I asked him for examples of how the tiny Muslim minority in Myanmar—some four percent of the population—could possibly threaten the Buddhist majority.
The first thing that came to his mind was the case of Muslim men wanting to marry Buddhist women.
Wirathu said it wasn’t just Buddhists who were concerned about Islamic extremists.
He said that his fears were shared by some Muslims, and gave the name of a leader of the Muslim community in Mandalay who he said was in agreement with him.
In fact, he claimed, it was the media that was in league with terrorists by branding him and other outspoken Buddhist leaders as the foe, as and other international news media have also criticized.
Much like Wirathu, he has railed against the imagined threat of a small Muslim minority in his country, and like Wirathu was accused of inciting riots against it.
Not all Muslims were extremists, he said, though most were under their influence, so virtually all Muslims in Myanmar were suspect.
He also thought that their numbers were greatly expanding in Myanmar through immigration and having relatively larger families, and that this was a purposeful design to dilute the purity of Buddhist culture in the country and eventually take control.
“They are trying to transform Myanmar into a Muslim state,” Wirathu said.
Hence it was widely regarded as an anti-Islamic hate movement. Though Wirathu is only one of 14 senior monks on the governing body of the 2500-man monastic complex, he clearly occupied a leading position within it.
When I talked with Wirathu recently in his comfortable office in the Ma Soe Yein monastery in the central Burmese city of Mandalay he was prepared to defend himself against the terrorism label. “If we support Buddhism we are creating peace in the world,” he said repeatedly. Only the framed pictures on his wall—mostly newspaper clippings and pictures of himself—were indications of his charismatic, rabble-rousing reputation.