Bhikkhu Wirathu, 46, is one of the most talked about figures in Myanmar. He is a monk in the New Maesoeyin Monastery in Mandalay. All journalists in Myanmar know what Wirathu stands for. However, liberals who want to see Myanmar emerge as an inclusive, pluralistic democracy shy away from him, politely turning down requests by foreign journalists to help interview Wirathu, the spiritual leader of the 969 movement. Wirathu claims his movement is intended only to safeguard Buddhism and Buddhists in the country. His campaign and sermons have been gaining popularity in other parts of the country. But many others, particularly Myanmarese Muslims, see his nationalist movement as a hate campaign against not only Rohingyas but against all Muslims, and say it plays a key role in creating the climate for the country’s anti-Muslim riots. This has not only led sections in the media, particularly the western media, to describe him as the ‘Burmese bin Laden’ but also to raise serious concern about the rise of militant Buddhists in Myanmar and elsewhere in the region. The Bodh Gaya attack on July 7, some felt, was in response to what was happening to Muslims in Myanmar, an angle that Indian investigators are seriously looking into. Yangon-based journalist Eaint Thiri Thu interviewed Wirathu on behalf of Outlook. Excerpts:
What is your 969 campaign all about?