As Myanmar continues its reform process, the politics is throwing-up a bevy of contrasts – some welcomed and others not. One tour company is offering free beer while the government has banned the recent issue of TIME Magazine, featuring a cover of a Buddhist monk blamed for the recent carnage against Muslims in the country’s north.
The July 1 edition of Time carried the cover photo of Burmese monk Ashin Wirathu, a known fundamentalist and head of the 969 group, which has deployed the age-old technique of mixing rabid nationalistic and religious sentiment to stir up hatred against minorities.
He would like to see a ban on the marriage of people from different faiths and remains unapologetic for the waves of anti-Muslim violence that has to date claimed more than 200 lives in the country and forced another 150,000 people from their homes.
In a recent interview with the Global Post he even added: “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind. Even though they are minorities here, we are suffering under the burden they bring us … because the Burmese people and the Buddhists are devoured every day, the national religion needs to be protected.”
“The cover story of the magazine, depicting a few individuals who are acting contrary to most of Myanmar, is creating misconceptions about Buddhism, a religion practiced by the majority of Myanmar’s population,” the President’s office said in a statement.
This comes after proposals to impose a breeding limit on Muslims with a two-child policy.
Oddly, it was among those temples which Wirathu insists are in need of his protection from non-Buddhist influences that one tour company is offering free beer if it rains for more than 10 minutes. The gimmick is for Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake only and is part of a broader strategy to convince tourists to visit during the rainy season. Soft drinks are also available.
Edwin Briels, General Manager of Khiri Myanmar, the company behind the free beer offer, added: "Hotel prices are favorable, the scenery is green, the sightseeing, culture and markets are all vibrant during the summer … it's a great time to come."
Reconciling the great divides within Burmese society – whether it’s the Buddhists and Muslims or warring minorities like the Kachin or Shan – could take some time yet. But helping business to deal with these stark realities could take a bit longer.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.