Thursday, April 18, 2013

969, Burma's neo-Nazi Buddhist movement: a splitting image of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) ?

“If you buy from Muslim shops, your money doesn’t just stop there,” “It will eventually go towards destroying your race and religion.”

Muslim merchants receive cash injections from Middle East oil state brethren and use these funds to undercut Buddhist rivals.

This Muslim alliance could outbreed Buddhists, steal away Buddhist women, overwhelm political offices and prohibit Buddhist ceremonies altogether. “We Buddhists allow them to freely practice their faith,”  “But once these evil Muslims have control, they will not let us practice our religion. We must be careful. These Muslims really hate us.

Fliers urge locals to bar Muslims from renting homes and farmlands and ominously warn Buddhists acting as Muslim families’ middlemen.

These statements come not from the Bodu Bala Sena but from 969, a movement in Burma (Myanmar) that has emerged with the avowed aim of defending Buddhist faith, Burmese race and the Buddhist nation from Burmese Muslims.

The similarities between the BBS and 969 are striking, but the links may go deeper than the message.  Dr. Maung Zarni, an outspoken Burmese activist academic has studied 969 in depth and what he reveals may throw some light on the situation here.

The success of 969 rests on a clear message of 'racial and religious purity', a false sense of Buddhist victimhood and cultural and economic nationalism -- not dissimilar to Germany's Nazism in the 1930s.They:

 effectively scapegoat the country's Muslims for the general economic hardships and cultural decay in society, portraying the Burmese as victims at the hands of organised Muslim commercial leeches and parasites; second, 969 preys on the historical and popular anti-Muslim racism among the majority Buddhists; and, last but not least, virtually all state institutions at all levels, including the police, intelligence, the army, local civil administration and even fire departments, under President Thein Sein's management have evidently offered this Buddhist neo-Nazi movement with both impunity and passive cooperation.  
As this report points out, self-victimisation seems to be a key. The majority must be made to feel threatened by an insignificant minority if the are to be made to react.

The 969's consistent theme is that it is Muslims who are doing all the harm to communities and the country. Similarly, the BBS claims that the whole halal issue in Sri Lanka was entirely the fault of the Muslims, they created a problem with this surreptitious system of labelling that was an affront to Buddhists. The calls for removal of mosques, shrines, the abaya/hijab and all the rest are also due to wrongs by the Muslims.

That they supposedly have constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of worship, association and speech are forgotten.   

The theme resonates but a neo-Nazi movement cannot work without popular support. In Burma the message is spread by through official media outlets (such as the Ministry of Defence-run Myawaddy News and President Office's spokesmen), books, pamphlets, DVD's and CD's. In Sri Lanka it is through social media, email, the internet, public meetings, door-to-door campaigns and mainstream media.

Despite a freer media (at least in comparison to Burma), the BBS generally manages to get favourable coverage. The state-controlled media gives the movement's ideology a good airing while more independent media tend to try to give it a positive slant where possible, while downplaying any negative news. There is very little by way of a counter-message in mainstream media, the only real opposing arguments are on the web.

The support of the state is also crucial. In Burma:
969 appears to work in close collaboration with Burma's security forces, the new Burmese media and the People's Relations and Psychological Warfare Division of the Ko Ministry of Defense......
...President Thein Sein's reformist government at best tolerates its categorically anti-Islam hate speeches and activities and at worst backs, if tacitly, the group and its incitement of violence against the country's Muslims.
As in Sri lanka,
his administration has not taken a single action against anyone who openly incites anti-Muslim hatred or ethnic hatred towards the Rohingya.  Nor has Thein Sein's government detained or event deterred a single Buddhist preacher of hate from any acts of spreading anti-Muslim hatred in society and inciting blatant calls for eliminating Muslims and their influence in Burmese society 'phase by phase'. 

But, why would the state do such a thing ? This is what liberals find almost incomprehensible. Apart form being downright evil it is also absolutely stupid . To quote Dr Zarni:
What does the Burmese government have to gain from this violence?

There are three goals, as far as I can tell. One is, the military leadership has swapped their generals’ uniforms for civilian clothing, but at heart, they still remain irredeemably authoritarian and dictatorial. They are security obsessed and some of them feel the reforms that are unfolding in the country are going too far. So they want to slow it down and roll back the reform process. In order to do that, they must create social instability and use volatile situations as an excuse to say, “The people can’t handle freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and freedom of organization. Therefore, we need to have a strong handle on the situation to make sure people stay in line and don’t kill each other.”

Secondly, when all these waves of violence against Rohingya Muslims started last year, the military and the proxy political party of the military was in a worrisome situation because it lost by a landslide in the elections. So within two months of their defeat, they decided to create this very powerful anti-Muslim communal sentiment around the country. And now, [activist and political leader An San] Suu Kyi is in a difficult situation because she can only speak the liberal language of human rights and democracy, which is not as powerful as the ideology that the military and these neo-Nazi monks have whipped up. When it comes to fighting this kind of abnormal religious movement, the language of human rights is never enough.

Thirdly, I think the military is not leaving anything to chance. They have another round of elections in 2015, and they want to make sure that they have a new proxy political movement that they can use to square off Suu Kyi’s party. As a result, the 969 neo-Nazi movement is the most popular movement in the country.
As Burma's junta reluctantly move towards elections, the 969 movement seems to be a campaign to ensure that they win. With elections looming in Sri Lanka and the regime losing some of its popularity could the same motive be behind the BBS? It seems to be the only explanation that makes sense. Given the cosy relationship between the two could the junta have provided some helpful advice to their counterparts across the pond?
Not surprisingly, the justification for the two movements is similar.

To its campaigners, 969 is about protecting race and religion by peaceful means. In practice, it is explicitly an anti-Muslim campaign, not about preaching people the Buddha-nature of all beings, as taught and practiced by Lord Buddha himself. In many townships across Burma, including capital regions, there are local 969 committees that organize events and religious sermons and distribute anti-Muslim materials such as CDs, books and leaflets.
"I’m not discriminating against race or religion. I’m not a racist. But I have the right to love my race!”

Whenever criticism builds, the movement will issue contradictory statements, which serve to dilute the message from the opposition and to deflect from the charge of racism.
In his Burmese language Facebook pages, Wirathu has been posting rather irreconcilable messages; in the morning he would post messages of religious tolerance and compassion and in the afternoon his message would be provocatively anti-Muslim, crying foul of 'forced conversion of Burmese women who marry into Muslim families' or change their Burmese names to Muslim and Indian names.
Like the 969, the worst of BBS's messages are not posted in English which limits their scrutiny by the world at large.

Dr Zarni concludes that
969 movement cannot be understood  outside the interface between Thein Sein's Government and the racist society at large, nor can be explained without examining the respective roles of a) the State which in effect offers Burma's neo-Nazi Buddhists impunity, b) President Thein Sein's inactions, and c) the Burmese opposition leadership's moral bankruptcy.
The 969 movement has resulted in violence across Burma, the most serious taking place a few weeks ago. Unless something is done now, Sri Lanka will end up following in Burma's footsteps.

Sources: Global Post,,


Anonymous said...

Do you have an idea about this "something" that you say needs to be done? You don't certainly believe that BBS should be banned, do you?

Jack Point said...

There are many things that need to be done. In simple terms, the law must be enforced and be seen to work and the culture of complicity and impunity must end.