Myanmar’s punks break silence on religious violence

punks2Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence, and nothing is more anti-authoritarian than punks who break that silence.

Myanmar’s issue is far bigger than its punks’ unorthodox studded leather jackets or neon green hair styles; it’s one where a small minority (in this case, punks) speaks up for another minority (Muslims) facing issues of on-going religious violence turned by a blind eye.

“All I can really say is people should look at the teachings of Buddha and ask themselves, is this what he meant?” says Ye Ngwe Soe, the 27-year-old frontman of No U Turn, the country’s most popular punk rock band.

Radical monks willing to engage in violence and religious bigotry against Muslims have been gathering notoriety in the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million. The marginalising of the religion stems from a sense of cultural identity, with thoughts of Muslim “outsiders” posing a threat for customs and traditions. Some people stay hushed, some agree, while others, those resonating with the same feeling of purported isolationism, speak against the idea that the monks in question are not really monks at all.

“If they were real monks, I’d be quiet, but they aren’t,” says Kyaw Kyaw, lead singer of Rebel Riot, while his drummer practices for a new song titled “969”, an anthem that smacks religious hypocrisy and the anti-Muslim movement.

“They are nationalists, fascists. No one wants to hear it, but it’s true.”

After a half century, military ruled Burma transformed into quasi-civilian governed Myanmar which implemented sweeping reforms, allowing for the breath of fresh air that is peaceful assembly and the lift of draconian media censorship.

The freedoms allow for the voice of prominent and highly controversial Wirathu, a radical monk who dubs himself the “Burmese Bin Laden” and is supported by President Thein Sein as a “son of Lord Buddha.” The monk (as well as the president) backs the 969 movement, a nationalist group that opposes to what they see as Islam’s influence in the predominantly Buddhist country.