Calling on Canada to help end Myanmar Genocide of Rohingya at Toronto City Council on 23 Nov 2017

Saying "Sorry!" to a Rohingya brother who survived Myanmar Genocide, Kutupalong Camp, Bangladesh, 7 Nov 2017.

Speaking on the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingyas in Burma, with Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Nov 2014

N. Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire presenting Zarni with the Cultivation of Harmony Award on behalf of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, USA 18 Oct 2015

Meeting with The Minister of Foreign Affairs Rt. Honourable Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, M.P., State Guest House, Dhaka, 4 Nov 2017

"National Traitor and Enemy of the State" for his opposition to Rohingya Genocide. Sun Rays, 16/9/17

A Brief Assessment of the Official Report of Myanmar's Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing Inquiry Commission

Myanmar Ethnic Cleansing Inquiry Commission
From left to right (Aung Naing Oo, Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing (Secretary and President Thein Sein's adviser), Dr Yin Yin Nwe (ex-daughter-in-law of the late despot General Ne Win), Ko Ko Gyi (88 Generation Peace and Open Society Group) and Zarganar


Just finished reading the 186-page Presidential Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing Commission report!

It's the worst piece of rubbish, intellectually, ideologically, empirically and analytically, I have read since my graduate school days in California in the late 1980s.

I have followed this Inquiry Commission since its inception on 17 August.  I have done so not simply because it was presided over by my old history teacher at Mandalay University in 1982 or that its secretary was my beer-buddy when he was a fresh arrival at Cornell in the fall of 1994, but because my life-long professional interest is strategic symbioses between home-grown dodgy regimes and the Establishment intellectuals.

(Of course, how President Thein Sein et al are using the inquiry commissions - Aung San Suu Kyi-led Letpadaung Mountain Copper Mine Inquiry Commission, now the Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing Inquiry Commission, etc. ought to be studied for what they are:  strategic decoys, distractions and public relations exercises in whitewashing dodgy regimes and their crimes against humanity.  This is a story for later.)

As a product of such unholy alliance, the Commission's report is as un-professional, non-independent and un-principled as you get.

Devoid of crucial truths, it is a document utterly un-informed by any well-established analytical concepts  (such as 'ethnic formation', 'identity formation', 'state's mobilization' in genocide studies, 'discourse', 'nationalism', 'history', etc.) through which all scholars and researchers of the social world attempt to make sense of even ordinary human affairs, including genocides. 

The total absence of any relevant concepts and analyses pertaining to nation-states and formation of ethnic groups is all the more shocking.   For both the Commission's Chair and Secretary, Myo Myint and Kyaw Yin Hlaing, were both students of Benedict O' G' Anderson at Cornell whose claim to scholarly fame is his elegant construction of nations and nationalism as crucially the outcome of elite and popular imagination.
Evidently, neither student of Anderson proved themselves able to entertain the possibility that 60-years is long enough for any ethnic group to forge a new identity.

The report that bear their approving signatures merely pointed out that the first ever use of the ethnic self-reference 'Rohingya' dated no earlier than 1951.  They should know better.

Both the ethnic labels, the founding members of the modern nation-state, the Chin and the Kachin were externally imposed by the British colonial administrators and American Baptist missionaries on the 'natives'.  These were disparate native groups who originally identified themselves tribally, as clans and along geographic lines, the new ethnic labels were less than 50 years old upon independence in 1948.  Mal-informed by the prevailing pseudo-scientific knowledge about race and ethnicity in Europe, the British colonials and the American missionaries grouped these 'tribal peoples' in Burma's borderlands together out of administrative expediency.

As Amartya Sen correctly pointed out during a public seminar on Burma at Columbia University last September, the geographical areas, which now form Northern Arakan or Rakhine state of present-day Burma, changed hands among neighboring feudal rulers.  And boundaries were always elastic and un-defined in the old pre-colonial days.

The Rohingya EthnicCleansing Inquiry report officially stressed how the Rakhine feudal lords expanded their reach over territories in what was then Bengal while making light of the fact that there were Bengali kings who ruled what was then the Kingdom of Arakan.  Indeed, historians, especially Establishment ethno-nationalist historians, have long proven capable of recounting the past only from a victor's perspective.  The two leading scholars on the Presidential Inquiry Commission are no exception.

Ethno-religiously, the commission is a good mix, that is, except that there was no Rohingya -- nay, "Bangali"  -- representation on the commssion. Dr Myo Myint (Bama or Bama-identified), Khun Tun Oo (Shan), Jana Lahtaw (Kachin), Dr Salai Andrew (Chin),  U Soe Thein (a Bama), Dr Yin Yin Nwe (Shan-Bama), Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing (Shan-Bama), Zarganar (Bama), Aung Naing Oo (Bama), Ko Ko Gyi (a national security race?), Tin Aung Moe (Bama), Daw Than Than Nu (Bama), (Vet) Dr Aye Maung (Rakhine with neo-Nazi views), Aye Thar Aung (ultra-nationalist Rakhine), Rev. Margay Gyi (Karen), U Tun Aung Chain (Karen), etc.  There are also Myanmar Muslims (ethnically Indians) and Myanmar Hindu.

With the exception of the Muslim commissioners, none of these ethno-religious diverse commissioners fought against the State-sponsored ethnocide of the Rohingya in the form of the commission's vehement opposition to the word "Rohingya".  The commission was certainly a key accomplice in the State-sponsored ethnocide.

The two Muslim leaders who challenged this ethnocide and stood up for the Rohingya's own 'imagined identity' were kicked out.  Their crime?  The frivolous charges of speaking to the press about the inquiry while other pliant ones who also spoke the media were left un-touched.  As to expected, the report made no mention of how politics got in the way of establishing truths about the mass violence in the new Rakhine, or more accurately, glossing over ugly realities.

In fact, the commission sought to confirm the popular anti-Muslim racism without problematizing the recent growth of this increasingly virulent strain of Islamophobia and anti-Bengali sentiment across all 'indigenous national races' of Burma.

The Commission did raise concerns about the 969, a neo-Nazi movement ostensibly led by Buddhist monks from Burma's leading teaching monasteries, and its divisive impact on ethnic and social relations in society as well as a potential stain on Burma's national image; but, it fell far short of pointing out the need to take seriously the new neo-Fascist turn in the country's well-known anti-Muslim "Buddhist" racism.  The report's authors chose to describe 'now world-infamous 969 rather mildly: 'a campaign among the Buddhist to defend their own faith and to encourage intra-Buddhist commerce and trade'.

All this is troubling, but not un-expected.  For it was under the Religious Affairs Director-Generalship of Commission Chair Dr Myo Myint the proliferation of anti-Muslim quasi-religious publications, long before the previous crop of ruling Burmese generals allowed the 'greater  freedom of press, assembly and speech'.  The leading voice of 969, Wirathu recently told the Associated Press that his views were formed as early as 2001.

Sadly, nearly half of the commissioners are my old, and now former, friends.    Their collective document is unmistakably Bama racist/Orientalist in orientation, treating both communities in conflict with a typical popular Bama contempt and dislike.

This is adding insult to injury for both parties in conflict, namely the Rakhines and the Rohingya.

the Rakhines are portrayed, essentially as "Lazy Natives", who couldn't compete with the thrifty, business savvy, hard-working "Bangali", without the intervention of the State and its blood-based neo-fascist 1982 Citizenship Act.

The Rohingyas didn't fare any better:  

they were described as 'elementary school children-like people who, having obtained commission members' hand phone numbers from their Muslim contacts in Rangoon, kept on calling the Commission members in Rangoon to blabber on about their sufferings and whine abuot their grievances'.

It repeats a crucial racially-charged popular narrative which turns out to be factually incorrect.  That the  three Bengali raped and brutally murdered a 28-year old Rakhine Buddhist woman.  This was pointed out to me personally by a more honest member, Burma's most famous political comedian Zarganar.

This rape case is vitally important because the commission identified it as a key trigger for anti-'Bengali' mobilization by the Rakhine nationalists, politicians and Rakhine parties, led by even the Rakhine members of the Inquiry Commission (for instance, Aye Maung, a vet-cum-MP in Naypyidaw from Rakhine National Development Party, an ultra-nationalist group claiming for the "purification of Rakhine state".  

But these arrested and alleged rapists were officially registered as 2 Kaman Muslim and a Rakhine adopted by a Rohingya Muslim family, in Pauk-taw Township.

Zarganar, one of the 5 members who was one of the leading spokespersons for the Commission at the press conference on 29 Api where the report was launched, told me in no uncertain terms that he interviewed the doctor in Rakhine state who performed the post mortem of her corpse.  According to this vieotaped interview, the alleged Rakhine rape victim bore no sign of her having been raped.  Yes, she was brutally murdered and her jewelry were gone. But she was certainly not raped, recounted Zargana based on his one-on-one recorded interview with the doctor.  The doctor was eventually forced by the authorities to sign the official post mortem report which established the rape that did not take place.  

Then there was no mention of the 'suicide in police custody' of one of the alleged rapists - Mr Htet Htet, a non-Bangali adopted son of a Bengali family. Nor was there any mention of the fact that his freshly windowed wife was also found dead, 'having drowned' in a local well.

Was there a foul play here?

It appears that my esteemed friend Zarganar, the well-respected political comedian and dissident who went to jail for 4 times since 1988 uprisings, was compelled to put his name to the official commission report which contained statements and misinformation which he himself knew are patently and  verifiably false. 

The entire report has too many inter-contradictions and inconsistencies which are explained nowhere.

The report raised the issue of the lack of or weak inter-agency coordination among the army, intelligence, civil admin, immigration, attorney general's office, Rakhine chief/prime minister's office.  And it discussed how and why the security forces and constitutive agencies only listened to direct orders from Naypyidaw.

But the commission chose not to ask why Naypyidaw failed to issue order to provide adequate measures to protect the targeted Rohingya communities.  Instead Thein Sein's National Defense and Intelligence Council (or Kar-lon in Burmese) did nothing to mobilize security forces to protect the Rohingya, the troops which President Thein Sein and his men knew will obey only direct orders from ministerial headquarters under the nose of the peace-pursuing President.

Perhaps one silver living in the dark episode in Burma's modern political history is the report accurately states that local authorities in Rakhine State have absolutely no power to order security forces including army, police, border-control interagency troops, etc. to do anything to quell the mass violence.  This was, and still is, something only central government of Thein Sein can do.

It then begs the question: Why did the union level leadership of President Thein Sein and his deputies on the Council in Naypyidaw choose not to mobilize the troops while the security troops were called in to firebomb sleeping anti-Chinese mine Buddhist monks at 2 am in central Dry Zone, using canisters containing white phosphorous?

Alas, this is the question that fell outside the purview of the Presidential Commission.

Further, the statistics are thrown around throughout the 186-page document often with  no accompanying narrative or explanation, or a convincing or cogent one.

It didn't even bother to account for its own official statistics from the government.

The greatest number of deaths and destruction were borne by the Rohingyas.   And yet a highly disproportionate number of the Rohingya vis-a-vis the Rakhine have been tried.

In the first wave of Rohingya-Rakhine violence June last year 4,188 Rohingya homes were destroyed while the Rakhine suffered the loss of 1,150 homes.  In the second wave of violence in October, 2,371 Rohingya homes were destroyed as opposed to only 42 homes that belonged to the Rakhine.  

And again, out of a total of 1.835 arrested in connection with the mass violence, 1,589 are Rohingya and only 246 are Rakhine.

Perhaps the scholarly presidential investigators on the Rakhine Sectarian Violence Inquiry Commission could advance and test a hypothesis that the economic productivity of Rakhine Buddhists - all Buddhists in Burma?  - must be inversely correlated with the destructive capacity of the group.  For the report orientalized the Rakhine as 'low productivity' group, or more crudely 'Lazy Natives'.

The commission's official statistic implies the awesome power of a small group of Rakhine - 246 to be exact, to destroy thousands of homes and dozens of mosques in about 12 different towns and cities and turn over 120,000 Rohingya refugees homeless, shelter-less internally displaced persons in a span of 5 months.

After all, the Rakhine ultra-nationalists are reportedly hell-bent on 'driving out the non-Rakhine, most particularly, the Rohingya Hoax, or those (Bengali) "Influx Viruses", as the leading Rakhine intellectual Dr Aye Chan of Kanda University in Japan put it.

If this number of Rakhine terrorizers, arsonists and slaughters doesn't seem quite convincing, given the magnitude of death and devastation they had wrought throughout northern and southern Rakhine State, then who else was there, aiding and abetting the principal terrorisers among the Rakhine who wanted "Rakhine State only for the Rakhine"?

There is no mention of a single case wherein any official, security or civil, was held accountable for his or her leadership failure, or worse, participation in the pogroms.

Again according to Zarganar, his official request that the investigators be allowed to unfettered access to all the important officials alive, past and present, who have ever served in Western Burma over the past 25 years was never been granted.   He told me that many of the officials were transferred to remote places after the Commission was formed on 17 August.

What was Naypyidaw trying to hide?.

That too, of course, lied outside the mandated scope of the Presidential Inquiry Commission.  

The spread of rumors and hate-speech on the social media was touched on as an important issue, and yet no attempt was made to point out that President Thein Sein's spokespersons - Major Zaw Htay - and Deputy Minister of Information Mr Ye Htut - are internationally known figures who use social media to disseminate deliberately false news and engage in hate and fear-mongering.  For instance, Zaw Htay was spreading knowingly inaccurate news, for instance, 'a group of armed radical Muslims have entered Rakhine from Bangladesh side' while Ye Htut was spreading official lies 'no need for further provision of shelter for the Bengali IDPs because the government has provided them with everything for the coming rainy season'.  

The report itself recommends urgent provision of adequate shelter and other humanitarian assistance because of the dire, overcrowded IDP camps for 100,000-plus "Bengali'.  

Echoing the International Crisis Group's monocausal explanation - communal violence often accompanies democratic openings! - the presidential commission report saw the greater freedom of speech as a causal explanation for the spread of the hate speech.   

Obviously, Presidential spokespersons are officially exercising their new found freedoms to spread hate-filled rumors and fabricated Facebook entries!

Some facts are apparently inconvenient for the Commission made up of the nation's distinguished members.

The commission decided it was worth noting that  it purged Haji U Nyunt Maung Shein and U Tin Maung Than, the two prominent and non-pliant Muslim members of the Commission: pushing for the truths about the 'communal violence'.  The push for truths obviously go down well with neither Chairman Dr Myo Myint nor the then Border Control Minister Lt-General Thein Htay.  According to U Tin Maung Than, two days after his 15-minutes heated phone conversation last fall over the subject of what should be reported to the commission's patron, namely President Thein Sein, and how frequently the reporting should be done,  Tin Maung Than was expelled from the commission in the same manner he was appointed - with no prior knowledge nor explanation nor consent.  

The Chairman Myo Myint was on record saying to U Tin Maung Than that 'the welfare and security of these people are not the commission's responsibility, nor do you need to send President Thein Sein  important updates'.  Although another truthful commissioner Zarganar who was pushing to get access to crucial heads of security forces in Rakhine to conduct a proper inquiry didn't fell on the Chairman's sword he bitterly complained that 'both Chairman Dr Myo Myint and Secretary Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing were trying their best to derail the inquiry".

Presidential inquiry commissions are not about seeking or finding incriminating evidence which will lead Presidents to gallows.  Thein Sein may be a liar with a straight face, but he ain't dumb.  Preemptively, the 8-mandates by President Thein Sein  in fact did not include any study of the role of the State, its institutions, or the responsibilities of the national leadership (see the Appendix B).

The Commission claimed to have done its archival works at the National Archives, browsed private provision of documents from both the Rakhine and the "Bengali", and "researched in some big university libraries abroad".

But its report skipped or blatantly ignored most directly relevant official documents - such as the Burmese Encyclopedia, official transcripts of the speeches made by the senior most military leaders General Ne Win's 2nd in command Brigadier Aung Gyi, treating officially and reportedly the Rohinga as  one of the ethnic groups of Burma, not simply fully fledged Burmese citizens.  Anything that would challenge the commission's selective reading of the past in sync with the official, highly distorted history of Western Burma.

Above all this official Inquiry Commission report simply reinforced the State-sponsored Rohingya ethnocide and chose to overlook the elephant in the room - the military state and its crucial role in the Rohingya ethnic cleansing.

Instead of shedding light on the utter inaction of the characteristically trigger-happy Burmese security forces - both the police, riot police and the army, the Commissioners focused on highlighting the need to modernize   these already heavily and happily armed troops.  

The fist one-dozen recommendations which opened the section of 'recommendations' in the 4-page English language Executive Summary are all about security sector modernization, not security reform as such while lip service is paid to the need to act in line with human rights and Burma's international treaty obligations.

The report recommends that the international community (Washington?) helps equip Burmese security forces with sorts of toys including CCTV, assault speedboats, new weapons,  etc. to deal with the cardinal cross-border problem of Bangladesh's 'population explosion'.   I am sure the Pentagon would love to help bring the  Tatmadaw (the army) and other auxiliary units such as Lon-htein to the human rights standards of Abu Ghraib, and so would Canberra.

For a report that bore the signatures of 24-technocrats, Establishment historians and academics, wealthy local merchants and traders, socialites and religious leaders out of a total of 27 - two had already been expelled and one is hospitalized in Singapore - recommendations about security sector modernization are rather impressive, so much so that one wonders if the report were the Commission's gift to the Ministry of Defense and its next generation generals.  

In the last section on the bibliography, for the commission which littered the words 'human rights' in numerous places and international legal norms, its report shows no sign that it even bothered to glance either at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or UN Conventions on the Prevention and Punishment of the Genocide. The commission didn't deem it worth its while to consult with either the research findings and reports from the Arakan Project or the National University of Galway's authoritative "Crimes Against Humanity in Western Burma".

In fact, the commission considered the use of 'ethnic cleansing' part of an attempt to unduly internationalize local issues and an act of INGO exaggeration.  Or perhaps the commissioners felt human rights documentation was out of their professional depth, having no serious training or official political mandate.  The Commission must have known someone else or some other non-native organizations such as Human Rights Watch was going to do an independent and more professional job!

Meanwhile, the commissioners seemed very much at ease when advocating 'voluntary' population control of the Rohingya who are "too destitute to entertain themselves in any way other than having a great deal of marital sex and procreating (like rabbits)".  The commissioners were of the view that this rapid procreation or 'population explosion' among the people they insisted on calling 'Bengalis' made worse the already acute sense of collective existential insecurity among the Rakhine.

The detectable patriotic sentiment of the commissioners here was this:  Shouldn't we the "indigenous", pure blooded Myanmar should be concerned about the fact that 80% of fertile agricultural acreage in certain locations are now in the hands of the hard-working and thrifty "Bengali" agricultural workers and land-owners while our 'lazy Rakhine brethen' have fallen deeper into destitution?  

The commission's report must indeed be music to the allied ears of President Thein Sein and the emerging 'axis of evil', namely the Burmese-military capitalists and Western commercial and strategic interests, pursuing new markets and a new China Containment strategy.  

Even Burma's civil society, manufactured by EU and international 'donors', which is taking a rather neo-Nazi Buddhist turn, must be very pleased at the commission's emphatic framing of the genocide as simply 'communal violence.  Alas, this is the civil society that refuses to call 'ethnic cleansing in their midst' by its name.  In the words of Mr Aung Myo Min, a Myanmar human rights educator from the Human Rights Education Institute (HREIB): “In such a sensitive situation, the use of the phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ is unacceptable. Ethnic Cleansing means eliminating other ethnic groups. This is not the case [in Rakhine State].”

The inventor of Double-Speak worked in Burma during the colonial period in the 1920s. Orwell's ghost continues to roam in 'democratic' Myanmar, possessing the dissidents, technocratic and intellectual whores, ethnic nationalities leaders, 'moderate and pliant' religious figures, 'human rights educators' and civil society leaders.

Allah bad, Buddha Gotama good!  

This must be a new Myanma, with a "clean government" pursuing "good governance" and "transparency", words that litter the Commission's report.

The new policy of this soon-to-be clean government is going to approach the issue of 'communal violence' holistically, preventatively and through the use of 'weapons for conflict resolution' (white phosphorous as was fired on sleeping monks at 2 am by the Burmese security forces last year?).

There will be established an 'early warning system' - warning of new genocidal waves?.  More empirical research and survey is advocated.  A new inquiry commission that will look at even deeper causes of the 'communal violence' in Western Burma is recommended.  A newer peace and conflict resolution research center is to be located in the region -- near the Rohingya mass graves which Human Rights Watch uncovered? - is also advisable.

Scholars in the field of genocide studies have already established that that extraordinary and rare mass violence, ethnic cleansings are not simply domestic or internal events in nation-states. They have an international dimension. These dark events generally take place in an international environment where external players are more concerned about their own strategic and commercial gains than large scale human sufferings, be they the Khmer, the Tutsi, the Bosnians, the Tamils, and now the Rohingya.

Burma's donor governments of the pro-human rights West, of all the countries on earth, are said to be hostile to the Human Rights Watch's characterization of their new found business and strategic partners in Burma as 'ethnic cleansers' and 'criminals against humanity'.

The Thein Sein's government's report sprinkled with the liberal discourses of conflict resolution, humanitarian management, reconciliation, and so on are more palatable than Human Rights Watch's 'ethnic cleansing' of the Rohingya.

The donors, I am sure, can't wait to fund the great new initiatives to do further research into the causes of, well, Burma's emerging neo-Nazi Buddhism.

Burma riots: Video shows police failing to stop attack

April 22, 2013

Much of the footage was shot by the Burmese police. This report contains images of violence which you may find upsetting

The BBC has obtained police video showing officers standing by while Buddhist rioters attacked minority Muslims in the town of Meiktila. 

The footage shows a mob destroying a Muslim gold shop and then setting fire to houses. A man thought to be a Muslim is seen on fire. 

It was filmed last month, when at least 43 people were killed in Meiktila. 

Meanwhile the EU is expected to decide whether to lift sanctions imposed on Burma, in response to recent reforms. 

It is thought likely that despite concerns about the treatment of minorities, Brussels will confirm that the sanctions, which were suspended a year ago, are now permanently lifted. 

The sanctions include the freezing of assets of more than 1,000 Burmese companies, travel restrictions on officials, and a ban on EU investment in many areas. However, an arms embargo is expected to remain in place. 

The move is a response to political change under President Thein Sein, who came to power after elections in November 2010. His administration has freed many political prisoners and relaxed censorship. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for many years, leads a pro-democracy opposition which has a small presence in parliament. 

Documented violence 

Some human rights groups, however, have warned that sanctions should not be lifted until the government addresses issues including recent violence against Muslims. 

The video from Meiktila, in Mandalay Region, is remarkable both for the comprehensive way it documents the violence and because much of it was shot by the Burmese police themselves, the BBC's Jonah Fisher reports from Singapore.

In the sequence where policemen look on as a man rolls on the ground having been set on fire, the watching crowd are heard to say, "No water for him - let him die". 

Another sequence shows a young man attempting to flee and getting caught, after which he is beaten by a group of men, which includes a monk. 

A savage blow with a sword strikes him and he is left on the ground, presumed dead. 

Only in one shot are the police seen escorting Muslim women and children away from their burning homes. 

The footage corroborates eyewitness testimony. A row at a Muslim-owned gold shop on 20 March was said to have started the violence, when a dispute involving a Buddhist couple escalated into a fight. 

This was followed by an attack on a Buddhist monk, who later died in hospital. News of that incident appeared to have sparked off sustained communal violence. 

The violence then spread to other towns and led to curfews being imposed. There were reports of mosques and houses being torched in at least three towns. 

The gold shop's owner, his wife and an employee were convicted of theft and assault on 12 April and jailed for 14 months. Dozens of other Muslims and Buddhists are said to be under investigation.

Deadly clashes

Violence between Buddhists and Muslims erupted in another part of Burma, Rakhine state, last year following the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in May. 

Clashes in June and October resulted in the deaths of about 200 people. Thousands of people, mainly members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, fled their homes and remain displaced. 

On Monday, the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) presented a report containing what it said was clear evidence of government complicity in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against Muslims in Rakhine state. 

It said security forces stood aside or joined in when mobs attacked Muslim communities in nine townships, razing villages and killing residents. 

It said HRW also discovered four mass-grave sites in Rakhine state, which it said security forces used to destroy evidence of the crimes. 

However, the allegations were rejected by Win Myaing, a government spokesman for Rakhine state, AP news agency reported. 

HRW investigators didn't "understand the situation on the ground," he said, adding that the government had no prior knowledge of the impending attacks, and deployed forces to stop the unrest.

Burma/Myanmar: Inside Challenges, Outside Interests

Maung Zarni (2010) “An Inside View of Reconciliation: Burma/Myanmar,” in Lex Rieffel (Ed.), Burma/Myanmar: Inside Challenges, Outside Interests. pp. 52-76. Washington, DC.: The Brookings Institution.

Orientalization and Manufacturing of ‘Civil Society’ in Contemporary Burma

Maung Zarni (2011) “Orientalization and Manufacturing of ‘Civil Society’ in Contemporary Burma,” in Zawawi Ibrahim (Ed.) Social science and knowledge in a globalising world. pp.287-310. Kajang: Malaysian Social Science Association and Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre.

Fear stalks Muslims in Myanmar

Carlos Sardina Galache
April 14, 2013

Eyewitnesses to a massacre at an Islamic school say it was carried out by Buddhists, and many contend it stems from a coordinated effort with ties to the top

Mon Hnin, a 29-year-old Muslim woman from Meiktila, in central Myanmar, spent the night of March 20 with her daughter and mother-in-law hiding in terror in the bushes on the fringes of her neighbourhood. 

A wave of murderous anti-Muslim riots led by Buddhist extremists had exploded earlier that day in the dusty town with a population of 100,000 people, located 130km north of the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Like the houses of many other Muslims in the town, the one belonging to Mon Hnin, whose name has been changed for security reasons, had been destroyed by a Buddhist mob in the Mingalar Zay Yone quarter and she and her relatives had to take refuge in the first place they could find. 

The next day, she witnessed something far worse than the destruction of her property, as she told Spectrum at a non-governmental refugee camp near Meitktila where she now lives with about 3,400 other Muslim refugees. The bushes where Mon Hnin, her daughter and her mother-in law had hidden the previous night are not far from a local madrasa _ an Islamic school _ where one of the worst episodes of the violence took place. According to several eyewitnesses, that morning a Buddhist mob attacked the school killing at least 30 students and four teachers.

KILLING FIELDS: Right, the madrasa where more than 40 Muslims were killed on March 21.
Mon Hnin said she saw about 30 policemen arriving in trucks about 8am. From her vantage point, she saw how the students and teachers of the madrasa gave up to police the weapons they had improvised to defend themselves. She claimed that a group of them was offered the chance to be evacuated from the area in police trucks, but they were attacked by the mob before reaching the vehicles.

BADGE OF HATE: 969 stickers on sale in Yangon.
One of those she saw being killed was her husband, a halal butcher who was stabbed to death. The policemen in the area did nothing to stop the carnage. Shortly afterwards, Mon Hnin, her daughter and mother-in-law were given shelter in the house of a Buddhist neighbour. 

From March 20-22, this dusty garrison city was engulfed by the worst communal violence in Myanmar since the anti-Muslim pogroms that took place in Rakhine state in June and October of last year. 

The trigger of the violence was a brawl between the Muslim owners of a gold shop and two Buddhists who tried to sell a gold hair clip on the morning of March 20. Several different, and often contradictory, accounts have emerged of the incident, but there is no doubt that a Buddhist mob responded by hurling stones at the shop and ended up wrecking the building.

FOMENTING DISCONTENT: Ashin Wirathu, famous for his inflammatory anti-Muslim speeches, at the Maseyein monastery in Mandalay.
That evening the riots became deadly when about 5.30pm a monk was attacked by four Muslim men who torched him alive. The monk died in hospital that same evening. Just a few hours later the city was on fire when groups of Buddhists unleashed their fury on Muslims and their properties under the gaze of security forces, who for two days watched the violence without taking any action. 

Many witnesses have confirmed the failure of the police to prevent the violence. One of them is Win Htein, the local MP of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi. Win Htein, a former army officer who spent 20 years in jail for his political activities and used to organise security for ``the Lady'' after her release from house arrest on November 2010, told Spectrum in the ramshackle local NLD office that he witnessed the carnage in front of the madrasa. 

"I saw with my own eyes two people already dead and five more put to death in front of me.'' 

He said he tried to protect the Muslims, but was threatened by the mob. Then he called the chief minister of Mandalay Division, Gen Ye Myint, and told him what was happening. ``He said he'd already given orders to the police to take action, but there was no action at all,'' Win Htein said. 

It took a further day before the army stepped in and restored some order in the city. By then, at least 42 people had been killed and more than 60 were injured. Those are the official estimates, but the real figures are likely to be considerably higher, considering that at least 30 people died in a single incident at the madrasa. 

One local reporter who witnessed the carnage, told Spectrum that she arrived at the scene at 5pm and saw a pile of several dozen corpses just metres from the madrasa. When she went back four hours later, the pile had been set on fire.

On March 21, the young reporter saw and filmed a group of Buddhists slit the throat of a Muslim man, before dousing him with petrol and setting him on fire. She continued recording despite being told to stop, but eventually had to flee the scene when six or seven Buddhist men chased her, hitting her on the back. 

The reporter said that during the time she was in Meiktila, from March 20-22, she saw only Buddhists carrying weapons and the violence was fundamentally one-sided, with the Muslims always on the receiving end. 

Win Htein said the attacks were spontaneous and perpetrated by Buddhist residents of the city, but others witnesses claimed the attackers were unknown to them and seemed to be following a well coordinated plan. 

Three weeks after the riots, the Muslim quarters of Meiktila are large wastelands of destroyed buildings and charred cars, resembling the aftermath of a war or natural disaster, and where the poorest inhabitants of the city scavenge for scrap to sell. More than 18,000 residents, most of them Muslims, have been displaced by the violence and most of them are now living in government-controlled camps. The camps are off-limits to journalists, but there are also unofficial camps like the one where Mon Hnin lives. 

The government has announced plans to rebuild the destroyed houses within two months, but few believe in its ability or even its willingness to do so. Many Muslim refugees fear their situation might become permanent, as happened to the Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine state, in western Myanmar. Unlike the Rohingya, however, the Muslims of central Myanmar are officially recognised as citizens of the country.

LAST DEFENCE: Barricades manned by Muslim residents in Mingalar Taungyungnunt, the main Muslim quarter in Yangon. Following the violence in Meiktila, residents there have begun conducting patrols at night.

After Meiktila, the anti-Muslim attacks spread to other parts of central Myanmar, getting dangerously close to the the nation's largest city, Yangon. In the Bago region, the pattern of violence against Muslim people and property was repeated in no less than 14 villages. 

More than 80 refugees from Minhla, a town with a population of about 100,000, are now living in a mosque in Yangon after fleeing a wave of attacks on March 27. 

Ko Maung Win (not his real name), a teacher at the local mosque recounted how a mob of Buddhist extremists attacked the mosque shortly after afternoon prayer. Nobody was killed or injured during the attacks.

LUNCHTIME LULL: Most of those displaced by ethnic violence are in government-controlled camps, however others are in unofficial camps such as this one.
He and other refugees from Minhla told Spectrum that the attacks came out of the blue, without any prior threat or warning. They said, however, that relations between the two communities had steadily soured after a monk visited the city at the end of February and gave a speech telling Buddhists to shun Muslim people and their shops. A woman who owned a grocery store in the market, and is now one of the refugees in the mosque, said she lost many Buddhist customers after the speech. Nevertheless, when the attacks started she was given refuge in the home of a Buddhist neighbour. 

The violence has not yet reached Yangon, but in some of its Muslim neighbourhoods there is an almost palpable tension, particularly at night. Since the attacks in Meiktila, the residents of Mingalar Taungyungnunt, the main Muslim quarter of the former capital, have set up barricades and conduct nightly street patrols.

WHIRLWIND OF HATE: The destroyed Mingalar Thiri Muslim quarter in Meiktila.
Muslim communities are abuzz with rumours, especially after the fire in an Islamic school in Yangon that claimed the lives of 13 children in the early hours of April 2. Few people believe the official line that the fire was accidental. The haste of the authorities to say it was, and their inability to find any eyewitness accounts further contributed to people's suspicions. 

Neighbours interviewed recently in the quarter said that, under the cloak of dark, people roam the streets in cars shouting threats and insults. Many of them are afraid that during the annual Songkran-like water festival there might be an attack similar to those in Meiktila and Bago. Many men sleep only a few hours a night, as they have to work at day and patrol the streets in the evening. Every entrance to the neighbourhood from the main streets is blocked with makeshift barricades manned by local men. 

All of the men interviewed by Spectrum were keen to emphasise that their relations with an overwhelming majority of Buddhists have always been and continue to be peaceful and friendly. They put the blame on ill-defined groups of ``Buddhist terrorists''. 

Like many other Muslims around the country, the residents of Mingalar Taungyungnunt feel unprotected and abandoned by local authorities and the central government. During two visits to the quarter at night, only a minimal police force could be seen on the streets.

"We don't know who these people are, but we are not afraid. If they attack us, we will fight back,'' said a young man in one of the barricades. 

Many Muslims interviewed by Spectrum in Yangon and other places feel that Aung San Suu Kyi has also abandoned them. They expressed their disappointment with her inability to make a forceful defence of Myanmar's Muslim communities. One of the aspects of the crisis that has puzzled many international observers has been the conspicuous silence of ``the Lady'' and her party on the issue. 

When we mentioned this to Win Htein, he said the party is willing to "accept the blame for not taking the necessary steps on behalf of the Muslims'', adding that it will ``repair the damage later, by getting involved in religious ceremonies and asking committees to get together, but it will be a hard task.'' 

He said he told Aung San Suu Kyi not to go to Meiktila. "I advised her not to come here, because people were blaming me when I supported the Muslims.'' 

He admitted that this decison was the result of political calculation, but added, ``She wouldn't be able to give a reasonable answer to the conflict, that's why I told her not to come.'' 


While the gold shop dispute and torching of a Buddhist monk might have been the catalysts for the recent violence, the incidents are set against a general climate of distrust, which in this case was fostered by religious and political leaders. 

The anti-Muslim sentiment finds its expression in a campaign called 969, which encourages Buddhists to shop only in Buddhist outlets and calls for a defence of Buddhism in Myanmar against the supposed threat of a Islamisation. The campaign is named after the ``three jewels'' of Buddhism _ the nine attributes of Buddha, the six attributes of his teachings, and the nine attributes of the Sangha. There are many 969 stickers in shops, taxis and cars around Yangon and other cities. 

The most visible face of the 969 movement is Ashin Wirathu, a monk from Mandalay who is famous for his anti-Muslim speeches. The boyish-looking 45 year old with a calm demeanour and soft voice was jailed in 2003 for inciting anti-Muslim riots and released under an amnesty in 2012. Spectrum met him in Masoeyein, a monastery in Mandalay whose monks are famous for their political activism. 

Sitting beneath several huge portraits of himself, Ashin Wirathu explained the ``Muslim conspiracy'' which, according to him, threatens to engulf Myanmar. 

A man full of contradictions he seems consistent only in his criticism of and dislike for Islam. He denied at first that he mentions Muslims in his speeches at all, but later admitted that he does speak about them, but only because he wants to inform people of the reality. 

At one point he even claimed that 100% of rapes in Myanmar are committed by Muslims, disregarding the fact that the army is known to use rape as a weapon in its wars against ethnic insurgents. 

He traced his anti-Muslim activism to 1996, when a Muslim who had converted to Buddhism gave him a supposed ``secret message'' circulated among Myanmar Muslims laying out their conspiracy to Islamise the country. The message included a plan to marry Buddhist women in order to convert them, and taking over the economy. Ashin Wirathu also warned that if Myanmar Buddhists do not take action, by 2100 the whole country will resemble the Mayu region of Rakhine state, an area mostly populated by Muslim Rohingya. 

Ashin Wirathu recognised that Buddhists have committed acts of violence, but refused to admit that his incendiary speeches have anything to do with them. He also refused to acknowledge that his discourses incite hatred towards Muslims, stating that he is just ``informing the public''. 

He even claimed that, should people listen to him, no Buddhist would engage in violence, despite the fact that he gave one of his trademark speeches in Meiktila just four months before the recent violence. Eventually, as a solution to the ``Muslim problem'', he presented a simple formula: ``Buddhists can talk with Muslims, but not marry them; there can be friendship between them, but not trade.'' 

Ashin Wirathu's words enjoy widespread publicity in the country and he is well supported by the Buddhist community, which reveres monks as the ultimate depositaries of wisdom. According to Win Htein, the NLD MP from Meiktila, Ashin Wirathu's speeches are shown in the buses operated by companies owned by the military. 

In a house in Meiktila, Aye Aye Aung, a 43-year-old Buddhist woman who owns three shops in the town, showed Spectrum a DVD of one of Ashin Wirathu's speeches in which he warns against the Muslim conspiracy. She also showed us the weapon, a knife tied to a long iron bar, that her husband made the day the violence started to defend his family and property against possible Muslim attackers. She said that she was willing to let Muslims live in Meiktila, but they should be completely segregated from the rest of the population. 

Ashin Wirathu claimed that 969 is a grass-roots movement without funding from powerful or wealthy people. Its publicity stickers are printed and distributed by ordinary people who act out of concern for their country, he said. 

Despite his claims, several vendors at Mandalay market said the stickers are distributed by monks from Ashin Wirathu's monastery. 

Ashin Gambira, a former monk and leader of the 2007 ``Saffron Revolution'' is one of Ashin Wirathu's main critics. He said the monk is breaking the Buddhist precept of ``right speech'', which exhorts followers in part to avoid saying anything that could prove harmful to others. According to him, anti-Muslim sentiment was actively promoted by the army during its five decades of dictatorship and the hatred is now ``instilled in the minds of the people'' to such a degree that it would not take much of an effort to ``revive it at any moment''. 

It is a mystery who is behind the campaign and Ashin Wirathu, but many believe they enjoy the financial support of powerful people. There are also claims that they are following the plans of hard-line elements in the military who are unwilling to renounce their power and are posed to create unrest to reassert their position. The fact is that the authorities have allowed him to go around the country preaching his hatred at a particularly delicate time. 

Ashin Pum Na Wontha is a 56-year-old Buddhist monk with a long history of political activism dating back to 1988. He now belongs to the Peace Cultivation Network, an organisation established to promote understanding between different faiths and communities. 

In a recent interview conducted at his monastery in Yangon, he told Spectrum that Ashin Wirathu is a merely a puppet ``motivated by his vanity and thirst for fame''. 

"Wirathu and the 969 movement receive financial support from the cronies,'' he said, referring to a group of about 30 rich men linked to the military and the government who control the nation's economy. Several Muslim businessmen have huge assets and, according to Ashin Pum Na Wontha, the cronies would like to get their hands on them. 

He said he also believes the military is involved in the violence, as a way to destabilise the country and have the chance to present itself as the sole institution capable of re-establishing the law and order. According to his analysis, the military does not want to recover full power, as it had following the 1962 coup of Gen Ne Win, but to ``go back to 1958''. 

In that year, Ne Win took power temporarily from U Nu, the first prime minister of Myanmar, and established a caretaker government that lasted 18 months. At that time, the army was able to present itself as the defender of democracy and stability in the country. 

Inter-religious and communal tensions had long existed in Myanmar before Gen Ne Win took full power in 1962. Anti-Indian and anti-Muslim riots exploded in Yangon in 1930 and 1938 due to the resentment of the Myanmar people towards Indians who had entered the country with the arrival of the British colonisers. As today, the riots were often incited by Buddhist nationalist monks. 

Ne Win and the military junta that replaced him played this religious ultra-nationalist and racist card for the entirety of their rules. Muslims and other non-Buddhists were barred from the upper echelons of the army and, almost immediately after Ne Win's coup, he expelled hundreds of thousands of Indians from the country. 

He also fostered a sense of a Myanmar identity strongly linked to ethnicity and religion, which has been the breeding ground for waves of anti-Muslim violence, like this most recent one, which threatens to spiral out of control and spread to large parts of the country.

Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma

Kate Hodal
April 18, 2013

Thousands watch YouTube videos of 45-year-old 'Burmese Bin Laden' who is inciting violence against country's Muslim minority

His name is Wirathu, he calls himself the "Burmese Bin Laden" and he is a Buddhist monk who is stoking religious hatred across Burma.

The saffron-robed 45-year-old regularly shares his hate-filled rants through DVD and social media, in which he warns against Muslims who "target innocent young Burmese girls and rape them", and "indulge in cronyism".

To ears untrained in the Burmese language, his sermons seem steady and calm – almost trance-like – with Wirathu rocking back and forth, eyes downcast. Translate his softly spoken words, however, and it becomes clear how his paranoia and fear, muddled with racist stereotypes and unfounded rumours, have helped to incite violence and spread misinformation in a nation still stumbling towards democracy.

"We are being raped in every town, being sexually harassed in every town, being ganged up on and bullied in every town," Wirathu recently told the Guardian, speaking from the Masoeyein monastery in Mandalay where he is based.

"In every town, there is a crude and savage Muslim majority."

It would be easy to disregard Wirathu as a misinformed monk with militant views, were it not for his popularity. Presiding over some 2,500 monks at this respected monastery, Wirathu has thousands of followers on Facebook and his YouTube videos have been watched tens of thousands of times.

The increasing openness of Burma, which was once tightly controlled under a military junta, has seen a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment spread across the 60 million-strong Buddhist majority – and Wirathu is behind much of it.

Rising to prominence in 2001, when he created a nationalist campaign to boycott Muslim businesses, Wirathu was jailed for 25 years in 2003 for inciting anti-Muslim hatred but freed in 2010 under a general amnesty.

Since his release, Wirathu has gone back to preaching hate. Many believe him to be behind the fighting last June between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, where 200 people were killed and more than 100,000 displaced.

It was Wirathu who led a rally of monks in Mandalay in September to defend President Thein Sein's controversial plan to send the Rohingya to a third country. One month later, more violence broke out in Rakhine state.

Wirathu says the violence in Rakhine was the spark for the most recent fighting in Burma's central city of Meiktila, where a dispute in a gold shop quickly spiralled into a looting-and-arson spree. More than 40 people were killed and 13,000 forced to flee, most of them Muslims, after mosques, shops and houses were burned down across the city.

Wirathu says part of his concern with Islam is that Buddhist women have been converted by force and then killed for failing to follow Islamic rules. He also believes the halal way of killing cattle "allows familiarity with blood and could escalate to the level where it threatens world peace".

So he is back to leading a nationalist "969" campaign, encouraging Buddhists to "buy Buddhist and shop Buddhist" and demarcate their homes and businesses using numbers related to the Buddha (the number refers to his nine attributes, the six attributes of his teaching and the nine attributes of the Buddhist order), seemingly with the intention of creating an apartheid state.

Wirathu openly blames Muslims for instigating the recent violence. A minority population that makes up just 5% of the nation's total, Wirathu says Burma's Muslims are being financed by Middle Eastern forces: "The local Muslims are crude and savage because the extremists are pulling the strings, providing them with financial, military and technical power," he said.

Not everyone agrees with Wirathu's teachings, including those of his own faith. "He sides a little towards hate," said Abbot Arriya Wuttha Bewuntha of Mandalay's Myawaddy Sayadaw monastery. "This is not the way Buddha taught. What the Buddha taught is that hatred is not good, because Buddha sees everyone as an equal being. The Buddha doesn't see people through religion."

Critics point to Wirathu's lack of education to explain his extremism as little more than ignorance, but his views do have clout in a nation where many businesses are run successfully by Muslims.

The second son of eight children, Wirathu was born in 1968 in a town near Mandalay and only attended school until 14, after which he became a monk. Eager to leave "civilian life rife with its greed and spite", he said he had no intention of marrying: "I didn't want to be with a woman."

Wirathu claims he has read the Qur'an and counts Muslims among his friends, but said: "We're not so close because my Muslim friends don't know how to talk to Buddhist monks … I can accept [being friends] if they consider me an important and respected religious figure."

Despite spending seven years in prison for stoking religious violence, Wirathu won a "freedom of religion" award in February from the UK's foremost Burmese monastery, Sasana Ramsi in London, in the same week that he spread rumours that a Rangoon school would be developed into a mosque.

Analysts warn that Wirathu's seeming freedom to preach as he pleases – in addition to his influence over other monks, who have also started preaching against Islam – should be taken as a wake-up call to the rest of the world. "If a similar hate movement like Burma's '969' movement – which spreads hate speech and hate symbols – [existed] specifically against, say, the Jews in Europe, no European government would tolerate it," Burmese activist and London School of Economics visiting fellow Maung Zarni said.

"Why should the EU not take it seriously, in a major EU-aid recipient country?"

Both Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have been criticised for not taking a greater stand against the violence that has racked Burma in recent months. Some have pointed to the seemingly planned nature of many of the attacks; UN special envoy Vijay Nambiar said the violence had a "brutal efficiency" and cited "incendiary propaganda" as stirring up trouble.

Multifaith activists in Burma recently took to the streets to counter the violence, distributing T-shirts and stickers with the message: "There shall be no racial or religious conflicts because of me." But the Buddhist-Muslim tension has already spread far and wide.

In Rangoon, a recent mosque fire that killed 13 children was widely believed to be a case of arson. And in Indonesia, eight Buddhists were beaten to death by Rohingya Muslims at a detention centre, in apparent retribution for incidents of sexual assault by Buddhist inmates against Rohingya women.

Rumours abound that those inciting the fighting, like Wirathu, are pawns for being used by Burma's military generals to stir up trouble in the nascent democracy. But Wirathu insists he is working alone: "These are my own beliefs," he said. "I want the world to know this."

In a chilling sermon last month, Wirathu warned that the "population explosion" of Burma's Muslims could mean only one thing: "They will capture our country in the end."

And just like his namesake, this "Burmese Bin Laden" made a brazen call to arms: "Once we [have] won this battle, we will move on to other Muslim targets."

Preacher of hate

1968 Wirathu is born in Kyaukse, near Mandalay

1984 Joins the monkhood

2001 Starts promoting his nationalist "969" campaign, which includes boycotting Muslim businesses

2003 Jailed for 25 years for inciting religious violence after distributing anti-Muslim leaflets, leading to 10 Muslims being killed in Kyaukse

2010 Freed under a general amnesty

June 2012 Violence breaks out between ethnic Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in Rakhine state

September 2012 Wirathu leads a rally of monks in support of President Thein Sein's proposal to send the Rohingya to a third country

October 2012 More violence breaks out in Rakhine state

March 2013 Inter-religious fighting in Meiktila sees 40 killed and nearly 13,000 displaced; "969" stickers and plaques distributed throughout Burma

The Dangers of Decency

By Maung Zarni
April 10, 2013

Who would have thought that decency would be a bad thing in a journalist, intellectually and professionally speaking? But when it comes to Burma, that certainly seems to be the case.

There is no such thing as unbiased reporting or scholarship. That much is settled among those who know the inevitably biased nature of interpreting the world, whether it be through scholarship or journalism. 

So I don’t fault journalists for their biases and editorial and publishing slants. 

However, when it comes to reporting Burma, the coverage has been beyond biased. It is generally horribly inadequate, or downright incorrect. 

From a Burmese perspective—especially from the perspective of those who have borne the brunt of the half-century of military rule under various and evolving disguises—the way Burma is being reported is like adding insult to injury. 

Take, for instance, the media’s standard framing of the violence against the Rohingya and now the other Muslims of Burma as “communal” or “sectarian.” 

Otherwise decent and intelligent international publications continue to get it all wrong. The Economist, for instance, recently published an article about “Communal violence in Myanmar” that came with this subheading: “Sectarian violence was not supposed to be part of Myanmar’s bright new direction.” 

Empirically speaking—not that one should hold any mass media coverage to the standards of empirical research—there is absolutely nothing sectarian or communal about the violence that has been unleashed in waves and phases by the organized Buddhist mobs and executed with “brutal efficiency,” as the UN special envoy for Burma, Vijay Nambiar, put it. The violence against the now terrorized and permanently displaced populations of Rohingyas and other Muslims in 15 towns across the country is one-way, organized, and state-backed. 

Overwhelmingly, it has been one single community that has borne the death and devastation wrought by all this violence: the Muslims, including the Rohingyas and Muslims who are ethnically Burmese. 

So why has the media kept getting even a rather straightforward story—that organized Buddhist monks were killing Muslims in broad daylight before the presence of armed security personnel—wrong? 

Why has it failed to connect the two simple dots between local security troops’ inaction and Naypyidaw’s central command? 

Burma’s security troops were reportedly ordered to “do nothing,” as evidenced in a local investigative report published in the New York Times. The same observation was made by UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Quintana in an AFP report that was released on the same day. 

Further, the state-organized and controlled fire department also put out fires only in Buddhist homes, while it let Muslim houses, shops and mosques burn to ashes, as local eyewitnesses told the EU-funded NGO, the Euro-Burma Office, while the pogrom in Meikhtila was still unfolding from March 20-22. 

Whatever their editorial stances or slants, one major problem that keeps the journalists from reporting intelligently, professionally and realistically about Burma is that journalists are decent human beings who think, feel and view things from a human perspective, informed by their own human decency. Burma, on the other hand, is ruled by sociopaths and psychopaths who will stop at nothing to defend their power, wealth and delusions. 

This means that journalists end up trashing reality-grounded views as “extremist” and “incredible” and dismiss any analysis that suggests a central role of the state—from President Thein Sein’s office down to local security units—in the waves of violence against Muslims. 

Unable to read Burmese social media sites and other online forums, the journalists miss out on open-source Burmese-language materials such as the Facebook page of the President’s Office or Myawaddi News, the Defense Ministry’s main propaganda organ, where neo-Nazi messages and posts, official and unofficial, are disseminated. 

Instead, international journalists go with their own pet narratives and paradigms. Consequently, they get their Burma stories horribly wrong, identifying trees but unable to see the forest that the trees make up. Thus the state-orchestrated anti-Muslim terror campaign degenerates into “communal violence,” and the man with no integrity becomes “a pursuer of peace” and a sincere reformer. 

In short, the international mass media has proven itself incapable of connecting the dots in its coverage of Burma. The reading and viewing public of the rest of the world is thus ill-served by the humanity of foreign journalists who fail to see what is abundantly clear to most Burmese observers. 

When reporting about Burma, it helps to be able to see the world through the eyes of sociopaths and psychopaths. From the ruling generals to certain elements of Burmese society, Burma has both in abundance. Without taking their mindset into account, one is bound to end up with half-baked analyses that don’t do justice to our attempts to understand the twisted world of Burmese politics. 

Maung Zarni is a Burmese activist blogger ( and visiting fellow of Civil Society and Human Security Research at the London School of Economics.

This article firstly published here.

Special Report: Buddhist monks incite Muslim killings in Myanmar

(Photo: Reuters)
Jason Szep
April 8, 2013

The Buddhist monk grabbed a young Muslim girl and put a knife to her neck. 

"If you follow us, I'll kill her," the monk taunted police, according to a witness, as a Buddhist mob armed with machetes and swords chased nearly 100 Muslims in this city in central Myanmar.

It was Thursday, March 21. Within hours, up to 25 Muslims had been killed. The Buddhist mob dragged their bloodied bodies up a hill in a neighborhood called Mingalarzay Yone and set the corpses on fire. Some were found butchered in a reedy swamp. A Reuters cameraman saw the charred remains of two children, aged 10 or younger.

Ethnic hatred has been unleashed in Myanmar since 49 years of military rule ended in March 2011. And it is spreading, threatening the country's historic democratic transition. Signs have emerged of ethnic cleansing, and of impunity for those inciting it.

Over four days, at least 43 people were killed in this dusty city of 100,000, just 80 miles north of the capital of Naypyitaw. Nearly 13,000 people, mostly Muslims, were driven from their homes and businesses. The bloodshed here was followed by Buddhist-led mob violence in at least 14 other villages in Myanmar's central heartlands and put the Muslim minority on edge across one of Asia's most ethnically diverse countries.

An examination of the riots, based on interviews with more than 30 witnesses, reveals the dawn massacre of 25 Muslims in Meikhtila was led by Buddhist monks - often held up as icons of democracy in Myanmar. The killings took place in plain view of police, with no intervention by the local or central government. Graffiti scrawled on one wall called for a "Muslim extermination."

Unrest that ensued in other towns, just a few hours' drive from the commercial capital of Yangon, was well-organized, abetted at times by police turning a blind eye. Even after the March 21 killings, the chief minister for the region did little to stop rioting that raged three more days. He effectively ceded control of the city to radical Buddhist monks who blocked fire trucks, intimidated rescue workers and led rampages that gutted whole neighborhoods.

Not all of the culprits were Buddhists. They may have started the riots, but the first man to die was a monk slain by Muslims.

Still, the Meikhtila massacre fits a pattern of Buddhist-organized violence and government inaction detailed by Reuters in western Myanmar last year. This time, the bloodshed struck a strategic city in the very heart of the country, raising questions over whether reformist President Thein Sein has full control over security forces as Myanmar undergoes its most dramatic changes since a coup in 1962.

In a majority-Buddhist country known as the "Golden Land" for its glittering pagodas, the unrest lays bare an often hidden truth: Monks have played a central role in anti-Muslim unrest over the past decade. Although 42 people have been arrested in connection to the violence, monks continue to preach a fast-growing Buddhist nationalist movement known as "969" that is fueling much of the trouble.

The examination also suggests motives that are as much economic as religious. In one of Asia's poorest countries, the Muslims of Meikhtila and other parts of central Myanmar are generally more prosperous than their Buddhist neighbors. In Myanmar as a whole, Muslims account for 5 percent of the populace. In Meikhtila, they comprise a third. They own prime real estate, electronics shops, clothing outlets, restaurants and motorbike dealerships, earning conspicuously more than the city's Buddhist majority, who toil mostly as laborers and street vendors.

As Myanmar, also known as Burma, emerges from nearly half a century of isolation and military misrule, powerful business interests are jockeying for position in one of Asia's last frontier markets. The recent violence threatens to knock long-established Muslim communities out of that equation, stoking speculation the unrest is part of a bigger struggle for influence in reform-era Myanmar.

The failure of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, now opposition leader in parliament, to defuse the tension further undermines her image as a unifying moral force. Suu Kyi, a devout Buddhist, has said little, beyond warning that the violence could spread if not dealt with by rule of law.

Suu Kyi declined to be interviewed for this story.


The spark was simple enough.

Aye Aye Naing, a 45-year-old Buddhist woman, wanted to make an offering of food to local monks. But she needed money, she recalled, sitting in her home in Pyon Kout village. At about 9 a.m. on March 20, a day before the massacre, she brought a gold hair clip to town. She had it appraised at 140,000 kyat ($160). With her husband and sister, she entered New Waint Sein, a Muslim-owned gold shop, which offered her 108,000 kyat. She wanted at least 110,000.

Shop workers studied the gold, but the clip came back damaged, she said. The shop owner, a young woman in her 20s, now offered just 50,000. The stout mother of five protested, calling the owner unreasonable. The owner slapped her, witnesses said. Aye Aye Naing's husband shouted and was pulled outside, held down and beaten by three of the store's staff, according to the couple and two witnesses.

Onlookers gathered. Police arrived, detaining Aye Aye Naing and the owner. The mostly Buddhist mob turned violent, hurling stones, shouting anti-Muslim slurs and breaking down the shop's doors, according to several witnesses. No one was killed or injured, but the Muslim-owned building housing the gold shop and several others were nearly destroyed.

"This shop has a bad reputation in the neighborhood," said Khin San, who says she watched the violence from her general store across the street. "They don't let people park their cars in front. They are quarrelsome. They have some hatred from the crowd."

That hatred had been further stoked by a leaflet signed by a group calling itself "Buddhists who feel helpless" and handed out a few weeks before. It suggested Muslims in Meikhtila were conspiring against Buddhists, assisted by money from Saudi Arabia, and holding shady meetings in mosques. It was addressed to the area's monks.

Tensions escalated. By about 5:30 p.m., four Muslim men were waiting at an intersection. As a monk passed on the back of a motorbike, they attacked. One hit the driver with a sword, causing him to crash, witnesses said. A second blow sliced the back of the monk's head. One of the men doused him in fuel and set him on fire, said Soe Thein, a mechanic who saw the attack. The monk died in hospital.

Soe Thein, a Buddhist, ran to the market. "A monk has been killed! A monk has been killed!" he cried. As he ran back, a mob followed and the riots began. Muslim homes and shops went up in flames.

Soe Thein identified the attackers by name and said he saw several in the village days after the monk was murdered. Police declined to say whether they were among 13 people arrested and under investigation related to the Meikhtila violence.


That evening, flames devoured much of Mingalarzay Yone, a mostly Muslim ward in east Meikhtila. The fire razed a mosque, an orphanage and several homes. Hundreds fled. Some hid in Buddhist friends' houses, witnesses said. About 100 packed into the thatched wooden home of Maung Maung, a Muslim elder.

As the mob swelled in size, Win Htein, a lawmaker in Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, tried to restrain the crowd but was held back. "Someone took my arm and said be careful or you will become a victim," he said.

About 200 police officers watched the riots in the neighborhood before leaving around midnight, he said.

By about 4 a.m., the Muslim men inside Maung Maung's house were braced for battle, chanting in Arabic and then shouting in Burmese, "We'll wash our feet in Burman blood." (The Burmans, or Bamah, are Myanmar's ethnic majority.) Nearly a thousand Buddhists were outside.

When dawn broke, at about 6 a.m., the only police presence in the area was a detail of about 10 officers. They slowly backed away, allowing the mob to attack, said Hla Thein, 48, a neighborhood Buddhist elder.

The Muslims fled through the side of the house, chased by men with swords, sticks, iron rods and machetes. Some were butchered in a nearby swamp, said Hla Thein, who recounted the events along with four other witnesses, both Buddhist and Muslim.

Others were cut down as they ran toward a hilltop road. "They chased them like they were hunting rabbits," said NLD lawmaker Win Htein.

Police saved 47 of the Muslims, mostly women and children, by encircling them with their shields and firing warning shots in the air, Hla Thein said. "We don't want to attack you," one monk shouted at the police, according to a policeman. "We just want the Muslims."

Ye Myint, the chief minister of Mandalay region that includes Meikhtila, told reporters later that day that the situation was "stabilizing." In fact, it was getting worse. Armed monks and Buddhist mobs terrorized the streets for the next three days, witnesses said.

They threatened Thein Zaw, a fireman trying to douse a burning mosque. "How dare you extinguish this fire," he recalls one monk shouting. "We are going to kill you." A group of about 30 monks smashed the sign hanging outside his fire station and tried to block his truck. He drove through a hail of stones, one striking below his eye, and crashed, he said, showing his wound.

"A monk with a knife at one point swung at me," said Kyaw Ye Aung, a junior firefighter who, like Thein Zaw, is Buddhist.

Three days later, on the hill where Muslim bodies were burned, this reporter found the remains of a mix of adults and children: pieces of human skull, vertebrae and other bones, and a singed child's backpack.

Nearby, municipal trucks dumped bodies in a field next to a crematorium in Meikhtila's outskirts. They were burned with old tires.


Knife-wielding monks jar with Buddhism's better-known image of meditative pacifism.

Grounded in a philosophy of enlightenment, nonviolence, rebirth and the vanquishing of human desires, Buddhism eschews crusades or jihads. It traditionally embraces peace, clarity and wisdom — attributes of the Buddha who lived some 2,500 years ago.

About 90 percent of Myanmar's 60 million people are practicing Buddhists, among the world's largest proportion. Sheathed in iconic burgundy robes, Buddhist monks were at the forefront of Myanmar's struggle for democracy and, before that, independence.

Many Burmese find it easier to assume a cherished institution has been infiltrated by thugs and provocateurs than to admit the monkhood's central role in anti-Muslim violence in recent years.

On the streets of Meikhtila, witnesses saw monks from well-known local monasteries. They also saw monks from Mandalay, the country's second-largest city and a center of Burmese culture about 100 miles to the north. One such visitor was the nationalistic monk Wirathu.

Wirathu was freed last year from nine years in jail during an amnesty for hundreds of political prisoners, among the most celebrated reforms of Myanmar's post-military rule. He had been locked up for helping to incite deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2003.

Today, the charismatic 45-year-old with a boyish smile is an abbot in Mandalay's Masoeyein Monastery, a sprawling complex where he leads about 60 monks and has influence over more than 2,500 residing there. From that power base, he is leading a fast-growing movement known as "969," which encourages Buddhists to shun Muslim businesses and communities.

The three numbers refer to various attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood. In practice, the numbers have become the brand of a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism that seeks to transform Myanmar into an apartheid-like state.

"We have a slogan: When you eat, eat 969; when you go, go 969; when you buy, buy 969," Wirathu said in an interview at his monastery in Mandalay. Translation: If you're eating, traveling or buying anything, do it with a Buddhist. Relishing his extremist reputation, Wirathu describes himself as the "Burmese bin Laden."

He began giving a series of controversial 969 speeches about four months ago. "My duty is to spread this mission," he said. It's working: 969 stickers and signs are proliferating — often accompanied by violence.

Rioters spray-painted "969" on destroyed businesses in Meikhtila. Anti-Muslim mobs in Bago Region, close to Yangon, erupted after traveling monks preached about the 969 movement. Stickers bearing pastel hues overlaid with the numerals 969 are appearing on street stalls, motorbikes, posters and cars across the central heartlands.

In Minhla, a town of about 100,000 people a few hours' drive from Yangon, 2,000 Buddhists crammed into a community center on February 26 and 27 to listen to Wimalar Biwuntha, an abbot from Mon State. He explained how monks in his state began using 969 to boycott a popular Muslim-owned bus company, according to Win Myint, 59, chairman of the center that hosted the abbot.

After the speeches, the mood in Minhla turned ugly, said Tun Tun, 26, a Muslim tea-shop owner. Muslims were jeered, he said. A month later, about 800 Buddhists armed with metal pipes and hammers destroyed three mosques and 17 Muslim homes and businesses, according to police. No one was killed, but two-thirds of Minhla's Muslims fled and haven't returned, police said.

"Since that speech, people in our village became more aggressive. They would swear at us. We lost customers," said Tun Tun, whose tea shop and home were nearly destroyed by Buddhists on March 27. One attacker was armed with a chainsaw, he said.

A local police official made a deal with the mob: Rioters were allowed 30 minutes to ransack a mosque before police would disperse the crowd, according to two witnesses. They tore it apart for the next half hour, the witnesses said. A hollowed-out structure remains. Local police denied having made any such an agreement when asked by Reuters.

Two days earlier in Gyobingauk, a town of 110,000 people just north of Minhla, a mob destroyed a mosque and 23 houses after three days of speeches by a monk preaching 969. Witnesses said they appeared well organized, razing some buildings with a bulldozer.


Wirathu denied directing the monks in Meikhtila and elsewhere.

"You have the right to defend yourselves. But you don't have the right to kill or destroy," he said in the interview.

Wirathu said he was in Meikhtila to persuade monks not to fight. At one point, he delivered a speech on a car roof. A first-hand account of what he said was not available.

He acknowledged spreading 969 and warned that Muslims were diluting the country's Buddhist identity. That is a comment he has made repeatedly in speeches and social media and by telephone in recent weeks to a large and growing following.

"With money, they become rich and marry Buddhist Burmese woman who convert to Islam, spreading their religion. Their businesses become bigger and they buy more land and houses, and that means fewer Buddhist shrines," he said.

"And when they become rich, they build more mosques which, unlike our pagodas and monasteries, are not transparent," he added. "They're like enemy base stations for us. More mosques mean more enemy bases, so that is why we must prevent this."

Wirathu fears Myanmar will follow the path of Indonesia after Islam entered the archipelago in the 13th century. By the end of the 16th century, Islam had replaced Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religion on Indonesia's main islands.

Wirathu began preaching the apartheid-like 969 creed himself in 2001, when the U.S. State Department reported "a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence" in Myanmar. Anti-Muslim sentiment was fueled in March that year by the Taliban's destruction of Buddhist images in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and in September by al Qaeda's attacks in the United States.

The monk continued until he was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for distributing anti-Muslim pamphlets that incited communal riots in his birthplace of Kyaukse, a town near Meikhtila. At least 10 Muslims were killed in Kyaukse by a Buddhist mob, according to a U.S. State Department report.

Wirathu has a quick answer to the question of who caused Meikhtila's unrest: the Buddhist woman who tried to sell the hair clip. "She shouldn't have done business with Muslims."


Wirathu should be arrested, said Nyi Nyi Lwin, a former monk better known by his holy name U Gambira who led the "Saffron Revolution" democracy uprising in 2007 that was crushed by the military. "What he preaches deviates from Buddha's teachings," he said. "He is a monk. He is an abbot. And he is dangerous. He is becoming very scary and pitiful."

But Gambira said only the government can stop the anti-Muslim mood.

"In the past, they prevented monks from giving speeches about democracy and politics. This time they don't stop these incendiary speeches. They are supporting them," he said. "Because Wirathu is an abbot at a big monastery of about 2,500 monks, no one dares to speak back to him. The government needs to take action against him."

Hla Thein, a witness to the massacre in Meikhtila, said authorities did surprisingly little to stop the violence. "It was like they were waiting for an order that never came," he said.

One senior policeman told Reuters he expected to be ordered to forcibly restrain the riotous mob, but was told not even to use truncheons.

That pattern echoes what Reuters reporters found last year in an examination of October's anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar's western Rakhine State. There, a wave of deadly attacks was organized, according to central-government military sources. They were led by Rakhine Buddhist nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state, incited by Buddhist monks, and, some witnesses said, abetted at times by local security forces.

The latest bloodshed could have been nipped in the bud, said NLD lawmaker Win Htein, a former army captain who spent 20 years as a political prisoner. He said the region's military commander, Aung Kyaw Moe, could have stopped the riots with a few stern orders - especially given that thousands of soldiers are permanently stationed in Meikhtila and nearby.

Aung Kyaw Moe insisted authorities did their job. "It is like a battle. When it first starts you can't really guess the manpower needed or how big it is going to be. But there was protection."

Min Ko Naing, a former political prisoner revered by Burmese nearly as much as Suu Kyi, was in Meikhtila as the violence began. After the massacre, he said, the mob looked well organized. Cell phones in hand, monks inspected cars leaving town, he said. A bulldozer was used to destroy some buildings. "The ordinary public doesn't know how to use a bulldozer," he said.

The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar said he had received reports of "state involvement" in the violence. Soldiers and police sometimes stood by "while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organized ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs," said the rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana. "This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion and support for such actions."

Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and deputy minister of information, called those accusations groundless. "In fact, the military and the government could not be concerned more about this situation," he said.

Authorities imposed martial law on the afternoon of March 22, the third day of violence. By then, only three people had been arrested, all of them for carrying weapons, a police official said. As they began to make more arrests, the unrest ended the next day. A total of 1,594 buildings were destroyed, the regional government said.

It started up a day later in Tatkon on the outskirts of the capital Naypyitaw. The riots then swept south to Bago Region, erupting along a highway just north of Yangon. By March 29, at least 15 towns and villages in central Myanmar had suffered anti-Muslims riots. In Yangon, some Muslims prepared for violence by Buddhists, shuttering shops and leaving to stay with relatives elsewhere.

On April 2, 13 Muslim boys died in a fire at a Yangon religious school. Many grieving relatives say they believe the blaze was deliberately set. The floors were surprisingly slick with oil during the blaze, they said. Yangon officials say it was caused by an electrical short circuit.

Some speculate the violence may be orchestrated by conservative forces pushing back at reformers. Or that crony businessmen linked to the former junta hope to knock Muslims out of business and create an economic vacuum in the heartlands that only they can fill. This last theory resonated with some Muslim businessmen such as Ohn Thwin, 67.

"This is both religious anger and economics," he said, surveying the remnants of his 30-year-old metalworking shop at a popular corner of Meikhtila, a strategic city where three highways intersect. Like many Muslims, he can trace his ancestry back several generations. And like many, he runs a profitable business and has dozens of Buddhist friends, including one who helped him escape the violence.


Across town, about 2,000 people cram into a two-story high school, one of several makeshift refugee camps housing about 11,000 of the town's Muslims, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Many more squeezed into a nearby stadium.

It's unclear if the Muslims whose businesses were destroyed will be able to reclaim their prime real estate. Ye Myint, the region's chief, said they may be moved to new areas - a policy that backfired in Rakhine State, where segregation has only led to further communal violence.

"Once we have achieved a time when there is peace, stability and the rule of law, then we look into resettlement," said Ye Myint.

The high school feels like a jail. Muslims inside cannot leave at will. Friends and relatives are kept waiting outside. Police block journalists from speaking with Muslims - even through a gate.

"I can't sleep at night. I keep thinking there will be another attack," said Kyaw Soe Myint, 40, who was waiting to see his 10 cousins inside before a guard shooed him away. "We're living with fear."

The identity of those arrested is unclear. But according to police, among those detained was the gold shop owner.

Aye Aye Naing, owner of the hair clip, remained shocked by the violence. "I feel sad for the Muslims who have been killed," she said. "All humans are the same; it's just the skin color that is different. We have friends who are Muslims." She said she doesn't know what became of her hair clip.

(Additional reporting by Min Zayer Oo.; Editing by Andrew R.C. Marshall, Michael Williams and Bill Tarrant.)

This report originally published here.