Myanmar has banned the July 2013 issue of TIME Magazine which bears the words “The Face of Buddhist Terror”, its front page displaying the tranquil face of a controversial Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu.
Wirathu, accused of sparking religious violence throughout the country, is the self-proclaimed “Burmese Bin Laden” and leader of a national radical movement of monks called the 969 campaign. The group preaches social exclusion of Myanmar’s small Muslim minority, believing Muslims threaten the country’s national security and “racial purity.” Wirathu has called for a ban on marriages between Muslims and Buddhists and is encouraging boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses.
The 969 campaign has been accused of igniting fatal clashes between Muslims and Buddhists, spreading like an epidemic throughout Myanmar in 2012, leaving more than 140,000 people displaced and 200 dead, most of whom were Muslims. Mobs of Buddhists and monks have unleashed attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, with stickers and pamphlets of the 969 movement surfacing during and after the violent march.
On June 25th, 2013, Ye Htut, spokesperson of Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, said on his official Facebook page that copies of the magazine “would not be sold and distributed to prevent the recurrence of racial and religious conflict.”
This ban is one of the first occurrences of Myanmar’s government censoring Western media ever since its series of economic and political reforms started in 2011. Elaborating on its decision, the government stated on state television that the ban was made “in order to prevent recurrence of racial religious riots.” President Thein Sein’s office also released a statement regarding the prohibited article, saying it “creates a misunderstanding of Buddhism,” and that “the government is currently striving with religious leaders, political parties, media, and the people to rid Myanmar of unwanted conflicts.” Sein would go on to say that Wirathu was a “noble person” and a “son of Buddha” and that “the 969 movement is peaceful”.
“Muslims are like the African carp, they breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind. Even though they are minorities here, we are suffering under the burden they bring us,” said Wirathu, in an interview with the Global Post.
In regards to the intent and purpose of the article, Wirathu explained, “this is being done because the Islamic extremists want my downfall.”