Burma and 969, Buddhist Versus Muslim

At the edges of Southeast Asia sit countries with an Islamic minority. And each of them deal with this particular group in different ways. Thailand and the Philippines handle it one way. And Burma’s (Myanmar’s) Buddhist leaders have handled it in another fashion:

Brightly-coloured posters and stickers bearing the number “969” are popping up in cities all over Burma. These look innocuous enough at first glance. However, “969” actually denotes an anti-Islam campaign led by hardliner Buddhist monks. Burmese Muslims say it has stirred up hatred and paranoia, resulting in a string of bloody anti-Muslim riots across the country over the past weeks.

Burma 969 campaign, led by Wirathu, has paired Buddhist versus Muslim
Burma 969 campaign, led by Wirathu, has paired Buddhist, 969, versus Muslim, 786.

The three digits ‘969’ originally refer to the Buddha’s “three jewels” , but they are now being used as a brand name for a nationalist, anti-Muslim campaign led by a prominent monk based in Mandalay. Wirathu, who likes to refer to himself as the “Burmese Bin Laden”, was jailed in 2003 for inciting riots against Muslims, but was released as part of a general amnesty in 2012. Since then, he’s spearheaded the fast-growing ‘969’ movement, making numerous speeches calling on Buddhists to “buy 969” and boycott Muslim-owned stores.

As is usual with such articles, there are gems in the comments:

-Intolerance in any shape or form should not be tolerated. But bear in mind what is provoking this anger: Many Muslims support a movement to settle in and control the southern portions of Southeast Asian countries. Perhaps the folks in Myanmar do not want bombings, death and destruction that radical Muslims have inflicted on the Thais and the Filipinos.

-Moderate Muslims have revealed themselves as a feckless lot. By refusing to criticise and isolate radical Muslims, moderate Muslims are seen as giving their tacit approval to Islamic terrorists. It is only right that cowardly moderate Muslims incur the wrath of their neighbours.

-As I understand it, the situation originated with Muslim destruction of Buddhist Temples and archeology sites. Then flared when a Muslim shop owner cheated a Buddhist customer, and laughed at the couple when the Muslims broke an item the Buddhists brought in. I’m in sympathy with the Buddhists. Enough is enough.

-Islam. Live by the sword, die by the sword. The Umma won’t happen.

There goes that stereotype of Buddhists. . .

A Reuters Writer Writes Me

I always appreciate it when a writer or reporter gets back to me in response to something I wrote. Granted, I am a minnow in the blogosphere ocean, it is surprisingly rewarding nonetheless. Even though I was chastised by her, last week a reporter for an unnamed periodical (The Paper of Record©) asked me to remove an email she had sent me. I pointed out that she had not told me to keep her request private. Still, I took down the post, I am not looking to antagonize others.

Today, I received a comment from a Reuters writer who saw this post:

This AP Reuters article (Boston and the future of Islam in America), written by Bangladeshi reporter Bangladeshi-American writer Reihan Salam, has me split evenly down the middle. One side of me sighs in relief at its moderation and my other side thinks:who would buy this nonsense?

He responded with this rejoinder:

Small point of information: I was born in the United States, I’ve lived in only four cities (New York city, Ithaca, NY, Cambridge, MA, and Washington, D.C.), and I have spent at most 4-5 months in Bangladesh over the course of 5 or 6 visits, most recently for a few weeks in the summer of 2000. So I think it’s not quite right to describe me as a Bangladeshi reporter (not least because I’m not actually a reporter, but that’s a separate matter). It is true, however, that my parents, both of whom have been U.S. citizens for decades, are from what is now Bangladesh, and they arrived here in the mid-1970s. At this point, they’ve both spent more time in the U.S. than they have in Bangladesh, though I appreciate that opinions will vary as to whether they are best described as Bangladeshis or Americans.

Hope this message finds you well.

Of which, prompted this response out of me:

Thanks for dropping by Reihan. I appreciate your response and I’ve corrected your credentials in my post. I grew up around many Muslim folks and have worked with probably a hundred. To a man and woman, the ones who were overtly religious, put Islam in front of their loyalty to United States. I’ve even had “the authorities” take me aside to chat about a couple (at the officials’ instigation.) My Islamic friends who gave their heart and soul to the mission were usually (almost always) not strict Muslims. That is, they were not particularly religious.

Can adherence to a disciplined version of Islam and patriotism to the United States co-exist? I don’t know and I frankly have not seen it in large numbers. I, too, am religious and look at loyalty to the United States as a natural extension of my spiritual life.

Yes, there are moderate Muslims, but they seem cowed by the louder voices in the movement. I also understand many tips to the authorities come from this moderate circle. And I am thankful. But why are these voices not the predominant ones? Rather than decrying “Islamaphobia,” I would wish demonstrations and marches (with significant numbers of Islamic folks) against acts of terror would dominate the American-Muslim landscape. I can think of only two, very sparsely attended. I am sorry to say this, but Islam has a bullying edge to it. And the moderates, however numerous or not they may be, are awfully quiet.

I decry all forms of violence against any group and am aware of anti-Muslim aggression. That said, anti-Muslim hate crime is very low, certainly in relation to other hate-crime incidents.

As far as reporting, I am fluent in Arabic and I am tired of reading one thing in English and another in dialect. The Arab/Muslim Street is not particularly friendly to America, even though we liberated two Islamic countries in the recent era, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, I know it may/may not have been wanted or invited, but I am tired of the anti-American sentiment overseas. (I also accept that not all Muslims are in agreement. That is, Islam is not monolithic, but, as a whole, Islam certainly does not encourage freedom of speech and individuality.)

I respect your families’ migration to the United States. I am a third-generation American and I imagine that you’ll find the peace to freely practice your religion, all the while loving your country. Despite our differences, I would hope you and I would have more agreements than not.

Hope this message finds you well (as well.)

Part of the reason I love blogging (rather than facebooking or journaling or any other sort of ing) is the give and take. Reihan probably googled his name and ended up here. I do appreciate the fact that he shared some auto-biographical details so that I may correct the post. I don’t like inaccuracies. And I also like dialogue. We are, after all, Americans.

Feisal Abdul Rauf Dekes Out Robert Leslie Deak

The Ground Zero mosque imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is being sued by Robert Leslie Deak, a major donor to the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Mr. Deak alleges he got deked out of $167,000 between 2006 and 2008 to a project to combat anti-Muslim sentiment. Instead, the suit alleges, Mr. Abdul Rauf used the money for entertainment and other personal purposes.