The Hateful Monk


Gavin Jacobson in the NY Review of Books:

Ma Soe Yein is the largest Buddhist monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar. A dreary sprawl of dormitories and classrooms, it is located in the western half of the city, and accommodates some 2,500 monks. The atmosphere inside is one of quiet industry. Young men, clad in orange and maroon robes, sit on the floors and study the Dharma or memorize ritual texts. There is little noise except for the endless scraping of straw brooms on wooden floors, or the dissonant hum of people in collective prayer. Outside, the scene is livelier. Monks hurriedly douse themselves with cold water, and chat politics over a table of newspapers. They do so in the shadow of a large wall covered with gruesome images depicting the alleged bloodlust of Islam. Photographs, displayed without any explanation or evidence of their origins, show beaten faces, hacked bodies, and severed limbs—brutalities apparently committed by Muslims against Myanmar Buddhists.

The contrast between the monastery’s inner calm and this exterior display of violence is a fitting inversion of Ma Soe Yein’s most infamous resident, Ashin Wirathu, the subject of Barbet Schroeder’s new documentary, The Venerable W. On the outside, Wirathu is composed and polite, with large brown eyes and a sweet, impish grin. His voice is smooth and its cadence measured. Yet beneath this civil disguise seethes an interminable hatred toward the 4 percent of Myanmar’s population that is Muslim (the wall of carnage stands outside his residence). Wirathu is responsible for inciting some of the worst acts of ethnic violence in the country’s recent history, and was described by Time as “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”

More here.