Myanmar’s Little Hitler

This is Wira Thu a Buddhist* monk who lives in a massive monastery in Mandalay in Myanmar.

It jars with the traditional view of monks, and Buddhists in general, as peaceful and peace-loving, but this one’s a nasty piece of work. Maybe he’s made of Dalai-Lama-Anti-Matter.

He peddles lies and misinformation to stir up racial, ethnic and religious division and violence, targeting Myanmar’s minority Muslim* communities, with particular implications for the citizenship-less Rohingya of Rakhine state.

He tells lies about Muslims, just as Hitler told lies about Jews, with ever more success. He is not marginalised for his views. Like Hitler, his views increasingly influence, and are thought acceptable, in mainstream society.

Wherever Wira Thu goes (and he gets around) he is greeted – in a somewhat Kingly manner – by reverent crowds who lap up his words of hate.

Muslims are seeking (and arming themselves) to take over Buddhist Myanmar.

Muslim men have (maths-defying) numbers of wives and children as a means of boosting the Muslim population at the expense of Buddhists (impregnating girls when they run out of women).

The (western in particular) media tells lies about attacks on the homes, business and places of worship of Muslims.

In tea shops across the country people – waiters, sailors, lawyers, teenagers – will parrot Wirathu’s words for you, will tell you that Muslims are ‘dangerous’, even that they should – all – be killed (often accompanied by a throat-slitting motion).

It’s not so easy to find people ready to make any kind of counter argument. If you don’t agree with Wira Thu you keep your mouth shut it seems; more and more, his is the conventional wisdom.

When asked about ‘the Rohingya situation’ while in Germany recently Aung San Suu Kyi – again – ducked the question, resorting to her stock answer about the importance of ‘the rule of law’.

But Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s – outgoing – special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has said that .. “the rule of law cannot yet be said to exist in Myanmar. Tackling the situation in Rakhine State represents a particular challenge which, if left unaddressed, could jeopardise the entire reform process.”

And that .. “some community and political groups are .. for political and extremist ends .. instigating campaigns of hatred, the consequences of which can be seen with acts of extreme violence against Rohingya communities.”**

Close to Sittwe in Northern Rakhine state more than 120,000 people – the vast majority Muslims displaced by Buddhists burning their home villages – live in camps, that are more like prisons, looked after by the UN and other aid agencies, those agencies and themselves intimidated and attacked for ‘favouring Muslims’.

The majority Muslim neighbourhood of Sittwe itself is fenced off and guarded by armed police. Muslims have not been free to come and go for nearly two years.

Sunny Sittwe; like the Gaza Strip with added Warsaw Ghetto.

The British and US governments do from time to time express ‘serious concern’ at ‘the situation’ and the Myanmar Ambassador to the UK was ‘summoned’ by the Foreign Office Minister of State Hugo Swire (serious, but not serious enough for the Foreign Secretary?) in response to the attacks on aid workers – but ‘the situation’ does not materially change for those in the camps.

Speaking in Malaysia just this week Barack Obama said “.. the danger .. is that there are different ethnic groups and different religions inside of Myanmar, and if people start organising politically around their religious identity or around their ethnic identity as opposed to organising around principles of justice and rule of law and democracy, then you can actually start seeing conflicts .. that could move Myanmar in a very bad direction – particularly, if you’ve got a Muslim minority inside of Myanmar right now that the broader population has historically looked down upon and whose rights are not fully being protected.”***

Obama will visit Myanmar for a second time later this year. Hopefully he will have stronger behind-closed-doors words than these for Myanmar’s President Thein Sein (who has called Wira Thu a ‘son of Lord Buddha).

It’s easy to imagine, were it Jews or Christians, rather than Muslims, in what are effectively concentration camps, that Obama’s words would be stronger already.

And that someone would be doing something about Myanmar’s Little Hitler.

Footnote : What’s to do about Wira Thu?

I’m all in favour of free speech; I’ve never believed in all that ‘no platform for racists and fascists’ stuff, I think political extremists should be argued with, and maybe obstructed, but should not be forced to shut up.

I don’t speak Burmese (well, ok, just a little) so I can’t argue with Wira Thu. But he’s on facebook (with 31,500 followers more than me) and even without being able to read what he posts it’s possible to see that some if it is explicitly anti-Muslim.

Recently he has been objecting – again – to a company called ooredoo (great name) that won a major mobile phone contract in 2013 and is now promoting its services to consumers. Wira Thu’s – only – objection is that the company is from Qatar and Muslim owned.

Facebook don’t like ‘hate speech’ as it breaches their Community Standards.

I ‘follow’ Wira Thu, it’s not necessary to ‘like’ him.

I REPORTed his ooredoo posts as OFFENSIVE for containing HATE SPEECH.

facebook got back to me impressively quickly to say they had reviewed my report, removed Wira Thu’s posts and told him why (but not who had complained).

That’ll stop him.

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* In Myanmar right now Buddhist and Muslim, obviously religious labels, are mis-used as ethnic labels. I don’t like religious labelling because calling a group of people a Christian, a Buddhist or a Muslim community, or calling any one person a Christian or a Buddhist or a Muslim, denies people the right to define themselves should they wish to be defined – and not to define themselves should they not – and also denies the possibility that any of these people, ethnically defined, might be of other faiths or – heaven forbid – of no faith at all.

** Speaking on 19 February 2014 at Yangon International Airport, Myanmar following his ninth, and final, visit to Myanmar.

*** In answer to this question put to him from Myanmar via social media at the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Town Hall meeting in KL on 27.4.14. “Mr. President, what would be your own key words or encouragement for each of us leaders of our next generation while we are cooperating with numerous diversities such as different races, languages, beliefs and cultures not only in Myanmar, but also across ASEAN? Thank you.” Full text here. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/04/27/remarks-president-obama-young-southeast-asian-leaders-initiative-town-ha

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