“But, isn’t it what Buddha says?”: Genre of radical Buddhist hate speech in the Myanmar’s 969 movement

Authors: Chu May Paing (University of Colorado Boulder, USA)
Speakers: Chu May Paing
Strand: Buddhist studies and discourses
Session Type: General Session


On September 12, 2017, a Facebook page “Rohingya Today,” with 79,000 followers, published a one-minute video excerpt. In the video, Burmese Buddhist monk Wirathu repetitively asks, “Do [Rohingyas] eat with their assholes? Do [they] use toilet with their mouths?” The audience, amused by his mocking tone, giggles at these rhetorical questions. Unfortunately, this speech was one of the many instances of anti-Muslim hate speech that has affectively fueled ethnoreligious conflicts leading to the ongoing genocidal violence of the Rohingyas. In Myanmar, hate speech has been largely associated with the 969 movement (numbers indexing the virtues of Buddha, dhamma (Buddhist doctrine), and sangha (monks) respectively), an ultra-nationalist Buddhist movement against the perceived global domination of Muslims. American journalist Hannah Beech tells the stories of so-called radical Buddhism in predominantly Buddhist countries in Asia like Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar in her Time Magazine article featuring one of Myanmar’s ultra-nationalist monks Wirathu on the cover (2013). In order to theorize certain forms of Buddhism as “radical,” we need to explore not just the material violence but also the affective discursive features that have effectively catalyzed the violent acts.

This paper argues that the performance of hate speech is, not just lexically potent, but also pragmatic and affective in radical Buddhist context in Myanmar. Furthermore, this argument advances the theorization of radical Buddhism as a discursively mediated religio-political ideology. Drawn from a corpus of the 969 sermons and speeches available on YouTube and juxtaposing the Burmese pragmatic strategies, စကားကြီး ဆယ်မျိူး (saga gyi sal myo) or Ten Great Speech, this paper presents a much-needed discourse analysis on Burmese style of hate speech. The analysis of the pragmatic strategies in the 969 monks’ sermons offers a theoretical glimpse at how they shape the emerging phenomenon of Burmese hate speech, as well as assists how hate speech can be better regulated in the Burmese context.

Keywords: hate speech, radical Buddhism, affect, nationalism, discourse analysis