A chilling new documentary by Barbet Schroeder explores the anti-Muslim hate-monk Ashin Wirathu, and sheds light on the genocide of Rohingya Muslims.
A campaign of ethnic cleansing in Burma is being carried out by a “Buddhist” monk who spreads lies about Muslims, inciting nationalist violence.
Schroeder went into the jungle with a handheld camera and two assistants to record this profile of Wirathu who has spent years preaching to crowds that the county’s small Muslim minority are “snakes” and “dogs.” He has compared them to the African catfish —an invasive species that outbreeds and outgrows their rivals, and ultimately destroys their ecosystem. He says in The Venerable W., Schroeder’s documentary that,
“Muslims are exactly like these fish.”
According to The Daily Beast,
Schroeder, who directed Single White Female and Barfly, says he had been willing to risk his own safety to film Burma’s radical Buddhists in order to capture this movement.
More than half a million Rohingya Muslims are believed to have fled Burma in the last two months as their homes are burnt to the ground amid reports of arbitrary arrest, rape, and torture. Desperate to reach the relative safety of refugee camps over the border in Bangladesh, many are risking their lives to flee. Ten children died when an overcrowded boat capsized during a river crossing on Sunday.
“I was just desperately trying to understand how Buddhism could take that form—because for me Buddhism is one of the treasures of humanity. So, how could that happen? The answer is that I went to the end of the world to find out about Buddhism, and very soon I realized I was not seeing something special to Burma but something happening all over the planet —the rise of Facebook, the rise of nationalism, and the rise of populism.
He is a showman. Like Trump, he became a leader out of his manipulation and brilliance in knowing how to find the right words —formulas that stun the public.”
Wirathu has been preaching the his message of anti-Islamic hate for more than a decade, but in the years since Burma has undergone an internet revolution and he’s now able to spread his messages of hate to tens of thousands of people at a time. The doc shows him posting a message on Facebook in July of 2014 about the rape of a woman by Muslim men and two people are killed in a subsequent riot. But it becomes clear that no such rape ever took place.
Wirathu says that he simply wants to protect his people from the threat of Muslim predators but the reality is very different. In Burma, it is the Rohyinga Muslims who have been subjected to widespread rape and torture at the hands of Buddhists and Army personnel.
And guess who Wirathu’s hero is? Trump. Schroeder’s interviews happened during the presidential campaign last year. Wirathu says,
“In the USA, if people want to maintain peace and stability they have to choose Donald Trump.”
Schroeder set out to make a movie, not journalistic investigation. He no idea how quickly the country would turn so brutal. He said,
“I was resisting the political news of the movie, but, of course, now there’s a point when you’re looking at a genocide —so you can’t resist anymore to use the political news for a movie that can save people or can save something.
I’m very pessimistic but if this movie can help people understand what is happening, I’m happy.”
Here’s the trailer for The Venerable W. which showed at New York Film Festival this Friday.
(Photo, Unifrance Films; via The Daily Beast)