More From Alder's Ledge

July 11, 2013

Return To My Punk Roots

From Civil Debate To Kamikaze
(Screamer Post)

(A Decade Ago)

For most of my adult life the nature of hate groups has fascinated me. It has been a part of society that I have often found myself unable to peek into. Every time I have tried to approach members of these closed cliques I have found myself either with a door slammed in my face or a fist to my gut. Either way, I wasn't getting straight answers to simple questions. And yet I persisted almost relentlessly.

When I was younger it was easier to use these encounters with "skin-heads" and hate group members as excuses for senseless violence. An exchange of slurs often resulted into our own miniature recreations of the Civil War. It wasn't till after the first time I found myself out numbered that I realized the hostile method of approach wasn't exactly working. So with a little bit of time to lick my wounds I returned to the battlefield with the idea that I would exercise my brains instead of my brawn... I had more of the prior anyhow.

The first time I got to debate a guy that claimed to support the idea of an "Aryan Race" I miserably failed in my attempts to remain civil. Defenses for Nazi ideology proved my weakness. And the conversation exploded as tempers became painfully apparent. It wasn't till the guy, about a foot and a half taller and nearly a hundred pounds heavier, stood me up and prepared to knock me down that I began to think... maybe, just maybe, I had crossed a line somewhere.

Some of those who are reading this might think that it is never "crossing the line" to get in the face of an ignorant racist ideologue. Some of you might find it entertaining even... getting to jab your opponent with mildly clever attacks. But what do we really learn about the mindset of the individual when we resort to methods they regularly use against us? And is it not a tab bit hypocritical of us to stoop down to the level of degrading another human being when that is in fact the very reason we are opposed to their opinions?

But I digress...

The line I had crossed was the point in the debate where I no longer viewed the person I was talking to as an equal on any level. In a matter of moments I had gone from assuming the person was misguided in their beliefs and ethical views to disregarding my own. When I allowed a few remarks to put me on the defense I went from having a civil debate to engaging the "enemy" in kamikaze mode.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” ~JFK

From the moment I allowed myself to degrade the other person I now viewed as my opponent I closed off all routes of peaceful interaction. Where there had been an outlet for fair and honest exchange of ideas I had helped create a battlefield. And though many people who do debate may view their debates as such, most wouldn't feel comfortable viewing it as tolerable to shoot the wounded. Yet that was precisely the level of relentlessness I had engaged in when lowering my standards to meet those of my challenger.

Thus we can fast forward to today.

Hate groups are still a major part of why Alder's Ledge is around today. We are intrigued by both the hate groups themselves and the reasons for which these groups survive and thrive in given areas. That is why the 969 Movement in Burma has been a particularly interesting subject to both our writers and contributors. And yet for all the discussion we have had amongst ourselves, we have had little opportunity to write about the group so far. 

Then came an American (possibly more than one) with a strange obsession with Wirathu and the 969 Movement. This English speaking outlet for the 969 movement was immediately seen by Alder's Ledge as an opportunity to learn why and how the group operates and spreads. It was a chance for Alder's Ledge to peek behind the curtain so to speak.

So after a few messages back and forth, we decided to go for it.

Our twitter handle, run by the main author, engaged the unofficial 969 twitter handle. Following our conversation while keeping an eye on other public conversations the 969 twitter account was having, we attempted to see what information slipped out. This method of passive debate got us nowhere. All the group would give us was the same answer it gave everyone else: "Email your questions to..."

So we did just that. And we waited. And after some time had passed we found ourselves waiting some more. Then a little more time had passed and I found one of my most trusted advisers telling me to wait some more. But given the title of this post... I didn't.

We asked our twitter followers to email the account with the following list of questions. This method was meant to flood the 969 twitter operator with emails till he listened and/or replied. Sure it isn't the most passive and respectful method and may have pushed that line between civil and ruthless... but it worked. And for the most part, we maintained a healthy level of respect in our exchange with the twitter handle for 969 (the American version).

1)      Outside Myanmar it is difficult for the world to understand the reasoning behind the original arrest of Ashin Wirathu. Could you please help clarify why a peaceful monk would have faced 10 years in prison? And why after less than half his original prison sentence was even close to having been served why was Ashin Wirathu released from prison?
2)      In previous remarks you have stated that 969 does not support nor perpetrate genocide. When Alder’s Ledge asked about this you told us “we did not know the definition of genocide”. So here is the legal definition of genocide:
"Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a)     Killing members of the group;
(b)     Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c)     Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d)     Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e)     Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Would the actions that your organization has helped put into motion in Myanmar, in your opinion, constitute any of the actions listed above by the UN’s Genocide Convention?
3)      Is the forcible detainment and blockading of internally displaced peoples’ camps by the Burmese military not constitute section C listed above? By keeping people in confinement with little or no food not “deliberately inflict on the group conditions calculated to bring about physical destruction” of the targeted community?
4)      If Ashin Wirathu is as peaceful as your organization insinuates then why do his speeches repeatedly instigate actions that would, as section B states, cause “serious bodily or mental harm to members” of the Rohingya community? Actions that include but are not limited to; rape, mutilation, murder, destruction of property, criminal confinement, and persistent verbal degradation targeting their ethnicity and religious beliefs.
5)      Over the past few decades the government of Myanmar has imposed laws upon the Rohingya community limiting the number of children they can legally have. Your leader, Ashin Wirathu, publicly supported a new law even further limiting the Rohingya peoples’ reproductive rights (covered in international law). For you as an organization is it tolerable to, as section D states, impose “measures intended to prevent the births within the group” targeted by genocidal policy? And if so could you please elaborate upon your views on the reason why Rohingya should be prevented from giving birth?
6)      In countless encounters between members of your organization and Rohingya (unarmed civilians) there have been violent clashes based upon race and religion. In every well-documented occasion of this violence the number of Rohingya killed dramatically dwarfs that of Buddhists killed. Can you explain how a peaceful faith such as yours’ can justify what section A of the Genocide Convention states is the deliberate “killing members of the group” you target with genocidal economic policies?
7)      Going beyond the genocide convention set forth by the UN shortly after the Holocaust in Nazi Europe, is not the implication of economic boycotts against a given ethnic group or religious group detrimental to the harmony of Myanmar’s society? What is the reason for the forced boycott of Rohingya in the Rakhine state? And for what reason do you feel it is necessary to deprive a targeted portion of society for economic starvation?
8)      The Dalai Lama has condemned both the resulting actions of your organization’s boycott and the motive behind it. If you could, what would you say to Tenzin Gyatso about his lack of support for your cause?
9)      In recent statements Ashin Wirathu stated that he would like the 969 Movement to be more like the English Defense League. His exact words in an interview were, “Do you know the English Defense League? We would like to be like the EDL.” However the English Defense League is a well-known hate group in England that targets Muslims for violent crimes and physical assault. Is this what you would like the 969 Movement to be associated with? Is 969 a movement based upon racial or religious ideology that would claim to be superior to the group they target in hate speech?
10)     You claim to be defending your religion and the public. What is it that you are defending the public against? For decades under the Junta in Myanmar there was far less racial and religious violence regarding the Rohingya. So why now are you so worried about a people that have lived alongside Buddhists for centuries?
Four hours after the twitter handle for 969 had promised to "answer" our "questions right away", we received a reply. The answers began simple and straight forward without much deviation from the sorts of responses we had expected. Of course this final response was predicated by several responses refusing to answer until we provided countless sources to "support" our questions in the first place. But anyhow, I won't complain about the lack of cooperation... we got what we wanted from this engagement.

Here is what we got. Raw and unedited.

Answering question one: 

"That is not clear to us at this time since our campaign is based in the
United States. However I can note that many monks were imprisoned and
persecuted during the military control of Myanmar and I believe Ven.
Wirathu was one of those. The reasoning I have for this is that he was
given an amnesty for "political prisoners" in 2007."
Answering question two:
"Some clarifications. 969 is a social movement and not an organization. It
acts as a Buddhist mutual aid campaign and is organizing petition
campaigns to show support for pro-Buddhist laws. Riots that have occurred
in Myanmar did not take place in areas directly influenced by 969 leaders,
e.g., Mandalay."
Answering question three:
"The displaced people are not citizens of Myanmar and have no right to
travel in the country at will. The military is there to protect them from
further mob violence. The reality is that they are being cared for by
UNHCR aid."
Answering question four:
"Venerable Wirathu has repeatedly called for calm and non-violence and is
on the record for supporting the government prosecuting convicted
criminals of crimes both Rohingya and Buddhist."
Answering question five:
"Countries choosing to regulate the birth of citizens or non-resident
aliens is nothing new. China has a one child per family policy to deal
with the problem of overpopulation. As a foreigner to Myanmar, it is not
proper for me to comment further on what is or is not the proper
demographic policy of their country nor do I think it is any one else's
Answering question six:
"969 is not an organization, it is a social movement. Rohingya's rape of
Myanmar women, forced marriages, and burning monks alive has inflamed the
wrath of the Myanmar people. This is not a new phenomena. The bad actions
of Rohingya's, armed and unarmed, with words and without words, with
machetes and with guns and bombs, has been going on for decades longer
then 2012.  I will offer this link for documented evidence"
(Link omitted due to being broken)
Answering question seven:
"969 is a movement in support of Buddhists businesses, Buddhist households,
and Buddhist individuals. 969 only developed in response to the Rohingya's
Islamic 786 campaign which is for Muslims in Myanmar to only do business
with Muslims, who were refusing to offer services to monks and Buddhists."
Answering question eight:
"With all due respect, I would ask the Dalai Lama how many Buddhists must
be burned to death, how many women to be raped and sold into slavery, and
how many temples have to be bombed before he supports the physical and
spiritual self-defense of Buddhism in a Buddhist country?"
Answering question nine:
"From what I understand of the EDL, EDL members are targeted for hate
crimes, EDL members are targeted for expressing their opinions, EDL
members are fired from their places of employment, and they are made
scapegoats for Muslim crimes in their country.  The Islamification of the
United Kingdom, such as the call to prayer on the BBC, is exactly what 969
is designed to prevent in Myanmar. The people of Myanmar are acting on
their own accord. That they refuse to allow Myanmar to become a formerly
Buddhist country like the long list of  Afghanistan, Sri Lanka,
Bangaladesh, Nepal, Iran, Indonesia, Tibet (by communism), and others who
have been vanquished by the sword of Islam. This triumph of democracy
should be praised."
Answering question ten:
"This is far from true as the above link describes in detail, in fact it
was merely less known to the Western media. The British brought the
Rohingya to divide and conquer the people of Myanmar. The Myanmar
Buddhists are peace loving people. Only the spark of Buddhist women being
violated and Buddhist monks being murdered set forth the long checked
wrath of an insulted people. You say peace lasted for years but it was
fake. The same fake peace that existed under Tito and his communist regime
disappeared after the fall of Yugoslavia and the ethnic and religious
conflict that followed was terrible. Thankfully the Myanmar military and
police are able to limit the damage from the warring parties from being
worse then it already is. A not dissimilar situation also exists in
Thailand where the southern provinces are under an Islamic insurgency,
people are killed all the time. You would blame the military of Thailand
for violating your human rights for not allowing you to visit these areas
but as a Western foreigner you would likely be attacked, killed, raped, or
held for ransom by terrorists like many before you. 969 means we say "no
more" to the people and causes of violence against Buddhist people. Thank

Question one was a simple and straightforward question that has been answered by media outlets around the world. Yet I had to keep in mind that the operator of the 969 twitter handle had routinely discredited and hinted that media in the West was bias toward Muslim causes. So I avoided arguing the point with the person behind the 969 twitter account and American based webpage. 

However question two had nothing to do with 969 or the "movement". We had simply taken the opportunity to readdress the lack of knowledge on behalf of our counterpart regarding the legal definition of genocide. As the question is predicated it remarks that we had already asked one question and were now wanting clarification on the previous response. In doing so we had stated word for word the UN's definition of genocide. And yet we did not get a response that clearly and honestly stated that 969 (either here or in Myanmar) rejected the implementation of genocide as a method to completing current 969 economic policies.

Then came question three...

We blatantly stated the fact that the Burmese military is confining Rohingya to camps and villages while keeping food, water, and basic living necessities out of reach. This was not the question, it is the fact of the matter. And yet we did not receive an answer that would clarify the beliefs of this 969 supporter or the group at large when dealing with section C of section A of the Genocide Convention. Instead we got a short response about how the Rohingya are "not citizens" and therefore have no right to life apparently. The last part of the response showed a drastic lack of information or the intent to mislead us when talking about humanitarian aid the Rohingya have not readily received in their blockaded villages and camps that Myanmar claims are illegal yet the government established. 

Question four pushed the envelope on what our opponent could tolerate. By asking about Wirathu we made the response shorter than we had wished. But we did get enough out of the 969 unofficial account to realize that they have a blind devotion to the criminal monk Wirathu. Despite blatant calls for violent annihilation of the Rohingya people coming directly from Wirathu himself this 969 account refuses to admit the truth. There is clearly no room for debate upon the issue of their cult like leader. 

Our next question brought up the long history Myanmar has with regulating the birth rate of the Rohingya people. We have noted that it decreases the population and "prevents births" in a targeted community. Thus these laws violate the Genocide Convention and most human rights laws currently enforced by the UN. Yet the response we got showed a direct condoning of the genocidal law. The other side went as far as to hint that such issues were none of our concern. Bold. 

We didn't hide our intent after question five. In question six we went for the meat of the matter by opening up the question of section A in the legal definition of genocide. Yet the other side only had blame to offer for the Rohingya. One might even believe that this response could be used as justification for the outright slaughter of Rohingya in Myanmar. But that would be insinuating I suppose. So I'll have to wait to ask another 969 member... someday. 

Question seven targeted the economic boycott imposed by the 969 members in Myanmar. We wanted to understand the logic behind this economic attack. And yet the response we got once again blamed the Rohingya for the actions of the 969 members themselves. Instead of accepting some guilt in the conflict, this member gave justification by accusing the other side of instigating it. This sort of excuse does little in the way of answering our original question. But it does show us a little of the mindset one has to have to believe the reasoning behind such hate filled ideas. 

Eight was like putting a toe on the line. It was the point where I realized I was getting close to bringing the questioning to a close. To get this I had to dial back and offer a chance for my opposition to show their human side. Sadly I didn't get a very good look at that. 

Instead of asking the Dalai Lama about their own guilt and what could be done to end the conflict if their current actions would not... we got more hate. The persistent desire to paint the victims of their actions as the guilty party is a hallmark of hate groups around the world. The Nazis painted the Jews as the evil villains that were attempting to take over the world only so that the Nazis could do just that. 969 tells the world that the Rohingya are a rabid army of invaders ready to rape and pillage Myanmar yet we watch 969 do both those things with impunity as the government watches. 

Now question nine was a rather odd question really. We had given this 969 account seven links to show we weren't just making up this connection between Wirathu and the English Defense League. And yet we had to prove this connection a few more ways before getting this response. Then what we got was just appalling.
Instead of denouncing the EDL, this 969 account defended the neo-Nazi hate group. However we didn't ask him/her to back up their claims that EDL members were discriminated against by a mythical Muslim upper class. We didn't ask him/her to clarify just how they knew that 969 members were being fired because Muslims had somehow gained control over these EDL members' employment. We just went on to our next question. After all, doesn't that response raise an eyebrow on it's own? I really didn't think I needed to address it. 
So we finished with the question that gave our paste-bin it's name... the kamikaze.
The response we got shows the level of hatred that a follower of this 969 Movement can obtain without even once stepping foot in Myanmar (he/she told me, I'm not just guessing). It is a level of intolerance that is absolutely alien to me. No matter how hard I try I can't bring myself to hate somebody or a group of people I have never met. And I'll be honest, brutally honest, I have dealt with resentment for Croatia and Germany due to my own family history. Yet even for all the crimes committed against my ancestors, I couldn't bring myself to loath the people of those two countries. It just wasn't something I had been taught. 

So to end this I'm going to offer a simple response to the person or persons behind this 969 twitter handle. 

I was never taught to hate a group of people for any reason. I will never understand that part of the argument I got in response to my questions. But I do have one question left for you. If the tables were turned and the situation was reversed, you are now in the position of the Rohingya people, would you still be comfortable hearing the answers you gave us? Is there not a way that you would wish this could end without more deaths, without continued starvation, without this hatred between your faiths... your people... your communities?

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