The monk dubbed Myanmar’s Osama

The monk dubbed Myanmar’s Osama


MANDALAY — Radical Buddhist nationalism is sweeping Myanmar and at the forefront of the movement is a group more commonly associated with peace and tolerance: Monks.


MANDALAY — Radical Buddhist nationalism is sweeping Myanmar and at the forefront of the movement is a group more commonly associated with peace and tolerance: Monks. The most prominent among them is controversial cleric U Wirathu, who gives passionate sermons from his Mandalay base, calling on Buddhists to stand up against the “Muslim threat”. “I believe Islam is a threat not just to Buddhism, but to the (Burmese) people and the country,” says the monk, whose boyish face and toothy grin belie the name his critics have given him: The Buddhist Osama bin Laden. Myanmar was formerly known as Burma.The 46-year-old has been blamed for inspiring sectarian violence, which began in the long-volatile western state of Rakhine bordering Myanmar’s mostly Muslim neighbour, Bangladesh, but has spread to areas unused to such tension.

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein will face demands to rein in anti-Muslim violence as he was due to arrive on an official visit to Britain yesterday. He has been invited by Prime Minister David Cameron to reward the gradual moves towards restoring democracy to Myanmar.

The former general, once a part of the military junta that ruled Myanmar for almost 50 years, has been criticised for allowing the ethnic attacks to continue. He will also be questioned over official tolerance of outspoken figures such as Wirathu, who are blamed by many for whipping up hatred against Muslims.

It is an accusation Wirathu denies, instead blaming all the religious violence on Myanmar’s Muslims, who make up 5 per cent of the population of 55 million.

He insists he does not believe in, and has not encouraged, Buddhist attacks such as the riots a year ago in Rakhine that left 200 people dead and up to 140,000, mainly Muslims, homeless. He has, however, previously compared Muslims to “mad dogs” and called them “troublemakers”.

“I don’t know how you tame a wild elephant in your country,” he told The Sunday Telegraph, when asked what exactly he meant when he said Buddhist Myanmar people should “stand up for themselves”, “but, here, the first thing you do is take away all their food and water. Then, when the elephant is starving and weak, you give him a little bit of water and teach him one word. Then, you give him a little bit of food and teach him some more. That’s how we tame the elephants here”.

This is his metaphor for the imposition of economic sanctions on Muslims, who are also known as Rohingya, an ethnic grouping in the north-west that has long been denied Myanmar citizenship.

Buddhists, he insists, should not shop in Muslim stores, nor sell land to Muslims. This principle is being promoted by a movement, which he started in conjunction with other monks from southern Myanmar, known as 969.

Poet and artist Soe Wei, who was a political prisoner of the military junta for two years, says that, like many Myanmar people, he finds it difficult to criticise a monk, though he does not share all of Wirathu’s opinions.

Pressed on whether he sees Wirathu as a figure of terror or a man of peace, Mr Soe Wei shakes his head, then smiles wryly. “I don’t see him as a man of peace. I’ve never seen anyone in authority really willing to have peace in Myanmar.” THE DAILY TELEGRAPH


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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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