He’s been described as the “Buddhist Bin Laden,” but Ashin Wirathu thinks he has more in common with the world’s most famous fictional spy. “James Bond is a nationalist,” the cherub-faced monk said in a recent interview. Flashing a smile, he offered a vague recollection of a movie in which 007, in order to extract information from a woman, took her to bed. “While he did not take much pleasure in the act,” Wirathu said, “he did it for his country.”
His questionable reading of Bond aside, the firebrand Wirathu firmly says he is defending Myanmar against the people he views as the country’s main enemy: its Muslims. Wirathu, 46, might bear as much responsibility as any individual for the desperate exodus of Muslims from Myanmar aboard overcrowded fishing boats bound for Thailand and Malaysia.
In speeches and Facebook posts, he has warned of an impending “jihad” against the huge Buddhist majority, spread rumors of Muslims systematically raping Buddhist women and called for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses. Good Buddhists, he argues, shouldn’t mix socially with Muslims, who he says are “snakes” and “mad dogs.”
“Most Muslims destroy our country, our people and the Buddhist religion,” Wirathu said. He represents the blunt edge of systematic religious discrimination in Myanmar that has driven about 1 million Rohingyas, a Muslim minority group, to the farthest margins of society.
Wirathu’s militant Buddhist nationalism is fed by official propaganda that portrays the Rohingya as people from Bangladesh who entered Myanmar illegally and have encroached on native lands, although many Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations. Government policies deny the Rohingya citizenship or the right to vote and subject them to severe restrictions on movement, marriage and procreation.
I know you’re all broke up about this. Here’s what happens when the equation is reversed: