Ashin Wirathu of the 969. That sounds like the lead singer of a shadowy boy band, doesn’t it? In reality, the 969 is a largely Islamophobic group hailed as the closest thing Myanmar has to a bunch of Nazis. Their belief? That Muslims are taking over their country and must be stopped. At all costs.
Sounds familiar? Indeed. While I don’t know the exact situation playing out in Myanmar, that’s an eerier analogue to what’s happening right here in Sri Lanka. We have out own 969 – the BBS, which has now offered an open ultimatum to the government and the opposition: do what we want, or face the consequences. In a BBS “policy” statement, the BBS has threatened to effectively replace the President if their demands are not met.
Their demands? Curious. An overthrow of the constitution; a change of the nation flag; a rebranding of communities to “Sinhala Christian” “Sinhala Muslim” “Sinhala Hindu” and the like. That’s not asking for much. Would you like fries with that, sir?
The Silence of the Lambs
Unlike the BBS, I have no illusions that the Ruling Dynasty will just step down from power. Time has proven that Mahinda Rajapakse knows better than most people on how to wield the powers of the High Office. What I am concerned about is that nobody in the Government – much less the Familia – seems to be speaking out against the BBS.
Our government machinery has been mobilized many times. Against journalists: against the LTTE: against political opponents: we’ve seen devastating victories won at the hands of brute force or cleverly orchestrated slander campaigns across the media. Our country is ruled by people who have all the power and the expertise to have people thinking exactly what the Rajapakses want them to think.
And yet, they seem to be perfectly willing to bend over backwards to the postmodern LTTE rebrand, the BBS. Perhaps they’re afraid of giving the movement legitimacy by dealing with it. Perhaps they do not want to run into the cultural backlash of striking down a monk in public. Perhaps the BBS has no real power – maybe it’s just talk, despite evidence to the contrary.
All of these options sound better than the alternative: that the Government is silent because the BBS has been endorsed by the the Rajapakses. It’s the sort of thing that’s whispered around a cigarrette or a bottle of arrack. While it’s true that the country has a Buddhist majority, and while it is true that the Sinhala, Muslim and the Tamil have not exactly been holding hands and singing Avurudu songs over the past few years, it suddenly is terrifying when Buddhist Taliban is suddenly running things in your nation.
Nobody wants that, despite the BBS’s arguments to the contrary. But unless the Rajapakses speak out, the people aren’t going to stand up for a united Sri Lanka, either. They’re going to go to bed, pull up the blankets and sleep through the long night, hoping that when they wake up the shit will have passed. It won’t have. Hate will only breed hate. The BBS, if it succeeds, will either create a second Nazi state or a second LTTE.
The 969 is a strange name: its sounds like something Boeing would make. But it’s leader, Wirathu, is a complex character, a curious analogue to the BBS’s Galaboda aththe Gnanasara thero. Born in 1968, Wirathu is the spiritual leader of the 969 movement, partly responsible for inciting everything from riots to arson sprees. The serene-faced racist agitator who demonizes Muslims and wields social media – YouTube included – almost as effectively as ISIS. Almost. Nevertheless, in his own words, he “abhors violence” and is simply a peaceful preacher of the Buddha’s teachings.
His movement will reportedly be joining hands with the BBS. In other words, we’ve just imported a terrorist for a pep speech and a multi-national contract. This is the problem with priests these days: too much leeway. For a creed dedicated to a peaceful philosophy, they’ve done quite a lot a lot of harm. The orange robe is superb camoflauge. Anyone can hide in it.
Let’s not say that there isn’t Muslim extremism in this world. There is. Just like there is Buddhist extremism. Just like the Crusades were Christian extremism at their finest. By and large, it seems to Islam’s turn to be the fall guy across the world (we have the Middle East and the US to thank for that).
Nevertheless, justice, if it has to be dispensed, must be at the hands of the law and the elected President, not at the hands of vigilantes in orange robes.