. He led rallies supporting relocating Rohingya Muslims to a third country.

He has also blamed Muslims for the clashes and repeats unsubstantiated claims about reproduction rates. Analysts say such sentiments stoked an already febrile situation in areas where violence unfolded.

He also claims that Buddhist women are being converted by force and is leading a campaign for legislation to prevent Burmese Buddhist women from marrying other faiths without official permission.

Why doesn’t the government stop him?

A nominally civilian government now runs Myanmar after nearly half a century of military rule. But deadly religious clashes have marred the image of a state on a slow road to reform.

However, many believe that Wirathu is tolerated by the government because he gives voice to popular views, particularly about Rohingya Muslims, which they could not voice themselves for diplomatic reasons.

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